Red Necked Aussie Greenies

Guest Post by Geoff Russell. Geoff is a mathematician and computer programmer and is a member of Animal Liberation SA. His recently published book is CSIRO Perfidy. For his previous post on BNC about the Integral Fast Reactor, read “Rethinking Nuclear Power“.



UK Economist Lord Nicholas Stern is the latest in a growing list, including IPCC head Rajendra Pachauri and NASA climate scientist James Hansen calling for a global shift in dietary habits towards less meat. The CSIRO has issued a new Home Energy Saving Handbook which tells people diplomatically, but unambiguously, that if they do use the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet, with its huge meat component, then use it for as brief a period as possible and switch to a high carbohydrate diet which has a much lower greenhouse footprint. The book also has a great section on the implications of suburban food growing, including a mention that this also tends to reduce meat consumption. This new CSIRO handbook is a long way short of the major public corporate apology that I called for in my recent book CSIRO Perfidy, but it’s an excellent start. All in all this CSIRO book is a great practical book about how people can significantly reduce their various footprints on the planet. It doesn’t fall into any of the all too common traps like considering the fuel consumption of a car, but ignoring the emissions generated during the building of the vehicle.

Stern’s call reduced animal product intake follows close on the release of a report on livestock and climate change from the Food Ethics Council in the UK(commisioned by World Wildlife Fund (WWF)). The press release announcing the report contains a statment which will probably raise the blood pressure of any meat producer. It says that the report:

Identifies a wide array of measures by which government might change consumption behaviour, …

The livestock industry can live with feel good statments about breeding for lower emitting cattle and the like, but changes to consumption, changes that would actually make a difference, that is anathema.

At the risk of boring people who know this stuff, let me quantify using an analogy that I hope will clarify. Consider a computer screen. I’m using a 19 inch 37 watt LCD. My TV is a little bigger and uses 58 watts. Most people know that huge plasma TVs can be more than a little bigger and use 10 times more power. Systems labelled home theatre can run to over 1500 watts … about half for the sound and half for the picture. Now, pause and think what would happen if somebody started making 7400 watt screens that were much the same size as normal screens. Imagine further that these screens caused serious and frequently life shortening health problems.

Would anybody defend such screens? Would anybody bother with a defence that better manufacturing could reduce their power usage by 25%?

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Energy dialogue, Green debate, Blog updates

Three new things to report to BNC readers.

First, on 11 November, the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute will host the 2nd Dunstan Environment Dialogue, entitled Power and the People“, featuring yours truly. Here’s the promo:

The Dialogues are a series of public meetings to stimulate debate on how to better manage our environmental resources, to encourage participants to cut through technological haze and the lobby-speak so they may form their own judgements about the directions Australia should be taking as it considers the Green New Deal the world must now develop.

In Australia and around the world, energy demands are on the rise. What must happen to energy generation in the face of issues such as climate change and limited fossil fuel reserves? Should power generation be localised or centralised? Researchers, governments and communities are struggling to agree upon the best method for future energy generation. It is an issue for everyone to consider.

The second Dialogue in the series, entitled Power and the People, will ask whether new nuclear or clean technologies should power our future.

Professor Mike Young, Director of The Environment Institute at the University of Adelaide, will moderate a discussion with two leading thinkers and the audience. You will hear from Fiona Wain, Chief Executive Director of Environment Business Australia and Professor Barry Brook, Sir Hubert Wilkins Chair of Climate Change, University of Adelaide. Together with these speakers we will explore energy generation options and opportunities for Australia.

