Ep 24: In which I chat with Richie Merzian about the top two bullshit climate solutions the Australian government (and others) are proposing to use to reduce CO2 emissions: Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and Blue Hydrogen.
This is the podcast companion to our latest Honest Government Ad: watch it here
You can also view this podcast on our YouTube channel - which we recommend as it contains lots of visuals to help you follow the conversation.
You can follow Richie Merzian here
Here are the links to some of the articles mentioned in the podcast.
Here are the reports by the Australia Institute we used for the Honest Government Ad:
- Sunk Costs
- Money for Nothing
- Gorgon-tuan Problem
Here's the bullshit OpEd by Joel Fitzgibbon we spoke about
Here's Zali Steggal's Climate Act bill
Here's the SpinBin series
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Transcribed by Nathan Hall
Hey everyone, this is Giordano from the Juice Media, welcome back to the Juice Media podcast, a companion to the Honest Government Ad series. This episode of the podcast is recorded on Wurundjeri land and it is the companion to our latest Honest Government Ad about carbon capture and storage.
[Honest government ad excerpt]
“Introducing carbon capture and storage: carbon capture and storage or CCS is a complex mining process whereby fossil fuel companies inject donations into the arseholes of politicians to delay climate action and let them keep making the ching-ching…”
GN: This Honest Government Ad is part of our climate shitfuckery series in which we’re picking off each of our government’s strategies to avoid taking serious action on the climate crisis. We started off with our HGA about the Kyoto carryover credits, bullshit that allowed our government to spend the best part of the last decade claiming it had over-achieved on reducing emissions. Then we looked at its EV policy, ‘FFS,’ which does nothing to support EV’s and actual climate solution. Then we looked at the erosion of our science agencies as a means of sanitising fracking and extending the social licence of the gas industry. And now in this Honest Government Ad we turn our attention to one of the key technologies this government is proposing to use to reduce emissions, carbon capture and storage or CCS. The reason I’m focusing on these topics is because we are running out of time. We are now approaching the third year in the decade that counts and I hope that these HGA’s can help improve public literacy around climate and energy policies so that more of us can recognise bullshit climate policies and solutions when we spot them in the wild and make better informed decisions at the coming election. Of course this podcast gives us a chance to dive into much further detail when discussing such complex topics as carbon capture and storage which is why I have as my guest today on the podcast an expert on the topic, Richie Merzian. Richie is a Director of the Climate and Energy program at the Australia Institute. Prior to that he was an Australian government representative at UN climate change conferences and has worked in government for almost a decade on both domestic and international climate and energy agendas. Richie joins us for the second time on the Juice Media podcast today, I hope you enjoy our conversation, and I’ll catch you on the other side.
GN: G’day, Richie, great to have you back on the Juice Media podcast.
RM: Great to be here, Giordano.
GN: So the topic of our latest Honest Government Ad is carbon capture and storage but before we get stuck into that I’d like us to reclaim the narrative ground because surely a key part of the solution of the climate crisis is not to let fossil fuel interests always set the terms of the conversation around their bullshit, so with that in mind can you remind us of the bigger picture and where we stand right now in the climate crisis? We’ve just seen the IPCC’s much anticipated sixth assessment report and we’re heading towards a critical climate summit in Glasgow in November, what’s a sane framework in which to have this discussion about solutions to the climate crisis?
RM: The science is always the best place to start and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the global consensus when it comes to research on climate change, have put out their physical science report, Working Group 1, and it said unequivocally humans are causing climate change, that the globe is warming. Even if we do more than we’re doing now we will hit 1.5º of global warming which was supposed to be the goal of the Paris Agreement, to avoid hitting 1.5º of global warming, but that’s going to happen regardless of how good we are and we are nowhere close to that right now so if there was ever a message like, hey guys, you’re failing, pull up your socks, that was it and then on top of that the International Energy Agency, which is a relatively conservative international organisation that models how the globe goes about getting its energy and the technologies and the developments there, said that if you want to keep global warming to 1.5º you should not be opening up any new coal, oil or gas fields at all as of now. So the science is clear, the actual solutions or what to avoid is clear, and then fortunately the technology to actually go ahead and change our energy system, and I’m focusing on energy in particular because energy is the main sector, that’s where most of the emissions come from and then of that it’s mainly because we use fossil fuels for energy and when you burn fossil fuels you get greenhouse gas emissions. So the message is clear, global warming is happening, it’s worse than we thought in terms of how we’re tracking, we need to do more, and that means getting off fossil fuels and not opening up any new fossil fuels, that’s it.
