• Geoff Russell

The teal climate alternative

N.B. All election figures below are mostly as of Sunday Night May 22, 2022; from the ABC website.


Having lived through Morrison's victory in 2019, the election campaign has been hell.


It was impossible for me to have any confidence in Polls; or my own view of how various electoral advertising would be viewed; or the ABC vote compass. I had this sneaking suspicion that any optimisim I might be feeling for the chance to finally erase the shame of living in a country punching well above its weight in wrecking the planet, must be purely a function of my particular echo chamber; the people I mix with, the news sources I view, the tweets I see and so on. It's never been more wonderful to be wrong.


Saturday's vote extirpated the Cheshire smirk and left both major parties with some serious soul searching. The Liberals received a vote of total no-confidence, while the ALP received a vote of very little confidence. Looking at seat by seat tallies, the Liberal defector flow was split between Teals (in the 20 of 151 seats where they existed), Greens and One Nation or look-alikes; with the latter receiving the smaller slice of the defector pie.


How did the Greens really do last weekend?

The Greens are publicly ecstatic, and their lower house wins in Qld were a well deserved reward for hard work. But privately, I hope they are doing their own soul searching. They should be asking why more people turned Teal than Green; when they could.


Nationally, the Green vote increased by 1.5% and One Nation's by 1.8%. If you compare 1.8% with 1.5% you might think that more people swung to One Nation; not true. It's easy to grow by a bigger percent when your vote is lower to start with. The Greens' vote increased by 20,408 while One Nations increased by 10,125 (as of Sunday night).


But the Green vote dropped in 12 of the 20 seats which Teals contested. And in the seats the Teals actually gained, the Greens vote was slashed: Curtin (-5.3%), Kooyong (-15.2%), Mackellar (-5.8%), North Sydney (-5.4%) and Goldstein (-6.6%). Looking at the websites of the 19 of 20 Teals who have one, it was pretty clear that the ones who won didn't just win because of some kind of protest; they won because they were outstanding candidates.


One can speculate that had there been 151 Teals instead of just 20, the Greens would have been dragging their chins along the ground in the aftermath rather than crowing loudly.


The fact that more defectors went for Teal than Hanson/Palmer/etc, when there was a choice, is reasonable evidence that people want action on the climate, but equally it sends a message that although they want action, they are not enamoured of Green action. The Greens should be asking why.


Is it a matter of not liking Greens policy? Or of the Greens not selling it properly? I'd say both; more later.


Some of the newly minted Teals were already Members of Parliament so you'd expect their electorates to behave differently; and they did. The Green swing was +2.5% in Mayo (Rebekha Sharkie), +4.2% Clark (Andrew Wilkie) and +0.9% in Warringah (Zali Steggall) but -1.1% in Indi (North Eastern Victoria) where sitting member Helen Haines got a massive +8.9% increase, far larger than Steggall's still creditable +1.9%.. In the first two of these seats, there was a Swing against the Teal incumbents (Sharkie and Wilkie).


Independents

It's a hell of a thing to run for Parliament as an Independent. The warm cozy supportive environment of a political party is missing; as are the factionalism and infighting ;)


Being Teal isn't like being in a party. Sure, the money helps, but you still have to make all the decisions and face the formidable task of building a team and connecting with your electorate. I have immense respect for all Independents, Teal or otherwise. But formulating policies, particularly in technical areas, is tough.


This isn't school ... there are no prizes for effort. Sometimes doing your best still sucks; especially on intrinsically technical topics, like climate change and technological infrastructure. If you aren't a STEM professional, why would you understand about calcium carbonate's transformation to calcium oxide giving off carbon dioxide during the making of 5 billion tonnes (globally) of concrete each year? Someone who fancies their climate activism credentials recently asked me what industrial emissions were. Really. If you think climate change action is all about batteries and solar panels, as most (but definitely not all) Teals do, then your opinions are like those of a brick layer advising a brain surgeon.