It will commence at 5:30pm on Wednesday 11 November 2009 at Union Hall (google maps), University of Adelaide. Join us in the debate, then make your own judgement on the direction policy should take. To secure your seat RSVP to


Second, I was invited to engage in a written debate on nuclear power with Dr Jim Green of Friends of the Earth in “Australia’s leading radical newspaper”, Green Left Weekly. Here is a quote from my piece (the full article is 1600 words, and uses some past material you’d have probably seen before if you’ve been following my writings):

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Crunch Time: Using and abusing Keynes to fight the twin crises of our era

Guest Post by Tony Kevin. Tony holds degrees in civil engineering, and in economics and political science. He retired from the Australian Foreign Service in 1998, after a 30-year career during which he served in the Foreign Affairs and Prime Minister’s departments, and was Australia’s ambassador to Poland and Cambodia. He is currently an honorary visiting fellow at the Australian National University’s Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies in Canberra. He has written extensively on Australian foreign, national security, and refugee policies in Australia’s national print media, and is the author of the award-winning books A Certain Maritime Incident: the sinking of SIEV X (Scribe 2004), and Walking the Camino: a modern pilgrimage to Santiago (Scribe 2007).

Crunch Time: Using and abusing Keynes to fight the twin crises of our era’, by Tony Kevin (Scribe Publications, Melbourne 2009, RRP $32.95).

I am pleased to introduce my new book on Australian climate change policy, ‘Crunch Time’ (Scribe Publications, Melbourne 2009) to readers of BraveNewClimate. I see BNC as a responsible public affairs website that is making a distinctive contribution to climate change discussion in Australia.

Crunch Time is the latest in a series of books written by Australian non-scientists (e.g., Clive Hamilton, Guy Pearse, David Spratt and Philip Sutton, Gareth Morgan and John McCrystal) who seek to communicate the scientific truth of Australia’s climate emergency to general Australian readers. The purpose of such books is to convince non-specialist readers – that is, those who have not yet surrendered their intelligence to the soothing seductions of denialist dogma – that the science of disruptive global warming is real; and that it is broadly accessible to all readers, even those with little or no scientific background.

This is an ambitiously wide-ranging book. It goes further than its predecessors into the current convoluted and deeply dishonest Australian political discussion of the issue, and into the possibility of real nationally funded fiscal and engineering solutions, which would apply a bold green Keynesian approach to achieve a comprehensive energy infrastructure transformation away from burning coal as Australia’s electricity source.

Running through the book is a documented case setting out the ways in which the Rudd government has failed dismally to live up to its own early rhetoric on the urgency of confronting the climate change challenge, thus betraying the high hopes that were placed in it by environmentalists. The book begins with a forensic account of how the government, under pressure from the coal lobby, abandoned its commitment to respecting the science set out in the Garnaut Review.

With great political skill, Rudd presented himself as the final arbiter above the ‘scientific argy-bargy’. He claimed the final responsibility as Prime Minister to strike a responsible balance between the climate science and the needs of the economy. In so doing, he betrayed the climate security of the coming generations of Australians.

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TCASE 5: Ocean power I – Pelamis

The first four posts of the TCASE series were logically sequential — each post built on the conclusions of the previous one. Overall, I hope the TCASE will retain a sense of coherency, but at the same time, I don’t want to get too constrained in following a rigid structure. To be frank, I can’t plan the ‘storyline arc’ well enough at this stage to make that even half feasible, and besides, I want to the series to be responsive to topical debates (and keep each post to a digestible, bite-sized chunk of information).

So future offerings in TCASE will branch out to cover everything from examinations of different technologies/energy sources, case studies of actual real-world projects, evaluation of new policy decisions (such as Australia’s 2020 ERET), questions of build rates and constraints, cost/feasibility assessments, consideration of technology gaps and physical limitations, exposing spin and hype, limit analyses, thought experiments, etc. I certainly hope to continue to get ideas from the commenters on this blog, which collectively represent an enormous wealth of knowledge, experience and ideas. To me, this is a fine form of peer review and a great source of inspiration. Thanks BNC readers!