GN: And there’s also an urgency to all this, like, we can’t do it sometime down the track. What kind of time frames are we looking at, when do we need to implement these changes?
RM: Yeah, look, it’s a political call at the end of the day but if you listen to President Biden he’s saying, this is it, the next decade, what they call the ‘decisive decade,’ this is when you need to turn things around and do so drastically. This is not, let’s worry about it in 2050 or really start acting on it in 2040, it’s, what are we doing over the next couple of years to drastically reduce our usage and the production of fossil fuels? That’s why it’s called the decisive decade and every ton counts so we should be looking at how you shift that right now.
GN: With that in mind now let’s talk about what is actually being proposed by the Morrison government as Australia’s contribution to this epic challenge that we face. The Morrison government as one of the five technologies in its Technology Investment Roadmap has proposed carbon capture and storage, or CCS, it’s one of the main solutions propping up our government’s promise to reach, to meet its Paris emission targets and net zero yet very few people understand what this technology is about and probably if they hear about they go, oh wow that sounds amazing, awesome, we’ll re-elect you because it sounds like you’ve got it all under control. Can you talk about CCS and whether this is a safe basket to be putting all our eggs in?
RM: It’s worth remembering that the federal government doesn’t have a climate and energy policy, it just doesn’t exist. We don’t have a real overarching plan for how we deal with climate change. All the government has produced is basically a shortlist of technologies that it likes through this Technology Investment Roadmap and as you said, carbon capture and storage is one of the five technologies. Now, if you haven’t heard about it you should have because this is not a new technology, the government has been banging on about carbon capture and storage for the last two decades and it doesn’t matter which government, they all bang on about it, right? But it has changed names and maybe that’s why it’s not as familiar. We used to call it ‘clean coal,’ right? Do you remember that ‘clean coal,’ like, let’s send Australia’s clean coal overseas, that we can make coal cleaner? That was the marketing campaign through which it originally started and now we just call it carbon capture and storage because we’ve given up on the fact that it can really clean coal, but it’s being used to clean up other fossil fuels as well and that’s part of the problem. Carbon capture and storage has been a colossal failure despite billions of dollars committed by federal and state governments and internationally as well. Carbon capture and storage as a technology has failed to meet any target that’s ever been set for it, be it from the International Energy Agency or the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or the Australian government, or all the lobby groups that have been pushing it. So it’s just failed over and over and over again but it keeps coming up because they need it in order to save face, to save the reputation of fossil fuels, by pretending they can take this technology and tack it onto fossil fuel production and keep doing what they usually do.
GN: Maybe you could explain that with a specific example by using the biggest of all commercial CCS projects around today, right here in Australia, Chevron’s gigantic Gorgon LNG plant in WA. We mentioned it in the video but I’d like you to give us a sense of what happened there in terms of proving whether CCS works or at least if it can be scaled up to the level where it makes a difference. Very few people know about this project which allows CCS shills to hold it up even as a success story like we saw in a recent op-ed by Labor MP Joel Fitzgibbon entitled Carbon Capture Critics put Ideology Before Cooling the Planet, where he writes glowingly that, quote, “[t]he Gorgon gas project’s operators have injected five million tons of CO2 into geological formations two kilometres underground,” with no mention of the context around that so, Richie, can you help Joel out here, what has he not told us about Gorgon and how does Gorgon explain the failures of this technology as you said?
