INDEX - ENERGY ID# 0707-12



POSTED: 7 SEPTEMBER 2007 - 3:00pm HST

Habitable planets are hard to find

image above: G20 type demonsration feared at APEC conference

by Ian T. Dunlop on 6 September 2007 in

As APEC meets, the good ship “humanity” is steaming into the teeth of a hurricane with our leaders asleep at the wheel, as the great global issues of climate change and the peaking of oil supply converge.

The need to address human-induced climate change is finally reaching the top of the political agenda, driven primarily by scientific and community concern rather than by any proactive political leadership. Even now, the political rhetoric confirms that our leaders do not understand or accept the seriousness of our position, and the limited time to take action in reducing carbon emissions before we encounter dangerous climate change.

Recent science suggests that the danger level for atmospheric carbon concentrations, to keep warming below 2oC, is 450 parts per million carbon dioxide equivalent, possibly lower. Current atmospheric carbon concentrations are 430ppm CO2e, increasing at 3ppm per annum and accelerating fast, both here and overseas. In theory that leaves 7 years before we reach the danger point of 450ppm. In reality, given accelerating emissions and the non-linear climatic response which is occurring, we probably have no more than 4-5 years to turn down emissions growth. As there is considerable lag before any reduction in emissions takes effect, substantive action is required now, not in 2011 as the government proposes; by then we may already be in the danger zone.

The Prime Minister rightly emphasises that any realistic climate change solution must involve the developing world, but there is no vision or initiative to make this happen. The bankruptcy of current policy is evident in the pre-conference sparring between Foreign Minister Downer and his Malaysian counterpart.

The issue is simple. The average American and Australian generates around 7 times more carbon emissions per annum than the average Chinese, 4 times more than the global average. The figures for the average European are 3 and 1.7 times respectively. It is morally indefensible and unrealistic to expect that the developed world can continue to emit at these levels, with the developing world absorbing the bulk of the climatic impact and being asked to constrain its own growth.

The simplest, most equitable and practical solution to resolve this conundrum is for each nation to agree to converge from today’s unequal per capita carbon emissions, to equal per capita emissions globally by a date to be agreed, say 2040. To stay below the dangerous threshold, of 450ppm CO2e atmospheric carbon concentration, will then require the following changes relative to today’s total emission levels:

Year 2025 2050
Global -15% -55%
Australia & USA -52% -90%
Europe -44% -82%
China +4% -38%
India +74% +28%

Per capita carbon allocation is not a new idea, having been raised by the developing countries in initial climate change negotiations in the early-1990’s, but dismissed at that time by the developed world. However it is where we must end up if we are to avoid catastrophic climatic impact and the conflict that would inevitably follow: better get on with it now.

In contrast to climate change, the peaking of global oil supply is barely on the agenda in this country. Recent reports from the International Energy Agency and the US National Petroleum Council are the first, grudging, official admissions that peak oil may soon become a reality. Indeed, peak oil may have a greater impact than climate change in the short term, given the all-pervasive use of oil throughout global society. If oil does move into short supply, where is the vision to manage the allocation of the oil that is available? Solutions range from:

Letting the market take its course. The economists argue that supply will always balance demand at some price, but conveniently skirt around the traumatic societal implications of recession, depression and inequity that will arise from higher oil prices.

The “Washington Consensus” of sending in the marines to secure supply. Quite apart from moral considerations, recent experience confirms this is neither realistic nor sustainable.

A global Oil Depletion Protocol to provide for equitable sharing of available oil. Again, this may well require convergence toward equal per capita oil allocations by an agreed date if global conflict is to be avoided.

These challenges are daunting, but successful solutions first require that we accept a wider underlying problem; namely that human activity is pushing way beyond the ability of the global environment to absorb its impact, thereby threatening the survival of society as we know it. Further, it will not be resolved by conventional market economics, or technology, in isolation. Markets are important, but they must be redesigned in line with a fundamental rethink of our values. Politically, we have yet to cross that threshold and it may take some further crises, or preferably more community pressure, to force the issue.

