Physical Insights

An independent scientist’s observations on society, technology, energy, science and the environment. “Modern science has been a voyage into the unknown, with a lesson in humility waiting at every stop. Many passengers would rather have stayed home.” – Carl Sagan

Posts Tagged ‘politics

Paris summit: Leaders pledge to work for WMD-free Middle East.

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Here’s a rather interesting news report.

Forty-three nations, including Israel and Arab states, pledged Sunday to work for a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction at the close of a summit to launch an unprecedented Union for the Mediterranean aimed at securing peace across the restive region.

In a final declaration, Israel, Syria, the Palestinians along with countries across Europe, the Middle East and North Africa agreed to “pursue a mutually and effectively verifiable Middle East Zone free of weapons of mass destruction.”

So, does that mean that Israel is going to have Syrian inspectors allowed in there at Dimona, with freedom to inspect and independently verify that they have no nuclear weapons and no program for the development of same?

To be honest, I’m completely skeptical that that could happen. On principle, though, it sounds like a step in the right direction.

Written by Luke Weston

July 14, 2008 at 1:28 pm

ABC Q&A: It’s not easy being Green.

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The recording of ABC TV’s Q&A series this week, debating anthropogenic climate change, the mitigation thereof, and alternative energy systems to coal, featuring Craig Emerson, Helen Coonan, Christine Milne, Andrew Bolt and Linda Jaivine is available online now. It’s worth watching, if you’re interested.

Written by Luke Weston

July 11, 2008 at 8:08 am

Anthropogenic GHG emissions in the developing economic powers.

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In the discussion of anthropogenic greenhouse forcing and the international political efforts to respond to it, there isn’t much of an opportunity for discussion before somebody brings up the issue of the rising economic powers like India and China. I agree that there is a very large base of emissions in China and other developing economies – they’re building the equivalent of one large power plant every 10 days or whatever it is, but they’re building all the nuclear power and hydro that they can as part of that – but if they need coal fired plants as well in this early stage of their industrialisation, then they will build those, too.

Considering that energy consumption in most developed countries has usually grown faster than GDP during the early stages of industrialization, it is to China’s credit that although its GDP has grown by 9.5% per year over the last 27 years, their carbon intensity per unit of GDP has decreased during that time, rather than increasing along with the GDP. The reduction in carbon intensity for China has meant that its CO2 increase of about 5.4% per year has amounted to a little over half of its GDP increase during the same 27 years. [1] They’re doing a far better job than was done in the industrialisation of the Western societies.

Only one seventh of the population of China has access to constant reliable electricity. Are we to stop those Chinese having that access to electricity? They want to have a prosperous, developed, first-world standard of technologically developed society for all the Chinese people – who the hell are we to say that they shouldn’t, or can’t?

They want to have the same opportunity for industrialisation that the West has had – even if that means pollution first, and clean up later, exactly like it was done in the Western societies.

If the Australian government[s] were in charge of China, you can be sure they’d be doing a far worse job in managing the rate of increase greenhouse gas emissions whilst allowing economic development.

In discussions of the politics of responding to anthropogenic greenhouse forcing in the Western world, you’ll often hear the “Blame China – it’s all their fault, not ours!” position. So, what to do?

Is the anthropogenic forcing of climate change such a pressing, important issue that suppose we’re going to tell the Chinese, no, you’re not allowed to industrialize right now – maybe in 50 years or 100 years when everyone else has slashed their CO2 emissions? You’re joking, clearly – what are you going to do, go to war to stop them from having the same standard of living that we have?

Or, perhaps, we can give them as much aid as possible to build clean alternatives to coal fired power plants while they’re industrialising?

Chinese officials claim that they are doing a great deal that is often not visible, especially for a country as large, populous, and rurally undeveloped as it is.

But working against that, and equally non-visible, is the role of multinational ventures in China in contributing to its greenhouse gas emissions. As of 2004, 23% of China’s CO2 emissions were coming from China’s manufacturing of products destined for the West, providing an interesting perspective on China’s large trade surplus. [1]

Over half of those emissions driven by demand from the West are from multinationals and foreign owned factories in China, suppling all the crap that is destined for Wal-Mart and department store shelves in Australia, the US, and other western nations. It is pointed out that China is being demonised for having become the place where the western world effectively outsources much of its pollution.

Do we have a responsibility to deal with this in China, instead of just blaming them and refusing to do anything ourselves since they’re supposedly the problem?

We could fully encourage and support the export of all nuclear power, wind turbine, solar, hydro, etc technologies from the Western nations into China – and, given the seriousness with which anthropogenic greenhouse forcing is viewed as a grave issue, give them as much direct financial aid as we can to build these technologies as an alternative to new coal fired power plants.

