Monday, 1 September 2014

The RET Review: Rendering a Carbon-Intensive Utopia for Climate Deniers

The panel charged with reviewing Australia's renewable energy target concluded, simply, that we ought to increase greenhouse gas emissions and protect fossil fuels. The conclusions exist to render a perfect energy system -  coated with carbon. 

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As you move through open world computer games, the software renders only the world in front of your view. Everything behind your head doesn't exist. Everything past those mountains in the distance exists only when you climb over and look.

If you stand still, nothing needs to exist bar the things rendered in front of your face.

The review of the renewable energy target, instigated by Prime Minister Abbott and written by a panel hand-picked by the PM's office, exists to ensure the only future we render is one that's cloaked in carbon. The thought of an energy system that's even partly powered by low-carbon machines is one that threatens the worldview of those who reject the science of climate change.

As many have pointed out, the RET review found, simply, that the scheme was successful at reducing carbon emissions by adding clean technology to the grid, at minimal cost to consumers. Despite this, the panellists recommended that the scheme is either axed immediately, or axed slowly.

The logic for this recommendation lies in the fact that lowering carbon emissions means profits fall for fossil fuels, and that renewable energy companies, instead of not existing, make money from generating power.

For a long time, the Abbott government has been declaring their support for the Renewable Energy target, and promised, prior to the election, that the scheme had their full support. Mark Butler, the shadow environment minister, compiled these in a press release:

Look, we originated a renewable energy target. That was one of the policies of the Howard Government and yes we remain committed to a renewable energy target … we have no plans to change the renewable energy target.
Tony Abbott, 29 September 2011 
But the Opposition Leader told the party room that people saw generating renewable energy as an important issue and the Coalition had to commit to it.
The Australian, 20 June 2012 
“We will be keeping the renewable energy target. We’ve made that commitment. We have no plans or proposals to change it... We have no plans or intention for change and we’ve offered bipartisan support to that.”
Greg Hunt, speech, 27 February, 2013 
It has been interesting to note the claims being made about what the Coalition will or won’t do. All of it is simply conjecture. The Coalition supports the current system, including the 41,000 giga-watt hours target.
Simon Birmingham, Speech to the Clean Energy Week Conference, 24 July 2013
Breaking an election promise to kill an industry that has near-zero (and eventual negative) impact on electricity prices, creates jobs and is extremely popular with the public seems like a poorly calculated move. But the logic underpinning the move to scrap the RET isn't logical - it's tied inextricably with the landscape of climate change denial in Australia.



Dick Warburton, the head of the panel that authored the final report, has been variously described as a climate change sceptic, climate change denier, and climate change critic. Yesterday, whilst being interviewed by Andrew Bolt, Warburton stated that:

"Well, as I read the facts that are coming through, the temperatures have not risen since 1998, there's been just a flat area, even though carbon emissions have gone up, but the temperature has not"
Via SkepticScience - the reason a 'pause' is cited to argue against climate science

That the head of a renewable energy review is spouting long-debunked anti-scientific climate denial talking points on national television ought to precipitate some nervousness in us.

Can you imagine Abbott conducting a review of car safety, and appointing someone who rejects the causal relationship between car crashes and injury? There's no reason to suspect he wouldn't, if industry wealth was threatened.

The subtle anti-scientific justifications for the RET review explains why messaging has been so confused. During Warburton's interview with Bolt, he states that "Electricity prices will continue to rise" if RET isn't modified - this directly contradicts the findings of the modelling commissioned for the report:



The first option offered by Warburton is the outright cessation of the large-scale renewable energy target scheme. Buried in the text of the report:

"With less renewables in the electricity mix, the wholesale electricity price would initially drop, but would then increase from 2018 onwards and would outweigh the savings from avoided certificate costs by around 2020; causing retail electricity prices to be higher than if the RET remained"

Warburton is literally calling for higher household electricity prices, whilst stating that he's scrapping the RET to avoid price increases. Peter Hannam writes for the SMH:

"The Warburton panel appears to be calling for the most expensive option for the large-scale component. According to its own modelling, provided by ACIL Allen, closing the scheme to new entrants would be $302 more costly than the current setting for households over 2015-2040. By contrast, raising the goal to 30 per cent by 2030 would leave households $297 better off"

Even more confusingly, Warburton goes on to cite the forthcoming decrease in wholesale electricity price (due to renewable energy) as further evidence for an *increase* in price, in the future. What? It's a garbled conglomerate of underhand fallacies and heavy-handed mistakes.

In an equally confusing interview with Fran Kelly on RN Breakfast, Warburton claims Abbott's Direct Action policy is a suitable replacement for the RET - a policy that hasn't been passed into legislation, let alone written, modelled or examined.



Warburton isn't just championing higher electricity prices - both LRET options he recommends will result directly in increased carbon emissions:



The only consistency in messaging so far has been the repetition of the word 'billion' with force - the number preceding this angry mantra is the amount of money the fossil fuel generators will lose in the process of the alteration of Australia's energy system to a safer, cleaner mix. They inject unmasked feeling and fervour into these words, because they're talking about the monetary outcome of a world where climate science is real, rather than a conspiracy borne of grant-hungry scientists and scheming environmentalists.

If climate change isn't a fraudulent conspiracy, then we do indeed need to re-balance our energy mix, incentivise clean technology, and penalise those gaining wealth from damaging humanity. A 'cross-subsidy', in a world rendered such, is simply the outcome of over-investment in injurious technology.

Their world needs to be protected - the barricades must be strengthened and the foundations must be buttressed. A new conspiracy theory about dastardly scientists from the weather bureau grabbing weather stations and moving them to 'fake' a global warming trend, presumably cackling maniacally whilst doing so, gets a near-daily run in The Australian. These sit alongside Tony Abbott's business advisor Maurice Newman, unironically warns of global cooling (in his response to criticism, he complained of the weather bureau's 'unscientific rounding').

Today, Chris Mitchell, the editor-in-chief of The Australia, angrily inquired:

“Why are the views of environmental activists privileged above the role of economic growth, which inevitably creates better ­environmental, employment and social outcomes for the wider community?”

The perplexing disparity between the actual information in the RET review modelling, and Warburton's recommendations makes sense only when we consider the urgency with which the climate change denial community needs to preserve the incumbency of fossil fuel generators, and strengthen our dependence on fuels that damage societies, economies and atmospheres.

It can't go on forever. Most of us are rendering a future of technological improvement, rather than technological stagnation.

We can't stand still forever. Actively stifling our completely human need for improvement isn't something that will be readily forgiven. Not by us, nor those who inherit the thin film of atmosphere we inhabit. 

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