Today’s post offers a first look at ocean power — the mighty fist of Poseidon (mythologically and in reality) — harnessing the energy in waves (I’ll look at tidal energy separately). Wave power is a form of indirect solar energy — driven by fairly consistent oceanic winds, which whip up waves over hundreds or thousands of km of open ocean. This energy may be harnessed with the use of buoys, oscillating air columns, barrages and so on, with a conversion efficiency of ~30%. Waves are a linear energy resource — once you’ve tapped its energy, you need thousands more km of ocean to regenerate new waves, so the resource is measured in kW per linear metre (not metre-squared, like direct solar). Average annual wave power density range from 10-40 kW per metre in inshore regions to as much as 70 kW/m in highly energetic regions. Although it is somewhat more regular (‘available’) than wind (and with a higher power density), wave energy is not constant and will still require substantial back-up and/or energy storage. More technical documents here.

Carnegie corporation, an Australian wave power company, state that their CETO technology (which I will look at in detail in another post — it has some fascinating prospects) can generate 100 MW peak using an a 500 buoy system; so, 200 kW peak per undersea buoy. To date, however, the only commercially operating wave farm in the world is in Aguçadoura, Portugal, about a year ago — so let’s focus first on the energy potential of this technology.

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Danish fairy tales – what can we learn?

It’s estimated that if we fully pursue our potential for wind energy on land and offshore, wind can generate as much as 20 percent of our electricity by 2030 and create a quarter-million jobs in the process — 250,000 jobs in the process, jobs that pay well and provide good benefits. It’s a win-win: It’s good for the environment; it’s great for the economy. Today America produces less than 3 percent of our electricity through renewable sources like wind and solar—less than 3 percent. Now, in comparison, Denmark produces almost 20 percent of their electricity through wind power.”

Barack Obama, Earth Day Speech, April 22, 2009

” ‘But the Emperor has nothing on at all!’ said a little child.”

From The Emperor’s New Clothes, by Denmark’s famous poet and author, Hans Christian Andersen, 1837

Guest Post by Tom Blees. Tom is author of Prescription for the Planet – The Painless Remedy for Our Energy & Environmental Crises. Tom is also the president of the Science Council for Global Initiatives.


Last month Denmark’s CEPOS, their Center for Political Studies, published a report called Wind Energy, The Case of Denmark, from which that Obama quote was lifted. It sheds a harsh light on the young president’s wind vision, and reveals a dubious statistic and assumptions that may be far from the future reality of the USA despite the promising rhetoric.

Brave New Climate is one of those rare sites that eschews the hype about energy systems, where the contributors and most commenters seem to want the straight facts based on actual data. Fortunately we have a couple decades of data on wind and solar power systems, and of course considerably more decades than that on nuclear, though changes in regulatory and subsidy frameworks have often had as marked an effect on energy systems as technological advances.

Last week I wrote a post on Germany’s economic experience with solar power, and in the comments I included more links to similar articles describing Spain’s own dubious foray into a solar-powered future. Today, with Barry’s indulgence, I’d like to turn the spotlight to Denmark’s experience with wind power, a national experiment that began in the mid-Eighties and is continuing to this day. Denmark was the leader in the development and deployment of wind turbines up until very recently, and still plans to keep moving in that direction with the construction of 800 MW of new offshore wind turbines by 2013. One reason they’re going offshore, despite the added cost, is because after almost 25 years of building windmills all over the country they’re starting to get a NIMBY reaction to building more of them on land.

While President Obama’s statement that “Denmark produces almost 20 percent of their electricity through wind power” might be technically construed as true, it belies the real picture, a situation that bedevils the notoriously fickle wind power wherever it has been built. If one simply looks at the statistics of the number of megawatt-hours of electricity produced by wind power in Denmark over the course of a year and divides it by Denmark’s electricity demand, the number does indeed come out to nearly 20%. But the devil is in the details.

Denmark’s thermal power plants, fueled mostly by coal, produce not only electricity but also heat for the towns near which they’re located. The Danes have taken great pains to make their coal plants as efficient as possible by building them for such double duty. But what happens when it’s wintertime and the wind is howling, spinning those turbines like crazy? One can easily imagine that those same days are mighty chilly, and so those coal plants are fired up even though the electricity they’re producing is now in less demand than the heat they’re producing to keep the Danes warm.

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