RM: Gorgon is literally on the other side of the country to where the majority of Australians live, it’s in the northwest of WA, and it is nominally the largest carbon capture and storage project in the world. Chevron runs the site, it is a gas extraction and processing facility and they run it with two minor partners being Shell and ExxonMobil so, quite the coalition. If ever there’s a lot of money that’s going to try and make this work it should be there and on top of that the government gave them 60 million to help make that all work. The whole purpose of it is that they find some big fields of gas underground, natural gas, they extract that but when they extract the natural gas which is mainly methane it also comes with a lot of CO2 so you need to strip out the CO2 because you don’t want that, you want to just keep the natural gas and then that’s what you liquefy and you ship out and sell to the Japanese or to the Koreans, and with that CO2 that you have left over, after a time that’s just released into the air and that’s not cool. So the promise is that Chevron was going to stick 80% of that underground in these big geological storages and they promised that they would get that working as soon as they got the entire facility working in 2016 but 2016 came about and it didn’t work, and then 2017 came about and it didn’t work, and then 2018, and then finally in 2019 they got it working and then it stuffed up and we don’t think it’s ever really been fully operational since then, and this is supposed to be the shining light, the great big project where they bury the emissions underground and demonstrate that they can also keep producing gas and it’s just failed over and over again. What’s made this worse though is there’s been no penalty for Chevron for doing this and so the WA government approved the project because they were going to bury emissions and every year they didn’t the WA government kept saying, that’s all right, have another crack next year, oh, she’ll be right – look, they literally said, we’re going to treat this in good faith until you get it going. Eventually they face enough pressure and enough time passes that actually maybe you might need to offset it because the result of not burying their emissions was about ten million tons of CO2. To give you an idea of what that means, what is ten million tons of CO2, that is every single domestic flight in Australia for a year – a pre-pandemic year, during our normal flight needs – that’s how much emissions. It’s to the point where because it wasn’t working you could actually see it on our emissions graph, it actually doubled the increase in our emissions in 2017–18, it’s that big. And then here’s the other part; the WA government kept saying she’ll be right; the federal government was supposed to set a cap on high polluting facilities. Chevron basically gave themselves a cap for the site in Gorgon that banked in failure. They’d actually included failing to meet Gorgon because they knew that it probably wasn’t going to work and the federal government let them do that so this is how messed up it is; one, that the technology fails but, two, there’s no real punishments for it failing, in fact it fails upwards, we reward it with more money and more attention and more glowing op-eds.
GN: So two things there; one is that that target isn’t for all the emissions that Gorgon produces, we’re just talking about its capturing their own production emissions out of that process that you said about stripping the methane but once the gas is then shipped off and burnt in other parts of the world those emissions aren’t captured so I think potentially some people might think, oh, carbon capture and storage takes care of all of those emissions as well, it doesn’t, when you include those it’s even less than the contribution that it did, and then secondly we have so many people choosing not to fly and you’ve just said the emissions from Gorgon, which was supposed to capture what it didn’t capture, cancelled out all the goodwill of people who have maybe chosen not to take a plane or chosen to do a Zoom call instead, well, that’s pointless so it cancels all the goodwill that people have to take personal responsibility so it’s a big fuck you to everyone basically?
RM: Isn’t that so frustrating, right? Because what the fossil fuel companies will tell you is, hey what can you do to reduce your carbon footprint? – while at the same time releasing more than you could possibly do, like, more than your entire city could possibly do, more than the entire country could flying everywhere for a whole year. That’s what they’ll get away with and in the meantime they try and guilt you into you changing your lifestyle, like, oh maybe I’ll walk today instead of driving to the shops. Entirely cancelled that and that’s why if we don’t hold these companies to account, if we don’t call out these bollocks technologies, then we’re not going to solve the climate crisis.
GN: One of the main arguments that proponents of CCS use is, yes okay maybe it’s not perfect but we need to use all of the available solutions, so this is what Joel Fitzgibbon wrote in that article, he says, “instead of pretending that CCS doesn’t work anti-fossil fuel campaigners” – that’s you Richie – “should support every mechanism that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” so isn’t that a reasonable take? We should be embracing CCS along with renewables or do you see a problem with that approach?
RM: Yeah, there’s a problem with that approach, it doesn’t work. It doesn’t work, like, it’s not a solution. It’s not a solution. Look, CCS in this country is a marketing campaign, that’s what it’s been. It’s been used to extend the social licence of fossil fuel companies. If it worked we could use it. It doesn’t work so why are we still banging on about it? It’s like the nuclear debate that we have to have every two or three years in this country. Why won’t we have a debate? We’ve had the debate and the nuclear proponents failed but they keep wanting to have a debate, right? It’s a false solution and the only reason why you have proponents, pro-fossil fuel people, pushing it is because it saves the face, it allows you to fall into that false sense of comfort knowing that maybe we can continue to actually dig up and export fossil fuels because we’ll bury those emissions. You’re seeing these crazy kind of, like, marketing tools about how you can have ‘carbon neutral’ oil or carbon neutral coal or carbon neutral gas because they’re going to offset it by actually buying some permits. No, the best carbon capture and storage is where we keep the bloody CO2 underground to begin with, that’s the solution. Anything else is just marketing, that’s it, and this whole, kind of, ‘we need many horses in the race,’ that’s horseshit. We know what technologies work and we need to be backing them and subsidising them.