Instead of, say, building a nuclear power plant in Australia, Germany, Italy, the US or UK or where ever to replace a coal fired power plant, what if we could just give the money to China and they will build them instead of coal plants – talk about an emissions trading scheme! That way, we’re making the same mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions, we’ve silenced the “It’s all China’s fault, not our problem” talk, and we’ve also dealt with the political bickering in Australia (and a few other Western countries) over acceptance of nuclear power.

(Of course, this is a little hard to reconcile with the usual Western approach where power plants, nuclear, fossil or otherwise, are built and operated by corporations who can sell their electricity for profit – it really only makes sense in the context of nations operating under state ownership of power plants, like, say France.)

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_warming_in_China

Written by Luke Weston

July 10, 2008 at 11:30 am

Rudd rejects Labor nuclear push

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Rudd rejects Labor nuclear push

THE Rudd Government has flatly rejected calls from an influential unionist and the former Labor premier Bob Carr to embrace a nuclear power industry as it grapples with how to cut carbon emissions.

Kevin Rudd told ABC radio this morning the nuclear option was not needed.

And in a short media conference, Treasurer Wayne Swan, when asked about the renewed nuclear push answed: “No, a capital N-O.”

The issue was reignited after The Australian reported this morning that Australian Workers Union boss Paul Howes and Mr Carr had called on the Government to purge its prejudices and embrace a nuclear power industry.

Their advocacy came at the annual Australian-American Leadership Dialogue in Washington after a debate on climate change.

“If we are going to be a green Labor Government, then we have to look at nuclear,” Mr Howes told The Australian.

“If we don’t start today, we are going to put ourselves in a very precarious position in 10, 15 or 20 years time.”

“I’ve told ministers in the Rudd Government this is my view and the view of my union. I can’t tell you how concerned I am about this. It’s the greatest challenge the union movement has faced since trade liberalisation in the 1980s, if not greater.

“The only option for us, in my view, is nuclear. If we are going to reduce our carbon output and still want to have heavy industry then we have to look at renewable and new sources of energy – and that means nuclear.”

Mr Carr described nuclear power as the critical bridge between the carbon era and energy from renewable sources.

“There is no other bridging technology to get us from this catastrophic burning of coal and oil into the era of cheap and infinite renewable power,” the former NSW Labor premier said.

“We all want to get there. But it’s decades off and we need a bridge. The best the Western world can do to stop the melting of the polar icecaps is to sponsor the production of the most modern nuclear power plants.”

But the Prime Minister said today: “We believe that we have a full range of energy options available to Australia beyond nuclear through which we can respond to the climate change challenge, and we’re confident we can do that,” he said.

Mr Rudd also reiterated that the coal industry must remain part of a long-term solution and that clean coal technologies must be further developed, but he was optimistic about its future.

“What the nation needs to set for itself and the world is a goal to bring about the commercial application and scale of clean-coal technologies,” he said.

The climate change issue will continue to dominate the political agenda over the next week, with the Government’s climate change expert Ross Garnaut to release his interim report next Friday.

A Government green paper is to follow.

As the Government moved to dismiss the nuclear option, Mr Howes continued his push.

“In the UK, there’s going to be the expansion of nuclear facilities there,” he told Fairfax radio today.

“France now has 80 per cent of its power generated from nuclear, all as short solutions, that is 20 to 50 year solutions until other technologies, such as fusion and hot rock, … are developed and are widely available as baseload power.”

Nuclear power would always be a sensitive issue, he said.

“But we have 40 per cent of the world’s uranium in Australia.

“Labor has overturned the three mines policy and I think it’s now a time for another healthy, sensible and rational debate about this issue without falling back to alarmist sentiments.”

Rudd’s and Labor’s position on nuclear power is based completely on ideology and dogma, in the absence of any evidence. What is their scientifically, factually motivated argument against nuclear energy?

If we “have a full range of energy options available to Australia beyond nuclear through which we can respond to the climate change challenge” then what the hell are they, actually?

Rudd can either put up or shut up. Meanwhile, no impact is being made in the use of coal at all.

So, what are these magical options that Rudd has up his sleeve? How mature are the technologies? How much energy do they generate, how easily can they be scaled up, how much do they cost when scaled up to replace coal plants, and how much carbon dioxide and other forms of pollution do they emit – and why aren’t we using them to replace coal fired power stations right now, without the bullshit?

If there’s some magical thing that Rudd is sitting on that is superior to nuclear energy – which there isn’t – then let’s see it. I’m calling him out on it, right now. Since no superior option exists for replacing coal-fired power stations, nuclear energy is what is needed.

Even the AWU realises that burning coal in this way is completely unsustainable – why does the Rudd government insist on remaining committed to coal?

If we check out The Australian’s poll we see – once again – that a clear majority of Australians think the same way.

Written by Luke Weston

June 27, 2008 at 11:37 am

A little coal-fired satire.

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If the embedded video above doesn’t work properly on your web browser, use this link.

Written by Luke Weston

April 30, 2008 at 3:23 pm