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The Impact of Evolutionary Pressures on Economic Narratives

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 10/12/2020 - 7:15am in

By Carey W. King

People use narratives to support their position, and narratives can serve three purposes. First, they tell a story of belonging. If you meet a stranger and realize you are from a common area, you more easily engage in conversation than otherwise. Second, they describe norms that guide our actions. Most people in society follow certain norms such that by doing so, they are accepted as part of the group. Third—and most relevant to advancing the steady state economy—we use narratives to describe and learn about how the world works.

Unfortunately, most narratives don’t serve all three purposes effectively. A narrative around an economic theory can help facilitate conversation by creating a common vocabulary (the first purpose of narratives), but that narrative might inhibit accurate explanation of the natural world around us. Some problems with economic policy derive directly from the fact that our economic narratives, perhaps useful for belonging and norms, are not useful in their ability to describe how the world works.

I decided to write a book about such narratives to explore some of the outcomes that affect our prospects for environmental and economic sustainability. In The Economic Superorganism, I’ve explained how and why people disagree about the role of energy in the economy. I realized that these disagreements weren’t entirely about the characteristics of energy technologies and resources. Far from it. The disagreements are more about why we consume energy in the first place, and how much energy consumption does or does not relate to economic prosperity and social livelihoods.

Energy and Economic Narratives

In Superorganism I break down narratives along the two axes of energy and economics. Because people disagree about the costs, capabilities, and benefits of different energy technologies and resources, proponents of different visions use narratives to convince stakeholders of the validity of their positions. At opposite ends of the energy axis are the fossil fuel and renewable energy narratives.

Economic narratives

The fossil fuel narrative is getting old—and dangerous. (Image: pink dating app, Credit: Richard Hurd)

The fossil energy narrative starts with the fact that fossil fuels enabled us to achieve what we have today because the physical fundamentals of fossil fuels—most notably high energy-density and portability—ensure high utility and low cost. A proponent could say, “Fossil fuels, and the technologies we have developed to burn them, enable us to shape and control the environment.”

The renewable energy narrative is that we can use renewable energy technologies and resources to sufficiently and cost-effectively substitute for the services currently provided by fossil fuels. A proponent might say: “Thank you, fossil fuels, but we’ve modernized. We don’t need or want you anymore. Fossil fuel production and consumption create environmental harm both locally in the short term and globally over the long term to such a degree that their continued unmitigated use ensures environmental ruin that leads as well to economic ruin.”

We cannot fully understand a proponent (or detractor) of the fossil or renewable energy narratives without also contemplating their position within the economic narratives. At one end of the spectrum is technological optimism and perpetual GDP growth, and at the other end is technological realism and the need for a steady state economy or even degrowth toward a steady state economy.

The techno-optimistic narrative is a story of unbounded substitutability for anything before we run out of it in the faith we can invent our way to a solution for any and all economic, social, and environmental problems. Both the fossil and renewable narratives are usually paired with some degree of techno-optimism, and this year the combined narrative of renewables and techno-optimism was challenged in the film Planet of the Humans.

The techno-realistic economic narrative is the story of biological and physical constraints. Its narrators agree we are inventive, but that we can neither break the laws of nature nor access an infinite supply of natural resources for perpetual physical growth. This narrative underpins the CASSE position on economic growth, the signatories of which comprise a narrative community (or a significant portion thereof).

Which economic narratives, and subsequent mathematical models, should we be following, and are there some unspoken reasons why we might expect one to become more prominent than the other?

Can a System Understand Itself?

Economic narratives

The renewable energy narrative—too often coupled with the techno-optimistic narrative. (Image: CC BY-SA 3.0, AleSpa)

To think about this question, consider that in 1977 ecologist Howard T. Odum argued that a system cannot fully understand itself (or its purpose), but by making models of itself the system can achieve some understanding.[1] One extension of this idea is that we humans, in being a part of this system we call “the economy,” cannot fully understand the function or purpose of the economy, but we can try by making our economic models as accurate as possible. Biophysical economic models with realistic dynamics, finite resource constraints, and a direct representation of natural resource flows among parts of the economy (including the original model used within the original Limits to Growth book from 1972) have proven more capable of representing long-term trends of the economy, such as population and energy consumption, than have the conventional economic growth models that rely on equilibrium principles and either exogenous or endogenous “technological change” without directly accounting for flows of biological and physical resources.[2] Given the obvious fact that economic activities involve machines and information processing that in turn require energy consumption to function, and thus that every economic activity is supported by natural resource consumption, why would the predominant economic models fail to account for biophysical resource flows?

