No. 93

THE LIGHTS WILL STAY ON UNTIL THE GREENS SWITCH THEM OFF

Stone the crows! At least the lights will stay on while you watch your superannuation sink!

In fact, the reason we can worry ourselves sick at the prospect of 50 year old retired Greek civil servants protesting pension cuts and kick-starting Global Financial Crisis II in the process is because other fears are off the agenda. [i]

Like energy exhaustion. The peak oil pessimists warn the petroleum glass is half empty and that demand will exceed supply in 2014, at the latest.[ii]

Not so, optimists argue, suggesting total global consumption amounts to one trillion barrels of oil to date, with five trillion to go (admittedly only 1.4 trillion are economically accessible).[iii]

And it turns out that the world, even better the west, is awash with new energy which unlike the green god-heads, wind and solar, does not need subsidising.

According to The Economist, in 2003 experts estimated there were 1.1 trillion cubic metres of recoverable shale gas in North America. Now, largely due to deregulation of the natural gas market in the US, encouraging innovation, estimates are up by a factor of 50. [iv]

The Israelis can hope for energy independence following the discovery of an offshore gas field at Christmas, capable of meeting existing domestic needs for 90 years.[v]

Australia is certainly not short of the stuff; liquefied natural gas exports could come to rival coal and iron ore as export earners.[vi]

Even in the UK, where people are starting to remember the happy years of the Callaghan Government, there is good news on energy, with discovery of a shale gas field capable of meeting existing domestic consumption for two decades.[vii]

Indeed, just about the only bad energy news is for OPEC and the Russians who will not have the Yanks and Europeans over as big a barrel as they are used to.

But this will never do for critics of capitalism, whose infinitely adaptable articles of faith include the way wasteful free market economies are running out of fossil fuel. But if they aren’t, the new stuff is destroying the environment.

Fracking, which pumps chemicals into rock formations to release trapped gas, is immensely unpopular. Critics argue it could inject toxic chemicals into the water table.[viii]

It is an argument with sensible supporters. Fracking is banned in New Jersey and although it is allowed away from aquifers in neighbouring New York State it is increasingly unpopular with landowners who originally agreed to it.[ix] But with most gas deposits way below the water table it also appeals to NIMBYs who have no housing estates to oppose. Whatever the motivation, coal seam gas extraction is on the nose in rural NSW and Queensland, plus Sydney and its southern surrounds.

As the SMH editorialised in July, “Scientists should force companies to disclose the chemicals they use in fracking, assess the dangers to water tables and suggest guidelines for preserving farmland and water catchments.”[x]

And arguments are emerging that coal seam gas generated is not much of an improvement on conventional power plants. While CSG does not release as much carbon dioxide as coal, too much methane, which warms the atmosphere much faster, escapes in the production process. According to the SMH, “new research is challenging the accepted wisdom that coal seam gas is a suitable transition fuel.”[xi]

The Crows are not qualified to argue the science, but this argument is essential for activists whose interest in the environment is merely a metaphor – or a mask – for their hatred of capitalism.

The more energy we enjoy, the less likely we are to reduce our living standards so that there is more for the people of the developing world to enjoy. As the (what a surprise) Communist Party of Australia argues, “If all the world’s nations are to enjoy an equitable standard of living, the consumption of material goods in the developing nations will have to rise, but the level of material consumption in the developed nations will also have to fall.” [xii]

Precisely. But this is a bit hard to sell politically, what with the way most Australians are guilty of the high crime of turning their air conditioners on when they get hot and who like the idea of a new iphone. So the ideological ascetics use green energy as a proxy – opposing anything that will produce enough power to support our existing lifestyles.

If the activists have their way we will have no alternative to green energy, but not too much of that mind, because NIMBYS also hate wind power, denouncing it as everything from a blight on the landscape to the cause of a new disease, Wind Turbine Syndrome.[xiii]

And in a warning to the gas industry, the Baillieu Government has buckled to the grassroots Greens opposed to electricity if it spoils their views, all but banning windfarms. People living 2kms from the location of a proposed development can veto it. The ban also applies in areas where activists make more noise than the turbines.[xiv]

So coal is off the agenda, gas is just as bad and you can forget wind – which means if the Greens get their way you will only have the electricity you generate on the roof.

At least you won’t have enough light to read the bad news about your superannuation.


[i] The Greek Government’s latest austerity package proposes reducing pensions above 1,000 Euros a month for retired public servants under 55, Stelios Bouras and Alkman Granitsas, “Greece moves to cut pensions and pare public sector,” The Wall Street Journal, September 22

[ii] The Science Show, “Peak oil: just around the corner,” Radio National April 23 @ http://www.abc.net.au/rn/scienceshow/stories/2011/3198227.htm recovered on September 24

[iii] Daniel Yergin, “There will be oil,” The Wall Street Journal, September 17

[iv] “Coming soon to a terminal near you,” The Economist August 6

[v] Robin Pagnamenta, “Israel strikes gold with gas,” The Australian, December 31

[vi] Virginia Christie et al, “The iron ore, coal and gas sectors,” Reserve Bank Bulletin, March Quarter 2011, @ http://www.rba.gov.au/publications/bulletin/2011/mar/1.html recovered on September 24

[vii] “Britain’s second energy revolution,” The Wall Street Journal, September 23

[viii] “The need to be seen to be clean,” The Economist, May 12

[ix] Devlen Barrett and Ryan Dezember, “Regulators back ‘fracking’ in New York, The Wall Street Journal, July 1, Mireya Navarro, “Singing drilling leases, and now having regrets,” New York Times, September 22

[x] “The darkness around fracking,” Sydney Morning Herald, July 20

[xi] Nicky Phillips and Ben Cubby, “Methane’s green credentials under fire,” Sydney Morning Herald, September 24

[xii] Bob Briton, “Carbon price – wrong answer to burning question,” The Guardian: the workers weekly June 8 2011

[xiii] The Crows cast a quizzical beak over WTS at Stone the Crows, 33, July 12 2010 “Not in my back paddock!” @  http://www.thesydneyinstitute.com.au/issue-33/

and Stone the Crows, 81, July 4 2010 “Tilting at windmills as the Greens take power,” July 4 2011 @ http://www.thesydneyinstitute.com.au/issue-81-2/ recovered on September 24

[xiv] Adam Morton, “Baillieu’s wind farm crackdown,” The Age August 30

'2012