GN: So it’s a bit like if in response to the COVID crisis Joel Fitzgibbon was saying, well, we need to try all the vaccines, even the ones that don’t work, we’ve just got to try them all! No, as we’ve said at the start, we’re in an emergency, we have a very short time frame to do this, we can’t be fucking wasting time on shit that doesn’t work.
RM: Why are you anti-useless-vax? We need many vac’s, even ones that don’t work!
GN: Because I’m an anti-fossil-fuel campaigner.
RM: Also I love how it’s an anti-fossil-fuel campaigner, not a pro-climate-solutions campaigner, right?
GN: Well, this is what I was talking about at the start, about setting the frame of the discussion. Moving on, in the Honest Government Ad we briefly flagged another piece of major shitfuckery which is how the Morrison government is planning to divert funds from agencies like ARENA and the Clean Energy Fund to support CCS projects but that’s just the tip of the shitberg as there are now also plans to issue carbon credits for CCS projects. Can you unpack this a little bit further? We only briefly mentioned it in the video but most people would know nothing about this so give us the lowdown?
RM: This is just a great example of state capture, that first part of the CCS in your wonderful ad, this just exemplifies it perfectly. Here’s what happens: the Minister for Emissions Reductions, Angus Taylor, quietly and secretly commissions an ex-gas executive to undertake a review of all climate policies. This ex-gas executive is called Grant King. He was also the Chair of the Business Council that said that taking on a 45% emission reduction target would be economy-wrecking without any evidence to do so. So this ex-fossil fuel executive reviews our climate policies, comes back and says, hey, carbon capture and storage is great, we need to get it more money, we need the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, we need the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, we need carbon credits for CCS. Then Minister Taylor says, yes, I will do all those things, and then tries to change the mandate of ARENA, tries to change the mandate of the CEFC, actually did change ARENA’s mandate but that will be contested, tried to change the CEFC, that failed on the floor of the Parliament but it won’t be the end of it…
GN: We’re talking about stuff that’s happening right now, these [ ___ ] …
RM: Happening right now, so the ARENA changes were just approved in the last couple of weeks, the CEFC amendment fell because Barnaby Joyce tried to include coal along with a whole bunch of other stuff and then nuclear was – the whole thing fell over because the government couldn’t get its act together but it will come back to the floor. And then the third one is, the Minister commissioned his clean energy regulator to come up with a method to give carbon credits to CCS. The body that then looks at whether that methodology has integrity is called the Emissions Reduction Assurance Committee. Angus Taylor, Minister Angus Taylor, changed the head of the ERAC, the Emissions Reduction Assurance Committee, the one that gives the tick of approval to this methodology, from a professor at ANU who is an expert on this area to the head CCS lobbyist who is now looking at the methodology to approve a CCS method, and then also puts on there someone from the CSIRO who handles oil and gas, and we’ve talked about the CSIRO and GISERA, and then also puts on another person who for the last 20 years has been the modeller to go to, the economist of choice for the fossil fuel industry, so basically stacks it. And who is the first one to put their hands up for potentially these carbon credits? It’s Santos and they’ve said in past reports they want to use carbon credits to pay for CCS which they will use to enhance oil recovery. They will bury the CO2 only for the purposes of driving out oil which if you burn might cause an even bigger carbon footprint than what you’ve buried underground. And then that is just going to be pushed through and then Santos might take those credits that it gets from CCS and then sell them to another oil company or sell them to someone else to then offset their emissions whilst also saying that they’re doing what’s good, and then they will also potentially be counted as part of Australia’s efforts. So the whole thing is just a giant – you fill in the blanks.
GN: Well, it sounds like a Ponzi scheme, I mean, there’s conflict of interests, there’s double-dipping, it sounds like. I want to get onto this at the end but we need legislation to prevent this kind of stuff because as you said we don’t have climate legislation which allows – it’s like a fucking Wild West basically, this can happen because there is very little regulation in place but just so people understand the key message, ARENA and the Clean Energy Fund which were introduced by – we’re talking …
RM: By the Labor-Greens government in 2011. In 2011 it was part of the package, yeah, so it was billions of dollars for early stage- and then later stage renewables.
GN: So that’s all we have left in terms of actual official legislated bodies that support climate solutions like renewables, EV’s, that kind of stuff. Now what we’re seeing is basically this government is coming after those agencies. They can’t get rid of them so it’s going to try and reshape the mandate so that they can fund CCS and even enhance oil recovery. Have I got that right, just so people understand the depths of the shit that we’re dealing with here?
