Machiavelli: This is politics

COMMENT: The Warburton Review of Australia’s Renewable Energy Target, released late Thursday, is not a mistake. It is not naive, nor a miscalculation of the cost benefit analysis of renewable energy. It is deliberate savagery designed to bankrupt the industry.

Labor is wrong to say it is written by sceptics. The people who insisted on this outcome could be the most fervent believers in climate change; and they know the glory days of the fossil fuel industry are numbered. Their clear and certain aim is to squeeze as much profit as possible from the proceeds of dangerous fossil fuels before they become unburnable.

Warburton’s sham report – with conclusions mandated before even the terms of reference were cobbled together – recommends two options: that the  government dismantle the RET quickly or slightly less quickly. The RET scheme is to be scrapped for new entrants or modified to increase by only 50 per cent of new growth in electricity demand. As for small scale renewable schemes for households and small business, the answer is no and no.

The cost to the economy could be up to $10 billion of investment and thousands of jobs, horrified clean energy and green groups said.

But a handful of coal fired power generators would benefit, and Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said Australia needs to exploit its abundant coal and gas, so no amount of reasoning or cost benefit analysis is relevant in that scenario.

This is closed shop thinking. One goal, one outcome; money for the mates and the rest can go to hell, and probably will.

Report leader, Dick Warburton is 72 years of age. Age isn’t relevant to whether he cares for the planet or not; there are plenty of old men who care passionately for what they leave behind and are deeply motivated to put aside their needs for the future of others.  So it’s unfair to say his age is relevant. Likewise that of the 76 year old Maurice Newman, another old man put in charge of our future by the PM. But you can’t help think that these men have far less skin in the game than a 30 year old.

It’s time to stop twanging on the climate sceptic strings; no sane person doubts climate change is on the way; of course they all “get” it – the tundra is spewing methane and the oceans are warming, which is the equivalent of tossing out the last fridge on the planet. And now we learn that a secret but horrible hope we might have harboured –  that maybe a big volcanic eruption will cloak the planet with dust and cool it – won’t save us. Get geo-engineering out of your mind too.

At the big scientific pow-wows where yes, they’re seriously looking at retrofitting the planet’s mechanics, none of the options come without dreadful side effects and unintended consequences.

The only viable option anyone can see is to stop burning fossil fuels. No dangerous tampering with the weather, iron filings in the sea, particles scattered in space. Simply good riddance to a matter that we’ve only been using for couple of hundred years. Wait, that’s the two hundred years that gave us wealth, untold luxury and power in the West and during which the developing world started to feed its hungry. The developing world needs absolute special consideration, but to survive without fossil fuels is not impossible. To survive without a habitable weather system is.

The barrier to living without coal is not the science, we are so so clever and innovative. It is not the economics, we can make big business out of this. It is the politics of power and wealth that are the true barriers.

And that means the answer is with the people who have a vote in a democracy and those who can influence governments in societies that don’t.

Increasingly the West is moving away from democracy in practice. There’s a vote but whoever wins ends up doing the bidding of the most powerful conglomerates in the land; witness how the behaviour of both sides of politics  changes from the pre-election rhetoric the moment they get sworn in.

Watch out for the people from the fossil fuel industry. First, thanks to their heartland, the Heartland Institute and the Tea Party in the US and the Institute of Public Affairs in Australia, they warned against climate change because it was ‘a plot for world government by the left’. Now their benefactors in the fossil fuel industry are advocating for global government as a way to stop the decommissioning of their coal fired (and increasingly, uranium fired) wealth generators.

Seeded in consumer/community-sounding organisations they are pushing for a global government to manage the orderly transition of the energy industry out of fossil fuels. People such as John Hofmeister, former president of Shell Oil told us this time last year before he came to address the All Energy conference (on again soon) that you can’t trust democracy to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

This, he said, is because people will vote to turn the coal fired power stations off, but the moment there is a blackout they will vote to turn them back on. So you need to create an energy equivalent of the Reserve Bank to manage this “transition”. Of course it will be orderly, he says. The sub-text, not so well buried, is that the economics (read ‘those who control the fossil wealth’) won’t be too badly disrupted either.

There’s that old balancing act again. Between economic and social needs; economic and environmental needs; economics and survival needs. Why not a balance between survival and not survival?

The sad thing is that there’s a pattern seeded in history here. What the fossil fuellers want is what every regime on the brink of collapse wants: more money for the getaway. Or in this case to pay for the private security dome with clean air, what’s left of the food supply, and cool drinks for as long as possible. Can they be so cynical? Well put it this way, if you popped your head over that tundra, or lived through Super Storm Sandy or saw the devastation of Cyclone Katrina or the floods in Queensland or the fires in Victoria, you’d probably be thinking of the best place for a getaway too, just in case.

Where Labor is right is in shadow climate change minister Mark Butler’s call that the report was a “political document – not an independent review.”

There is no longer any point in arguing logic or reason or cost. It’s just not about that.

It’s not even about ideology. It’s about money, short term and abundant.

Let the planet be damned.

See our early report, with reactions, RET review recommends major scale-back, and dropping support for rooftop solar

Read the full report.

5 replies on “RET review: let the planet be damned, this is politics”

  1. Very well written article. Thank you.

    It’s unlikely that these power structures will undermine their own foundations and revolution has too many undesirable unintended consequences.

    We need to build an alternative way of living with this planet. This is a lot easier to do while we still have some of those benefits you referred to, things like clean air, clean water, a habitable atmosphere, affordable energy and a (partially) functional economy.

    I see it as each of our responsibilities to take at least a few small steps to undermine (by reducing our labour and financial participation) & resist (politically) while directing our resources to building a culture which lives within the bounds of the glorious ecosystems that our earth abounds in.

    Radically reduce reliance on big oil, produce no waste and get your hands in the earth.

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