Light entertainment

The most entertaining thing I saw on TV last night was Malcolm Turnbull spending nearly 10 minutes avoiding the question of whether or not electricity prices would go up as a result of using “clean coal” technology, specifically carbon capture (transcript and video).

This was the closest he got to an answer:

Tony, once you get the technology working, once you know it works, then the cost will come down. You and I are old enough to remember when a desktop computer cost $15,000. Now you go and buy one for less than $2,000.

Riiiight . . . because a computer is pretty similar to an enormous vacuum cleaner-like thing that extracts carbon dioxide from burning coal, compresses it and buries it several kilometres underground in saline aquifers. (The obvious advantage of this being the companies that bottle mineral water won’t have to pay extra to put the bubbles in.) Of course the technology isn’t proven yet and may or may not work – just like a computer! But let’s assume, for the moment, it does.

We know politicians are never fond of bad news, but people in Australia and other western countries generally seem to be quite comfortable with the idea of paying more for electricity if it reduces greenhouse emissions and stuff, whatever that Al Gore bloke was talking about when got on a crane next to a graph or something. Why not come clean?

Here’s the really scary thing.

But, plainly, the cost of the carbon capture and storage has to be a realistic one, because, again, a country like China simply will not accept technologies which are going to materially impact on their economic growth. China says again and again this is a development issue, they are not going to have their development slowed down by the need to address this issue. They’re too big to argue with, so we have to find the answers with them to do it.

Let me summarise the reasoning:

  1. China (and other developing countries like India) is going to keep burning coal even if Australia stops using it and/or selling it to them
  2. Australia needs to develop “clean coal” technology that will allow us and other countries to keep using coal without destroying the climate
  3. China won’t use “clean coal” technology if it costs more than regular old dirty coal
  4. WTF?

So this whole ideal only works if “clean coal” doesn’t cost more than dirty coal, which it does. But by pretending it doesn’t, we’ll fool the Chinese government into using it and save the planet . . . ?

Or is this just a more advanced form of the argument the Government has always pushed – we’ll do something about it, as long as it doesn’t damage our economic prosperity. Since it will damage our economic prosperity . . . look, terrorists!

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