Friday, November 25, 2011

Letter to ABC's Mark Scott

Mr Mark Scott AO
Managing Director

Dear Mark,
Please do not be too discouraged by the failure of the ABC’s first bold “data journalism project” looking at the coal seam gas industry – Coal Seam Gas: By The Numbers.
I think the ABC should be applauded for attempting this ambitious project. As the issues facing the human race become more complex we desperately need reputable news organisations like the ABC to guide us through the technical complexities and the noise of vested interests so that we, as a democratic society, can make informed decisions.
The intent of your data journalism project is just what we need. Its failure was due to problems plaguing journalism across the developed world.
I’m sure that Wendy Carlisle and her team are all excellent journalists. With your help and guidance I’m confident they will be able to learn from their mistakes and have another go and this topic.
But first, Mark, they will have to realise who they are. They are journalists, and all journalists – including you and I – are egotists. We are very good at talking to and about other egotists and this all makes very entertaining media and is the bread and butter of journalism.
Commercial media are forced to dance this dance. If a newspaper like The Age wants to talk about coal seam gas, it will seek a celebrity like Olivia Newton-John.
But Mark, the ABC is free from many of the commercial realities faced by other media. You can make a difference to this paradigm and you tried with this data journalism project.
However, in order to succeed in such a technically complex area, your egotists are going to have to speak to experts. It’s not good enough just to read the data put out by experts like Geoscience Australia, bureaucrats and energy companies. Egotists like us journalists do not understand the complexity – the algorithms – behind this data, as Wendy and her team, I’m sure, now realise.
As a daily newspaper egotist who wandered off into the energy industry about 20 years ago I can assure you, Wendy, and all the journalists at the ABC, that the experts aren’t so bad. In fact they are truly amazing and always more than willing to help. With issues like coal seam methane I strongly suggest you find an engineer to help you through the numbers. I always do this now and I wished I’d started 40 years ago.
I’m not involved with the coal seam gas business, but I am aware of the magnitude of what our Australian engineers are attempting here. They will be the first in the world to produce LNG from unconventional gas. This is a huge technical challenge, but if they succeed they will have achieved far more in the world’s efforts to combat climate change than any Canberra polices aimed at our domestic energy consumption.
This is a very important topic, Mark, and as a huge fan of the ABC I am looking forward to Wendy’s efforts to do it right. This will be a great milestone of modern journalism.

Yours sincerely
Leonard McDonnell

Friday, July 15, 2011

PM is right. We are being fed crap on climate change

The most effective way for me to reduce my domestic greenhouse gas emissions would be to kick my family out of the house and live alone. Then I could walk up and down the street waving my greatly reduced energy bills and proclaiming what a wonderful greenie I am.
It would be a fraud, of course, just like most of Australia’s attempts to tackle climate change.
Australia is shirking its responsibility in this global challenge because our policies are dominated be ignorant egotists who have deluded themselves into believing they are greenies.
We are not leading the world on climate change – far from it.
Ignorant, loud-mouthed, egotistical ‘greenies’ and deluded journalists and politicians are keeping this country splashing around in the kiddies paddling pool instead of assisting with the big issues in the deep end.
The climate change policies of both major parties are stuck in our domestic electorate. Climate change is a global problem. Australia is a minor energy consumer in this world, but we are a major energy producer and this is where our efforts should focus.
We are a major energy producer in the fastest growing region of the globe – Asia Pacific. There are hundreds of millions of people living in poverty across the Asia Pacific region.
I recently visited communities that have infant mortality rates that make even our worst Aboriginal communities seem like Shangri La. The reason is even remote Aboriginal communities have access to medical care when their children get really sick. In many communities in our region of the world there is no medical care, there is no Flying Doctor, no ambulance, no ‘intervention’. So parents regularly bury children, who die of routine illnesses like pneumonia, diarrhoea, or malaria.
But, the good news is things are improving. Countries are working hard to raise their living standards to levels we take for granted. The bad news is achieving this requires capital and energy – lots of it. As a result Asia’s energy demand is growing at roughly the equivalent of a new ‘Australia’ joining the region every 18 months.
Naturally these countries are going for the most affordable energy and that is coal. Australia, being the world’s largest coal exporter, is therefore doing OK out of all this humanitarian endeavour. It helped us dodge the GFC.
When I hear the Australian Government pledge to reducing our domestic greenhouse emissions by five per cent, I say ‘so what.’
We are going to increase the amount of renewable energy in our power generation to 20 per cent – big deal. We might as well pour money into Morris Dancing – at least it would create more jobs.
If we really believed that climate change was serious, if we really believed that it required urgent action, we would stop wasting money on mirrors and propellers and instead concentrate on trying to improve coal-fired power generation.
If we could develop a one percent improvement in the world’s future coal-fired power generation this would dwarf anything Australia did in our puny domestic market. Yet the Gillard Government’s latest climate-change policy had nothing in this area.
And when a company in Victoria, HRL, embarked on an ambitious project to build a pilot-plant to attempt to prove technology with the potential to reduce emissions from coal-fired power by 30 per cent, so-called “environmentalists” turned on them like rabid dogs. Where were our politicians or journalists who could have put this outrageous attack into perspective?
If this project has been killed, then it is not beyond credibility to say that those responsible have dealt a severe blow to the world’s efforts to combat climate change. They clearly believe that their own egotistical agenda is more important than truly tackling climate change. They have no awareness of the real challenge and are quite content to just ‘kick their family out of the house’.
Climate change exposes a fundamental flaw in our democratic system – policies are formed by egotists. However, tackling climate change requires technically sophisticated collaborators – engineers.
They are essentially excluded from the debate.
This is a multi-faceted, complex, technical problem -- we won’t get the answers from focus groups.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Greenhouse Myths and politicians