Teal policies on climate

The Teals are Independents; but share a climate focus strong enough to get the support of Climate 200; a funding source. Climate 200 wants three core committments in return for financial support: A science-based response to the climate crisis; restoring integrity to politics; and advancing gender equity.


I won't comment on the second and third committments, I'd have thought everybody should be committed to both; along with world peace and supporting starving children in developing countries. It's sad that we need such committments to be explicit; but we do.


Which brings us to the Teals on climate.


Lookings at the policies of both the Greens and the Teals is a little like watching a poker game:


I'll bid net-zero by 2050 ... I'll see that and raise you to net-zero by 2040 with 100% renewable energy by 2030 ... Uhmm, perhaps you have a full house, EVs over smart grids, but maybe you're bluffing, I'll go all in and bid net zero by 2030!

Your level of committment and sincerity seems linked to your bid. It is virtue signalling writ very large. You don't have to justify a bid; just make it.


Everybody, of course, professes to be "science based" ... despite very few science qualifications in evidence among either Greens or Teals (or any other party for that matter). "100% renewable something-starting-with-e by some-year-ending in 5 or 0" was a pretty common bid among Teals. The something starting with "e" was perhaps "energy" or perhaps "electricity"; whatever. Electricity is typically only about 25 percent of energy and is of a different quality, so the difference is massive. It's a little like getting the lungs and liver mixed up because they are both bodily organs with names beginning with "l".


But no Teal beat the net-zero by 2035 bid of the Greens. Some Teals endorsed the Business Council of Australia target of 50% drop in emissions by 2035.


What about the research summarised by the latest IPCC report?

Below is a graph from the latest IPCC Assessment Report (AR6 WGIII p.6-82). Each dot represents a single scenario, gleened from the scientific literature, and shows the share of primary energy from renewables (x-axis) and non-biomass renewables (y-axis) in that plan at the time it hits net-zero. As you can see there are plenty of net-zero plans (these are selected by the IPCC from a database of 1000 or so), note that none of them gets 100% of primary energy from renewables at the point it hits net zero. Not one.


Focus on the lowest blue dot on the graph. This is a scenario that keeps the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees (so it's a really good scenario ... assuming it can be implemented) but gets less than 50 percent of primary energy from renewables and of those renewables, it's mostly biomass (burning wood or other "energy crops").


The function of the graph is to show the wide range of good (and not so good) scenarios and it will be surprising to many that, as noted, not a single scenario gets 100 percent of primary energy from renewables when it reaches net-zero.




There is a disconnect between expert understanding of the difficulties (aka "challenges") of renewables and Green propaganda. The latter is informed by an anti-science bias towards almost all science other than climate science and, like the Teals, they reject climate science when it suits (see below).


So, given the graph above, why do many Teals opt for 100% renewable energy by some date? Part of the problem is the non-STEM bias in the qualifications of team Teal (as assessed from their websites). This bias means that most will pull their policies from somewhere else. Probably the Greens or mainstream media like the ABC and daily newspapers. Who has time to read the science? The last IPCC report is 3 volumes, each is about 3,000 pages; and many of these pages are dense with graphs and tables and numbers. And this is a summary of research, not the actual research itself. Apologies if I missed somebody, but only one of the 20 lower house Teals showed any evidence of reading the science in any depth: Dr Sophie Scamps in Mackellar on Sydney's Northern Beaches.


So what we have in place of informed candidates is a kind of energy populism driven in part by sloppy use of words for the last 30 years by non-STEM journalists covering climate in mainstream media. The energy vs electricity issue I mentioned earlier is just one of many faux pas that appear daily. My other two favourites are to confuse power with energy or the value of a gigawatt of solar panels with a gigawatt of nuclear power.


Here's a global breakdown of the sources of electricity and total energy.




Remember above when I pointed out that the One Nation increase of 1.8% was smaller than the Green increase of 1.5%? Keep that in mind next time you hear about solar PV's incredible growth rate. Can you see it in the two graphs? It's tiny. It's trivially easy to increase by huge percentages when you are tiny!


