Friday, April 23, 2010

Response to comments at Crikey on Ferguson

I thought I'd offer a response here to comments on my piece on Martin Ferguson at Crikey. You need to register to view the (free) Crikey piece, but the comments and my response also relate to an extended version of the article published here, 'Ferguson the real face of Rudd on climate'.

First of all, as one comment suggested, I'd love to be able to offer a transcript of the interview, but I can't imagine there was ever any prospect of a recording being allowed - or of a frank discussion on Ferguson's part if it had been. Of course, if Ferguson has any argument with anything I've said here, he's either silent or letting others do the talking for him. He certainly knows about the piece, I can assure you.

On the Hansen supporting nuclear comment (and why did I only mention his views on coal), I did actually think about that while writing the piece. I guess his support for nuclear power really isn't any part of why he's right about climate change and the contribution of coal and other fossil fuels to the problem.

Barry Brook is another example of someone who is very strong on climate science but supports nuclear. Because I disagree with Hansen and Brook (and agree with Al Gore) on the nuclear issue, I don't think Ferguson is any part of the solution. There are just too many problems with proliferation, the risk of accident and waste - and too many sound alternatives - to think about nuclear energy as a (radioactive) silver bullet.

I suspect that, for Ferguson, a similar principle applies to uranium as with coal: it appears unthinkable for him to adopt any solution that entails not cashing in on a mineral resource. Keeping fossil fuels in the ground isn't destroying industry and jobs etc. as some commenters suggested, it's the action needed to avoid catastrophic climate impacts and the far greater economic costs of 'adapting' to them (we can't) rather than preventing them from happening in the first place.

The volcano argument - why bother about human causes when a bloody big volcano has erupted - I think is a red herring. Even if there were a net contribution from the eruption not 'offset' by the reduction in emissions from flights, would that really justify us continuing to increase our own massive emissions, or argue even more strongly to reduce them? The answer is pretty clear, in my view. It's an interesting example of the opportunism of climate denialism - unfortunately, there are millions of man-made carbon dioxide volcanoes all over the planet that we call coal-fired power stations, oil-fuelled transport etc. etc. that we can do something about and really should.

Commenter Michael James I think is clearly wrong that we climate campaigners brought nothing to the table in meeting with Ferguson. If Ferguson and other politicians listened to the climate movement, we would stand a much better chance of avoiding the worst climate impacts - pretty tangible, I'd say. The claim that renewables can't provide baseload is the old argument Ferguson likes to trot out, but it's dead in the water. A combination of renewables connected via a smart grid can readily supply baseload power. In fact Beyond Zero Emissions has a Zero Carbon Australia 2020 Project to prove it. They say a 60/40 solar/wind mix will do it, creating thousands of jobs in the process.

Finally, one commenter still bothered to quote Plimer I thought the excellent John van Tiggelen piece in The Age Good Weekend magazine a while back would have put a stop to that.

Firstly I'd say that there's very little doubt that we're markedly warming the planet because of our greenhouse gas contributions, despite their small percentage of the atmosphere's composition. To say there's so much more carbon trapped within the earth only supports urgent climate action. The carbon stored in the earth is naturally sequestered there, but we are releasing it and unleashing its warming effects through mining and burning fossil fuels, warming the frozen tundra that releases methane etc. etc. Our aim must be not to release carbon that is already stored safely, and to draw down the carbon that's already in the atmosphere.

Hansen, Gore, Four Corners and many other reputable sources have shown that the artificial (and unproven at scale) process of carbon capture and storage is not the way to do it - especially when the renewable options are abundant, especially in Australia.

What do you say, Martin? Anything at all?


  1. Thanks Darren, you're spot-on about "opportunism of climate denialism". Regarding CCS, the Economist also trashedit awhile back.

    On Hansen, he primarily wants research resumed on 4th-generation Integral Fast Reactors (IFRs). He makes the assertion to the effect "how dare anti-nuke greenies say what's best for the planet?" And he's right. These IFRs could run on nuclear waste which removes a major issue: uranium mining. Personally I take the ABC approach: Anything But Coal. However, Australia is a bit unique on Nukes: "Nuclear not the cheapest path for Australia: OECD" (

    So, Geothermal it is.

  2. Apologies for the late publication of your comment, kuke. I've been away for the Anzac Day long weekend without Internet access.

    While I'm somewhat drawn to Obama's proposal to use nuclear material from warheads to drive reactors (it's at least removed from immediate availability for offensive use), I still think the nuclear option poses too many risks - from terrorism to persistent issues with waste.

    As Gore also points out in Our Choice, there's a strong correlation between nations with nuclear power and those with nuclear weapons, and I think it's very hard to keep the two separated, or to prevent either fissile material or waste ultimately falling into the hands of terrorists.

    Maybe we should have a 'spill test' for our energy sources. Contrast what happens when we spill gas, oil, coal and uranium with what happens with wind, sun and geothermal. Using the renewables all around us seems the safest path.


Comments are most welcome on any of the posts at Northcote Independent. I encourage feedback - positive or negative. Feel free to disagree, but remember that posts are moderated to ensure they are on the topic and in the spirit of open debate, as outlined in my editorial policy.