Twenty years from now we Australians will be getting 0.3 percent of our energy from solar power. Says who?
 Says the Government.
But they don’t say it out loud because the Greens might hear. Instead they talk about our bright green, renewable energy future and all the jobs that will be created as we “switch over” to “clean” energy.
Such energy myths have destroyed the world’s ability to make any credible attempt to deal with climate change.
We Australians have pledged to reduce our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by five percent of 2000 levels by 2020. Both major parties agree on this goal – yet it will not be met. Australia has no chance of reducing its GHG emissions at all in the next nine years.
If the Government seriously pursued this goal, we the people, would turf them out of office.
The only way we will meet this commitment is by buying credits from overseas. We will find a way to buy licences to continue business as usual.
Again, this is another fact you will not hear the Government – or the Opposition – saying out loud.
The Gillard Government has announced (ever so quietly) that we will be getting 13 percent of our electricity from wind and solar in 20 years – one percent of this will be solar.
But haven’t we got bi-partisan agreement on sourcing 20 percent of our electricity from renewables in just nine years time? Yes we have.  But this is just more myth and spin.
As the current Government, like those before it, make clear – if you ask quietly – wind and solar, geothermal, wave energy, these are all extras on the renewable energy set and will be for the foreseeable future. The stars are wood and hydro dams – but, again, don’t say that out loud or the Greens might hear and there will be hell to pay.
The Government’s carbon tax is, sadly, dead. It has drowned in this sea of myth and spin. The only question for Julia Gillard is how to get back to what Kevin Rudd has led us to believe was her original position without getting the blame.  If she cans the tax the Greens will throw a tantrum and her fragile Government will collapse.
However, if she lets the Greens have a big input into drafting the legislation it will become political poison for the other independents who will vote it down in the House. She will get away Scot free and will be able to claim the high moral ground going into the next election. Brilliant politics!
But, once again, a sad day for the future of the planet and our attempts to tackle climate change.
So let’s kill a few more persistent myths in the hope we can apply CPR to this “CPRS” and get the tax over the line.
Myth: Corporations are the “Big Polluters” and the tax will make them pay.
 Fact: We are the big polluters – we the “working families”.
Corporations have been working hard to become more energy efficient since the oil shocks of the ‘70s. That’s when there was a step change energy costs and so reducing their energy consumption has meant big bucks for big business.
The carbon tax is not designed to make big corporations pay – it’s designed to make us pay more for our energy in the hope we will use less. Any corporate costs will be passed on to us, the consumers, one way or another – just like the GST.
Making us more energy efficient will achieve a great deal more than our solar pipe dreams.
For example, if we can improve the efficiency of our car fleet by just one percent, that would be equivalent in terms of GHG reductions to our entire national solar power generation.
Running our cars with the right air pressure in our tyres would improve the fleet by about 3 percent. Improving our driving habits – that is less speeding and accelerating – can deliver improvements anywhere up to 33 percent.
Myth: The carbon tax will lead to a revolution in renewable energy.
Fact: The Government says that all renewable energy will account for only 8 per cent of Australia’s energy consumption in 20 years time. The other 92 percent will still be fossil fuels.
The tax will, however, tilt the scales back in favour of the planet so that over the next 100 years or so, we will improve the impact of our growing energy use a little sooner than might otherwise be the case.
We journalists, politicians, economists and academics will never produce the solutions to our energy challenges – these will have to come from our engineers and scientists.
The best we can do is work towards creating the political and fiscal environment that will support and assist our engineers and scientists. For starters we can certainly encourage more of our youth into the maths-science stream.  We desperately need more engineers – as opposed to more models and rock stars.
Now is the time to start getting real about this climate challenge.