A follow-up question is: “Would an economy that uses a more accurate economic model of itself generally be more fit, in an evolutionary sense, and prevail over an economy with a less accurate economic model of itself?”

I propose that a biophysical model of the economy is a more accurate construct than the conventional or “neoclassical” models, and we should be working on models that integrate biophysical flows with flows of money, including debt. For example, my “HARMONEY” model helps us understand how the 1970s OPEC oil crisis (and the constraint in energy consumption) could concur with rising GDP, but also with rising income inequality and debt levels, evidence for what Herman Daly calls “uneconomic growth.”[3]

However, I recognize the continued dominance of the neoclassical growth paradigm, even as it’s increasingly challenged due to its failure to anticipate the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, much less the outcomes of the OPEC oil crises. Hence my question as to why a given economic paradigm may be more evolutionarily “fit” than another.

In ecology, the maximum power principle is that, in the sense of natural selection, more “fit” organisms are those that acquire higher rates of energy consumption from their environment. (For non-ecologists, “fitness” redounds to the ability to survive and reproduce.) Now assume that more reproductive economies better propagate their technologies and organizational characteristics just like more fit biological organisms better propagate their genes. Pursuant to the maximum power principle, then, the economy that accesses more energy, and transforms it more efficiently into new structures, is more fit to survive and propagate its narratives.

Maximum Power Principle

Maximum power principle translated into economic production terms. (Credits: Brian Czech)

Do We Want the Truth?

But how do biological organisms or economies know which options enable higher power consumption? Do they know that energy input makes them more fit? Can they actually, consciously “seek” the inputs that increase their reproductive rates? We don’t get any sense that they attempt to model themselves via scientific and economic calculations. Donald Hoffman, a professor of cognitive science, has studied the evolutionary impact of an agent (organism or society) having “truthful” and often complex—versus simple and less accurate—representations of what is really happening in the world around it.

Consider the following excerpt from Hoffman’s 2010 article:

Seeing more data takes more time. So, in the simplest version of this game, simple chooses first when competing against truth. […] Similarly, seeing more data takes more energy, so truth requires more energy than simple. We subtract the cost of energy from the utility that each agent gets. (Emphases added.)[4]

Here, lower utility is the same as lower evolutionary fitness. In addition to the necessity of consuming energy in order to extract energy from the environment, an agent (for example, an economy) must also invest some amount of time to learn more about the environment. Hoffman also emphasizes that it takes energy just to gain more knowledge. His argument is that simpler rules take less time and energy to make a decision.

Thus, in the context of evolution, organisms with simple decision-making rules based on relatively inaccurate descriptions of the environment can be more fit than organisms with more complicated rules based on more accurate descriptions of the environment.

What might simple decision-making rules look like for an economy? Prices, the study of which is the summum bonum of neoclassical economics.

Not only do neoclassical economics and neoliberal politics focus on the derivation of prices in the market, but in reality, prices that plague the market lack full and accurate information about the costs (especially the environmental and social costs) of production. Prices can even be determined by reckless whims of buyers and sellers. Even in well-structured markets, where short-term whims play little role, prices often reflect only a portion of the full costs.

Nevertheless, by focusing simplistically on markets and prices, neoclassical economics provides a relatively simple and teachable method to make economic choices in an expedient manner. All else equal, then, neoclassical economics could have an advantage in fitness over steady-state economics.

Thinking About What We Are Doing

The possibility of greater fitness for neoclassical economics (including perpetual growth theory) is a bitter pill to swallow for steady staters. I for one have a hard time thinking that neoclassical economics might have some enhanced usefulness over more biophysically based approaches to economic modeling. But, at this time, neoclassical economics is winning the evolutionary game of self-replication. That won’t necessarily always be the case, though.