Climate change and peak oil are only forerunners of many other issues stemming from the impact of human activity. If a global “Tragedy of the Commons” is to be avoided in the 21C, we have to cede sovereignty from narrow national self-interest, to support equitable global solutions. As global population grows from 6.5 to 9 billion over the next 40 years, per capita allocation mechanisms, whilst anathema to many conventional market economists, will become commonplace. If complemented with national and international market trading, they can address many of the intractable problems that arise from global inequity, such as failed states, poverty and terrorism.

Which brings us back to APEC. The 21 APEC leaders are convening for three days to focus on solutions to major global problems. At present, there is nothing more important than managing our transition to a sustainable global society; without it, discussions on trade and security are meaningless. Climate change is on the agenda, but peak oil is not mentioned although it is fundamental to the functioning of the global economy.

It is a great honour for Australia to host the APEC meeting. However in the current critical circumstances, we are entitled to expect that our leaders devote themselves exclusively to the task of producing substantial initiatives, and dispense with the floss and photo opportunities. Paul Keating is right; we need big structural shifts, not more non-core, long-term, “aspirational” goals.

President Bush and Prime Minister Howard, between them, have done more to subvert serious action on climate change, and to endanger energy security, than anyone else on the planet. The foolishness of their policies is being increasingly visited on communities across the world day by day, as extreme climatic events intensify. They now have a unique opportunity to make amends with real leadership, by ensuring the APEC final communiqué signals the end of “business-as-usual”, with binding commitments to come to grips with these problems.

Ian T. Dunlop, former senior international oil, gas and coal industry executive and former chair of the Australian Greenhouse Office Experts Group on Emissions Trading

Top cop fears 'full-scale' APEC riot
by David Braithwaite on 5 September 2007

Sydney should brace itself for an unprecedented level of violence during Saturday's APEC protest march, the police riot squad chief warned in court today.

The "grave concerns'' of police were aired as they faced off with the Stop Bush Coalition in the Supreme Court this morning over its planned marching route.
The court action sees police opposing the coalition's original protest route from Town Hall, along George Street, through Martin Place and on to Hyde Park.

However, with a police barrier to be erected at George and King Streets, the court heard that this route would, in any case, be blocked to the marchers.

Police said if their expectations of 20,000 marchers were met, any push against the barrier could result in "crowd crush'' and "horrendous consequences''.

"Police lines will come under attack and a full-scale riot is probable,'' if the route was approved, Chief Superintendent Steven Cullen told the court.

The protesters have since floated an alternative "sit-down protest'' in front of the police line at George and King Streets, after which the crowd would disperse.

But the barrister for the police, Michael Spartalis, told the court that Commissioner Andrew Scipione would also oppose this plan.

Mr Spartalis said the Commissioner had indicated he would approve an alternative route, from Town Hall down Park Street to Hyde Park.

Chief Superintendent Cullen told the court he held "grave concerns'' for public safety during the protests.

"Based upon my research, experience, current intelligence and evidence from internationally similar events - more recently G20 in Melbourne - I have absolutely no doubt that minority groups will engage in a level of violence not previously experienced in Sydney,'' he said.

"Never in my career have I held such serious concerns for public safety as I do during the conduct of APEC or, more specifically, this particular march.''
He said the welfare of the public, protesters and police was in jeopardy if they the rally was permitted to march as far north as King Street.

"There will be a barrier at that intersection manned by significant police resources preventing entry,'' Chief Superintendent Cullen said.

Chief Superintendent Cullen said police could neither provide nor guarantee public safety if the march proceeded in its current proposed form.

Acting for the protesters, barrister Michael Bozic rejected the police's preferred Park St route, saying the march aimed to highlight, among other things, the police response to APEC.

It was for this reason protesters should be permitted to peacefully approach the edge of the restricted zone, as close as they could to the meeting of world leaders, he said.

"It's making the point that `Well, we don't get to demonstrate outside the US Consulate and we don't get to demonstrate about war in Martin Place where there's a memorial to people who were killed in wars which we want to stop','' Mr Bozic said.

"These two things for example, would have symbolic significance which is self-evident.''

Justice Adams has retired to consider his verdict, and will deliver judgment at 2pm.

see also:
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Island Breath: The Ethanol Scam
Island Breath: Ethanol & Apollo Kauai
Island Breath: Ethanol Deadend
Island Breath: Ethanol Future
Island Breath: GM Madness
Island Breath: Bio-Fuels 12/15/05