How many tonnes of stuff are there in a gigawatt of solar panels? Between 70,000 and 100,000. So increasing 100% from the 737 gigawatts of solar panels in 2020 only involves mining and producing 51-73 million tonnes of stuff. But getting to the 15,000 gigawatts that the IEA (global) net zero by 2050 requires will need over a billion tonnes of stuff; big difference!


N.B. This graph isn't ideal because it doesn't show the relative share of electricity compared to other energy. Remember ... electricity is typically about 1/4 of total energy but varies between countries.


If you've looked at the two preceding graphs closely, you've probably worked out why none of the IPCC scenarios is planning or predicting 100% renewable energy at their net-zero date.


If you haven't ... please have another look.


100% renewable energy would imply a closure of all the world's nuclear plants. Consider the "phenomenal" growth of solar and wind of the past 20 years. If the nuclear plants closed, then all of that growth would have done absolutely nothing to reduce carbon emissions. If you care about the climate, that would be an unmitigated disaster. Our Greens, like others, are totally opposed to nuclear power under any circumstances. Happily, many Europeans have worked this out now that the Russia's invasion of Ukraine has focussed their minds on two decades of wasted effort rolling out gas on account of the German's nuclear allergy. Between 2010 and 2019, about 9,000 Germans have died prematurely as a result of the additional fossil fuel pollution which has resulted from the German nuclear power plant closures.


Net Zero by 2035 for Australia?

Let's assess the Green target of net-zero by 2035 by comparing it with the International Energy Agency's (IEA) Net Zero by 2050 plan as an example.


This is a plan rather than a target. It's a global plan but has very strong implications for local planning. For example, Australia can't move to electric vehicles unless there is adequate global battery manufacturing capacity (see the Case Study below). That capacity, in turn, relies heavily on expanded mining output; mostly from new mines. The IEA calculates the growth rates of various technologies required to hit its 2050 targets. The plan requires 24% compound annual growth rate of PV capacity between 2020 and 2030 and 18% for wind in that period, the following graph shows how these growth rates are tracking and we are already below both. The current global manufacturing and supply chain issues don't bode well for the next couple of years figures.





The IEA plan also relies on a doubling of the global nuclear power fleet and an end premature shutdowns of nuclear plants. As of the most recent BP World Energy Statistics (2021), nuclear output was triple that of solar and considerably higher than wind. This surprises and shocks most Australians, because nuclear is still very much taboo in Green left circles. Again there is a disconnect between professional ecologists and environmentalists. The former are scientists and typically favour nuclear electricity; see for example this veritable who's who of scientists working in Australia who favour nuclear power.


The IPCC get it; of course. They list nuclear power along side solar and wind in all contexts as another mature and reliable source of low-carbon electricity while also noting that nuclear plants deliver far more than just electricity. They deliver heat. Plenty of the 75% of energy that isn't currently electricity is heat; so this matters. If you have to "waste" electricity producing heat, you need considerably more.


The Teals, on the whole have no global perspective on the climate crisis. It's all about putting solar on their houses in their communities and getting people batteries and cars. If only it were that simple.


If you are firmly focussed on serving your electorate, you'll have little time to learn all that you need to learn to make good decisions that are optimally beneficial to the planet as a whole. In years gone by, people left technical decisions to people with the training; these days, everybody thinks that every opinion is equal ... no it isn't.


An exception(al) teal

I noted above the Dr Sophie Scamps seemed to be the only exception to the general rule about candidates not having read the science in any depth. Here's her climate and electric vehicles policy. It's a terrific document from someone who has done an amazing amount of work. But despite this, confusion of energy and electricity is evident in many places. Also missing is the global perspective on electric vehicles. Scamps is easily the smartest and most knowledgable candidate, about climate, of any party that I've come across in the past decade. But this stuff is just diabolically difficult and it's infuriating how strongly so many hold strong opinions after having done less than 1% of the work that Scamps has done in informing herself. I've included a small case study on electric vehicles.