Evolution just occurs; it is not forward-looking and thus involves no long-term planning or design. Similarly, markets focus on short-term profits and consumer utility rather than long-term societal goals. Friedrich Hayek, who perhaps more than anyone promoted markets to establish prices for guiding our choices, believed that we shouldn’t think about what we are doing: “The problem is precisely how to…dispense with the need of conscious control and how to provide inducements [prices] which will make the individuals do the desirable things without anyone having to tell them what to do.”[5]

Of course, Hayek’s “desirable things” aren’t necessarily the same as mine, yours, or anyone else’s.

My point is not that we have no choice but to react in knee-jerk fashion to prices, buy into the rhetoric of perpetual growth, or generally accept ways of economic thinking that overlook biophysical principles. Rather, my point is that those of us who try to explain limits to growth and advance steady-state policies have the additional challenge of using more complicated, comprehensive models and concepts. That—and not the merits of our analysis—helps explain why we don’t always prevail. Yet the more we try, the better our chances of reaching the threshold of success.

[1] Odum, H. 1997. The ecosystem, energy, and human values. Zygon 12(2):109–133. 

[2] Meadows, D.H., D.L. Meadows, J. Randers, W.W.I. Behrens. 1972. Limits to Growth: A Report for the Club of Rome’s Project on the Predicament of Mankind. Universe Books, New York; Jackson, T., R. Webster. “Limits revisited: a review of the limits to growth debate.” Limits to Growth. 2016. http://limits2growth.org.uk/revisited/.

[3] King, C.W. 2020. An integrated biophysical and economic modeling framework for long-term sustainability analysis: the harmoney model. Ecological Economics 169:06,464; King, C. ” How Wages are linked to Energy Consumption: Data and Theory.” Carey King Blog. January 2, 2020. http://careyking.com/how-wages-are-linked-to-energy-consumption-data-and-theory/; Daly, H. 1999. : Uneconomic growth in theory and fact. Festa Review 1.

[4] Mark, J.T., B.B. Marion, D.D. Hoffman. 2010. Natural selection and veridical perceptions. Journal of Theoretical Biology 266(4):504–515.

[5] Hayek, F. 1945. The use of knowledge in society. The American Economic Review 35(4):519–530.

Carey King is a Research Scientist and Assistant Director of the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin.

 

The post The Impact of Evolutionary Pressures on Economic Narratives appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.


Biden Moves Ahead

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 19/11/2020 - 6:44am in

Biden is quietly and calmly building his administration, meeting with experts, filling posts, even as Trump’s refusal to acknowledge Biden’s victory in the election means that the Biden team cannot have access to federal staff or information. Continue reading

The post Biden Moves Ahead appeared first on BillMoyers.com.

Fracking on Trial in the Northern Territory

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 19/11/2020 - 3:01am in

On 19 October 2020 an unusual case was brought before the Darwin Local Court in which two defendants were jointly charged as follows:

On the 16th April 2019 at Darwin in the Northern Territory of Australia did at Parliament House, intentionally or recklessly cause damage to property, namely front lawn, belonging to another, namely NT Government. Contrary to Section 241(1) of the Criminal Code Act (NT).

The ‘damage’ in question consisted of three shallow holes, drilled using a bobcat that was driven by a young Aboriginal custodian, co-defendant Conrad Rory, during a protest over the NT government’s recent decision to lift a moratorium on shale-gas fracking across the region.

The action was a symbolic protest, designed to replicate the invasive fracking that was now taking place on remote homelands and pastoral stations across the Northern Territory, and bring it to the doorstep of the decision-makers who had so far sat behind closed doors, far from the destruction fracking companies have wrought.

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There are key differences between our action to defend country and that of the profit-driven fracking companies: parliament’s grass will grow back, but the damage fracking will herald for communities, country and our climate will last for generations.

Following nearly a decade of extensive peer-reviewed scientific study of the impacts of fracking, and having conducted two  public inquiries, the NT government can no longer plead ignorance to the risks the industry presents. The Pepper inquiry, reporting in 2018, was unequivocal in its findings on the scale of the pollution the industry would create.

Despite all this evidence, in April 2018 Michael Gunner’s Labor government gave the green light to gas fields over 51 per cent of the Northern Territory’s landmass.

In 2019 explosive Freedom of Information revelations showed that the Territory’s Gunner government had itself warned federal energy minister Angus Taylor that if gas fields are developed in the Beetaloo or McArthur Basins, the scale of the emissions would be enough to jeopardise the Paris Climate Accord and destroy any chance of securing a safe global climate.

As carbon dioxide in our atmosphere pushes 410 parts per million, fuelling a dangerous climate emergency, the world simply cannot afford to let the Northern Territory become the fossil-fuel industry’s next fracking frontier. But while our elected leadership at local and national level continue to play with carbon offsets and clever Kyoto accounting while the continent burns, it is increasingly apparent that it will be the actions of everyday people that will have to be the catalyst for real change.

We chose to fight these charges in the court because we believed our actions were not only justified but necessary in the context of the extraordinary climate emergency facing the Northern Territory, and all life systems on the planet.

Here in the Territory we are highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Our trial concluded in a week that marked the hottest start to November since records began, the heat and humidity exaggerating the effects of the last two wet seasons that weren’t.

In Conrad Rory’s hometown of Borroloola in the Territory’s remote Gulf region, the temperature gauge has been a nonstop 40 degrees plus for weeks now. Just a short drive down the highway, Empire Energy’s fracking rig is drilling for new sources of oil and gas that, if allowed to develop into full-scale gas fields, will supercharge global heating and make living conditions in the region almost unbearable.

In the remote township families from the region’s Mara, Gurdanji, Yanyuwa and Garrwa people are crammed into overcrowded housing, struggling to pay for power cards to run basic appliances such as fans, fridges and air-conditioners. Gas fracked from rock under residents’ feet will do nothing to alleviate the energy poverty communities like Borroloola experience, but the pollution released risks leaving these remote and vulnerable regions uninhabitable as climate change drives increasing temperatures and reduced rainfall in years to come.

The region is being eyed off by the federal government as a key target in its ‘gas-fired’ economic-recovery plans. Alongside the NT government, Prime Minister Morrison is promising billions of public dollars in bailout money for an ailing gas industry, despite a lack of evidence that fracking in remote areas of the Territory will create any meaningful employment or bring energy prices back under control.

When a group of Traditional Owners and Territory residents drove a bobcat to parliament’s lawns in the early hours of April 2019 we were determined to show the NT government what it feels like to have invasive drilling threatening your land and to bring the risks of fracking out of the remote bush.

Borroloola Elder Nancy McDinny, dressed in mining hi-vis and hard hat, directed the proceedings with her walking cane and advised the group of protestors that the source of the gas they were drilling for appeared to be located underneath parliament house.

The area was cordoned off with caution tape, and the bobcat proceeded to drill three shallow holes in the freshly mown lawns of Parliament House. Protestors in hi-vis erected wooden fracking rigs atop the ‘wells’, while Traditional Owners from the Beetaloo and McArthur Basins made statements explaining how it feels to see homelands destroyed by drill rigs. McDinny explained how her community of Borroloola felt hearing about mining decisions being made without community input:

The Government and the companies think they can get away with drilling on our land just because we live out there, not here in the city. But this is our life we are fighting for, our country, our future. That’s why we’ve brought fracking to their doorstep.

Ray Dimakarri Dixon, a Mudburra elder and artist from Marlinja outstation, situated in the heart of the Beetaloo basin region, turned to the camera to explain why he, his grandchildren and his 85-year-old mother-in-law had travelled over 700 kilometres to take part in the action:

We want to get the message through to the government that we don’t want them to frack our land and poison our water. Our young children here, they deserve to live in a clean and healthy environment too. No matter your colour or where you come from, water is life. Stand with us and help us to ban fracking.

The case took a year to get to trial as the COVID-19 pandemic upended communities and economies—while fracking companies continued to expand plans for exploration across the Territory.

Over a two-day trial in Darwin Local Court our case relied on several defences, including extraordinary emergency, and defence of property, namely land, water and the climate.

Prominent Darwin human rights lawyer John Lawrence SC acted for the defendants and said of the case:

In a democracy the law accommodates actions such as these, not only in defence of people but in defence of land and water. These are actions taken by people of principle who are genuinely concerned about the destructive effects that fracking poses to land, water and future generations of Australians. The outcome of this case has important ramifications for the future protection of land, water and our climate.