Case Study: Electric Vehicles

The world production of light vehicles is about 100 million per year (in nice round numbers!). How many battery factories do you need to supply enough batteries to switch to EVs? About 200 (at 35 GWh per factory). There are currently about 22 such factories and VW has another 7 planned for 2030. Assuming a heroic effort we might have 100 by 2030; half as many as we need (globally). So, think about it, how can Australia switch to EVs if there aren't enough for everybody? Only by getting far more than our fair share of those batteries.


Can we build EV battery factories here? We don't even make cars here anymore. But even if we make battery factories here, and we can switch to EVs, then that's small comfort, because this is a global problem. We sink or swim together.


Assuming we can (globally) open the mines and build the batteries, is that all we need? Unfortunately not. Consider the following, showing the greenhouse gases emitted during vehicle construction, but averaged out over the 150,000km a vehicle is assumed to last. Think about it. If we can't reduce the climate emissions of any major industry by at least 90-95 percent, then we are in trouble. EVs don't get anywhere near this mark; because of the emissions generated during manufacture.



If you can't reduce the emissions to zero, then you have to offset them. The devil is in the detail on that also; but it's a problem we have to fix. There has been progress since this study on reducing emissions during battery manufacture; but there's still a long way to go.


The bottom line is that we need fewer cars, not only cleaner cars.


Fawlty Towers gets a teal paint job

Australia's climate emissions have an unusual profile. The industry with the most impact on the climate in Australia isn't our fossil fuelled power stations, but our cattle and sheep; typically about 27 million of them. For the Teals as a whole and the Greens forever, the general approach to this is to ignore it, the Fawlty Towers approach ... don't mention the cows!


The carbon dioxide budget to give us a 50/50 chance of staying below 1.5 degrees is some 500 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (p. SPM-5). But that budget depends on the level of non-CO2 (mostly methane) reductions. It ranges from 500 GtCO2 plus or minus 220 GtCO2! That's how important methane is ... methane reductions can change the carbon dioxide budget by almost 50 percent. But don't mention the cows!


For the past 40 odd years, people have been prattling on about feeding things to cattle to reduce the methane they produce. Think about it. Australian cattle spend most of their lives on grass with perhaps a few months in a feedlot. That's really the only time you can stuff around putting things in their feed. So, at most, it will do little. But there is a much bigger problem with this kind of desperation stopgap to save our BBQ culture; we will need to remove excess carbon from the atmosphere, regardless of our best efforts to get to net-zero. The latest IPCC report makes that abundantly clear. So reforestation will be an imperative. The 70 million or so hectares that we cleared for sheep and cattle in the first place will have to be reforested. We don't need to do anything; just walk away. Destock and retrain farmers. The time for denial over this is long past.


The IPCC report has plenty of detail on the need for both dietary change and carbon removal by reforestation; it shouldn't be controversial, but in a country with more cattle than people; it is. Of course, bowel cancer surgeons will also have to retrain as a result of the fall, over time, of bowel cancer. The synergies of meat reduction are many; less cancer, less diabetes, less obesity, fewer Australians with beetroot complexions.


Conclusion

The Teals have demonstrated that Australians do want stronger action on the climate emergency. Teal voters could have simply switched to the party most strongly identified with climate action, the Greens, but they didn't. Perhaps like me, they don't trust anybody who doesn't care enough about the planet to change their diet; which means Tim Flannery, the Greens, the Climate Council, the Australian Conservation Council and the rest who run interference for the cattle industry; people who ignore the climate science when it interfers with their taste for seared flesh. But I'm reasonably sure I'm in a tiny minority in my distrust of such hypocrisy; so I'll leave it to the Greens to work out why people went Teal rather than Green. I desperately hope that they take a good look at themselves and begin by embracing all the climate science and not just the bits that suit them. Ditto the Teals and congratulations!



Disclosure:

As noted in the "About" page, the author is a member of the Animal Justice Party.

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