It was never going to be an easy case. To succeed on emergency and defence of property a defendant needs to establish by evidence that their actions were done because they reasonably believed that there existed an extraordinary emergency (in this case a climate emergency) and that what they did was necessary and the only reasonable way to deal with the emergency.

During evidence, we argued that landholders and custodians were being left with few options to protect their land and water from harm. For years the NT government has ignored Territory landholders and communities, and a growing mountain of evidence of the harms of fracking. It has refused to listen to voters or  to implement the recommendations of its own fracking inquiry. Instead, it has set about trying to silence those protesting against the destruction the industry brings with it.

Despite attempts at intimidation, the movement for a frack-free NT remained defiant throughout the trial, warning the government that, if fracking is to be legal, then laws will have to be broken until the dangerous practice is subject to a full ban across the Territory.


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The defence called expert witnesses, including renowned climatologist Emeritus Professor Will Steffen, who made a powerful case that the failure to achieve net zero emissions in accordance with the 2016 Paris Agreement ‘will present our children and grandchildren with a planet in which many regions could well become uninhabitable. This is the climate emergency and it is here now’.

In his judgment, handed down on 10 November 2020 in front of a courtroom packed with anxious supporters, including representatives from communities set to be impacted by gas fields, Judge John Neill acknowledged the compelling nature of the climate emergency and agreed that both defendants were acting on a reasonable belief in the need to protect property from harm.

Ultimately, though, it was not this extraordinary emergency and fracking’s threat to land, water and people that decided this case. Instead, it was the fact that the prosecution failed to present any evidence as to the ownership of the lawn in question, or whether the impact on the lawn constituted ‘damage’ under the law, that resulted in the ‘not guilty’ verdict.

The resulting judgment was a spectacular own goal by the prosecution. It only served to underscore how mistaken  the NT government was to pursue these charges, as it struggles at every turn to implement its energy agenda and turn Aboriginal homelands into fracking gas fields.

But the judgment also offered hope in the fight for a safe climate future.

Judge Neill accepted the expert evidence that we are facing an extraordinary emergency caused by a warming climate, and that this entitles a person to act in self-defence to protect land, water and livelihoods from the causes of global heating, including dangerous and polluting fracking.

As fracking rigs start to roll across the Barkly and Gulf regions of the Northern Territory, and Australians brace for another long, hot, dry and unpredictable fire season, the judgment is an important recognition of our right to defend ourselves against the threat of climate change and the extraordinary emergency it presents to our lands, our livelihoods and the future of our only home.

At the conclusion of the trial, Rory asked the judge to consider this question:

How is it that protecting water from fracking makes me a criminal, yet fracking companies contaminating water is considered legal by this government?

If the NT Government is too gutless to stand up for the rights of our communities and our climate, then they better be prepared for more actions like ours because we will not stop standing up for our future until fracking is banned across the NT.


What the victory of Territory Labor means for Aboriginal children and youth justice

Thalia Anthony, 10 Sep 2020

This commitment to law and order in a society that has deep roots in discriminatory justice practices—overtly legitimated under the NT Intervention in 2007—signals another four years of the state’s punitive management of Aboriginal children.

We need to use less fossil gas rather than increase supply: demand-side answers for gas regulators

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 01/10/2020 - 3:00am in

Gas-industry lobbyists are pushing hard for politicians and policy makers to open up more fossil gas supply. This push needs to be resisted strongly. As I’ve previously argued, fossil gas is way more polluting than the gas industry would have us believe. It is as dirty as coal, once methane emissions are taken into account. Moreover, it is outmoded and more expensive than renewable energy. Australia has feasible options for a rapid transition to renewables in order to meet and go beyond our Paris targets. Reducing gas use is critical to climate emergency planning.

The regulators

After the state-based gas transmission and distribution systems were privatised in the 1990s, responsibility  shifted to national authorities. They have shown no interest in managing demand for fossil gas, in response to climate change or for any other reason. If anything, they have sought to expand the industry.

The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) operates the system. AEMO’s 2020 Gas Statement of Opportunities is focused on markets, and supply solutions. The major sections in the report cover consumption forecasts, gas supply and infrastructure, supply–demand balance, increasing uncertainty, and the evolution of the gas industry. The report does not focus at all on the economic alternatives to fossil gas that are available today.

AEMO’s Victorian Gas Planning Report Updates focus heavily on augmenting supply, storage and transmission to avoid shortfalls, running to twenty-nine pages in 2018. The quantity of gas demanded each year receives much less discussion:  five to six pages in 2018. Economic opportunities to reduce fossil gas use are not investigated in the updates for 2018, 2019 or 2020.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has also essentially ignored demand management. In 2015 it held one inquiry into the east coast gas market, and then in 2017 began another, which is continuing. The ACCC has identified many market failures, and has recommended many actions to the government about the gas market. All its focus is on the supply side, while no attention is given to the potential to reduce demand.

Other key bodies with gas-market responsibilities include the Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC), the Australian Energy Regulator and the Energy Security Board (ESB).

The AEMC sets the overarching rules for energy markets, following objectives set out in national law. The national energy objectives are broadly the same for gas and electricity. . The National Gas Objective is:

to promote efficient investment in, and efficient operation and use of, natural gas services for the long term interests of consumers of natural gas with respect to price, quality, safety, reliability and security of supply of natural gas.

The long-term interests of consumers are paramount. This is repeatedly emphasised by the AEMC in its 2019 document Applying the Energy Market Objectives. There is clearly scope to address demand management. The AEMC guidelines deserve close consideration. The AEMC also advises government on the implications of broader policy changes, including those relating to climate.

Demand management for electricity

After many years of ignoring it, energy regulators are tuning into the possibilities of demand management for electricity. These same bodies regulate gas.

With electricity, the national regulators are playing catch-up given the rapid expansion of renewables and battery storage. Demand management is seen as a tool for regulators  having to manage centrally produced energy, battery and hydro storage, and distributed wind and solar energy sources.

As of 2020, wholesalers can buy electricity in five-minute units, which will prevent price gouging by fossil-fuel generators and allow renewables to be more competitive. In its 2020 Integrated System Plan, AEMO also expects demand to become increasingly controllable as battery storage and charging of electric vehicles come on stream. Behind-the-meter management will allow supply to be finely tuned to the needs of households. In its 2019 assessment of international energy systems, AEMO envisages that the demand side offers ‘huge potential to increase system flexibility’.

Coal use for electricity has been in the spotlight for many years, and has been the primary focus for the climate movement. Fossil gas has largely escaped scrutiny until recently, and its alternatives have received little attention. Pressure will mount on the regulators to act on the demand side for gas, instead of simply calling for expansion of supply.

Reducing demand

There is mounting evidence of feasible steps that can reduce demand. Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE), ClimateWorks and most recently Environment Victoria have produced highly relevant reports. Government policy makers and regulators have no excuse for continuing to ignore demand-side management.

In its report for Environment Victoria, consultancy firm Northmore Gordon (2020) identifies measures that can reduce demand in Victoria by approximately 100 petajoules (PJ) or more over ten years. It criticises AEMO forecasts, which are for a much smaller reduction. Across key sectors and in a 10-year period, annual demand could fall by these amounts or more:

  • residential           73.5 PJ
  • commercial         7.75 PJ
  • industrial             17.1 PJ

Residential demand is obviously the most critical. Key measures include replacing ageing ducted-gas space heating (48 PJ saving), using existing reverse-cycle air conditioners for winter heating as well as summer cooling (5-15 PJ saving), and using heat pumps instead of fossil gas for hot water (10 PJ saving). Improving building insulation also offers potential savings of over 10 PJ, though this saving is not strictly additional to the above savings.

The potential for gas savings is reinforced by research conducted by BZE in its 2013 Buildings Plan and its 2020 Million Jobs Plan. The latter proposes 500,000 deep energy retrofits for homes each year for five years; 12,000 people alone would be employed replacing gas heating equipment with electrical alternatives, while 50,000 would be employed in improving the thermal efficiency of dwellings. Each renovation would cost $25,000 on average and would be paid off under Managed Energy Services Agreements. Such agreements are increasingly common for businesses, but they require government backing.

These proposals make sense for the household when over a lifetime the costs of using renewable energy are lower than for fossil gas. Key barriers are the capital cost, the effort required to search out the best solutions, and lack of preparedness ahead of gas appliances breaking down.

Community groups are leading the way in providing information to households about reducing fossil gas consumption. They include the My Efficient Electric Home Facebook group, RENEW, the Australian Energy Foundation, Environment Victoria and many more.

Peak demand

Peak demand is not an issue. During very cold days and nights in winter, gas demand peaks in the southern states and the ACT as households and businesses turn on their gas-run space heaters.

Peak demand for gas is only on some days, in some seasons, and in some regions. These peak periods are manageable with a concerted focus on reducing demand and providing alternatives to fossil gas.

During scorching summer days and nights, air conditioners drain electricity from the system. Gas-powered generators have been used to fill some of the gap. However, this is totally unnecessary. Hydro power and batteries can meet this need, along with behind-the-meter demand management. Moreover, as Ross Garnaut points out, gas companies have profited enormously, with the price of gas at peak times setting the price for all electricity.

Making the argument

Gas is managed in fundamentally different ways to coal, being delivered to millions of households and businesses, where it is used on-site to produce energy. The regulators may well argue that the demand-related instruments that they are beginning to apply to electricity markets are not relevant to gas, and that there are no other mechanisms within their powers.

If so, let the regulators argue for governments to act in other ways to reduce gas use. The Reserve Bank of Australia emphasises the need for governments to use fiscal policy to address Australia’s economic situation (there are over 2000 search results on its website). The gas regulators can and should make a similar case publicly, and repeatedly. Whether or not the regulators can act to reduce gas use will then be open to scrutiny and possible challenge.

Finally, our aim should be to reduce overall energy use, whether gas or electricity, as rapidly as possible. The imperative to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions means that renewables will play a much bigger role if overall energy use is declining rather than increasing. From this perspective, we can question if the energy regulators are capable of stepping into this space. Perhaps even more changes should be on the table: rewriting the national energy laws, restructuring energy regulation, ending the fixation with solutions to market failure that repeatedly do not work, and even returning to nationalised energy systems.

Conclusion

Demand management of fossil gas has huge potential for win-win gains in reducing greenhouse emissions, lowering energy bills and saving investment funds for other purposes.

Demand management is relatively cost-free, will be publicly acceptable and should be pursued with urgency. There are many measures that governments can take to get households and businesses off fossil gas. A gas-led recovery is a furphy. Fossil gas is not needed as a transition fuel. Fossil gas is not needed to meet peak demand, for either cooling in summer or space heating in winter.

The southern states do not need more fossil gas. Energy needs can be met with existing resources, if smart demand-side tools are employed. Corporations should not be allowed to build new infrastructure to explore, process, store and transport fossil gas. More exploration onshore or offshore is not necessary.

Corporate expenditure on fossil gas and, more importantly, support from governments are a diversion of funds. During and after the COVID-19 pandemic, all public and private resources should be mobilised around the many gaps in public infrastructure, education and other services that are being identified.

Trump’s Climate Change Record Is a Threat to the Planet

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 12/09/2020 - 8:22am in

Now seems like a good time for a reminder that the official Republican Party platform for 2020 — recycled from 2016 — barely mentions climate change, except to say that market forces and innovations will solve it. In a bulleted … Continue reading

The post Trump’s Climate Change Record Is a Threat to the Planet appeared first on BillMoyers.com.

Climate change is killing us. We must use the law to fight it | Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 24/06/2015 - 7:59pm in

The ‘Claim the Sky’ campaign aims to save lives by protecting the atmosphere as a global asset, with governments taking legal action against those who pollute it

How many deaths does climate change have to cause before someone takes responsibility? Our current use of fossil fuels has “potentially catastrophic effects for human health and human survival”, according to a major new report released on Tuesday by medical journal the Lancet and University College London. And it’s not as if we still have time before climate change starts to bite.

Related: Climate change threatens 50 years of progress in global health, study says

Related: The TTIP trade deal will throw equality before the law on the corporate bonfire | George Monbiot

Continue reading...

Quakers Divest from ‘Big Four’ Banks

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 14/01/2015 - 10:04am in