RM: Yes, that’s exactly right. Yep, so it’s not enough for them to give 10.3 billion dollars per year to the fossil fuel interests in this country, subsidies, they want to take the bucket of money that is for climate action through ARENA and the CFC and through the Clean Energy Regulators’ auctions for carbon credits and actually use those for CCS as well so they’re just cannibalising the existing infrastructure, the small amount of infrastructure we actually have for climate action in this country, they’re looking to cannibalise that too. And let’s remember, because of ARENA and the CFC and the Renewable Energy Target, all three things that the Abbott government tried to kill off, it led to over 25 billion dollars of renewables now to the point where we have almost 30% of our electricity is renewables, but also that renewables are the cheapest way that we can get electricity right now. That’s all thanks to the investment that we made that got saved and now they’re trying to take that and turn that into the ‘many horses’ that we need to run a race to save fossil fuels.
GN: So it all really relies on the marketing spin off CCS because if you can say that it’s a clean solution then of course it makes sense to use funding from ARENA and the Clean Energy Fund so really it all comes down to people understanding what this technology is about, that it doesn’t work, doesn’t reduce emissions and in some cases, like with enhanced oil recovery, can actually create more emissions or like Gorgon create more emissions because it doesn’t fucking do the capturing job. But moving on, CCS is just one of these shitpillars in the technology road map. Another one, a really important one, is hydrogen and some may have been hearing about ‘clean hydrogen’ or ‘blue hydrogen’ and we mentioned it briefly at the end of this Honest Government Ad. Now, I’m actually hoping we can make an Honest Government Ad just about hydrogen because it feels like the world – Australia yes – but the world is at a crossroads now in really tapping into this new energy source which is exciting but it matters how the hydrogen is made and this is something that not a lot of people understand, I didn’t understand it until I read up a little bit about it. Can you explain the difference between green and clean or blue hydrogen and what the Morrison government is proposing to do with it?
RM: Yep, so hydrogen is an energy source and you can make it really just two ways, to simplify things. One, you can use water and through a renewable powered electricity electrolyse it and turn it into hydrogen and then when you consume it you end up with energy and water vapour. Zero emissions, right? It’s a bit more expensive to make that versus an alternative way to do it, which is how most hydrogen right now is made, which is using fossil fuels. So, either using natural gas, or really fossil gas, or coal and it’s a really emissions intensive process but basically you turn that into hydrogen and oftentimes you’ll probably use coal or gas fired electricity along that process as well. So it’s a really emissions intensive process to do it versus green hydrogen which has zero emissions, so there’s a clean alternative to doing it, a zero emissions alternative, and one really high polluting, so high polluting that you get more emissions than if you just use the coal or gas directly for energy and so the only way you could possibly justify, not actually legitimately make but just justify, doing this is if you pretended like you could bury some of those emissions underground which is why CCS is coming back onto the agenda. Much like it was used for ‘clean coal’ to save coal it is now being used for hydrogen to allow fossil fuels to make hydrogen rather than allowing us to make a zero emissions hydrogen source from the get-go. That’s why it’s coming back on and that’s why it’s a real risk because if we go down this path we could actually end up increasing emissions and locking in infrastructure that is not transferable so the whole thing is just another stitch-up to save fossil fuels from extinction.
GN: So if I’ve understood correctly CCS is being used not only to continue old forms of fossil fuel extraction, coal, gas and oil but also to fuck up new ones that could potentially actually be good solutions, like hydrogen?
RM: And that’s the real risk, we could screw up an entire new industry if we accept the fact that CCS could be part of the solution when we know it’s just a giant marketing scheme.
GN: And there’s a huge debate raging about this at the moment. I saw an article about a fairly senior person in the UK who just resigned, can you tell us about that, do you know what I’m talking about?
RM: Yeah, so with the Chair of the UK’s Hydrogen Panel, so, a government appointed committee, and this expert who sat on there said, look, I can’t in right conscience, in right mind, sit here and accept the fact that these two are equal when one of them is clearly zero emissions and better for the climate and the other one is just a – he said literally – a giant distraction, it’s an expensive distraction, and it was immoral to pursue this dirty new energy source when there is a zero emissions alternative right here that we could be going hard and doing. When you hear hydrogen you should ask, is it green hydrogen? Because that should be it, we should ban any other way that hydrogen is created right now.
GN: We’ve spoken about technology but there’s also an important political dimension to addressing the climate crisis because fundamentally everything that we’ve talked about is a crisis of governance. We’re dealing with the case of what we’ve called in the Honest Government Ads ‘state capture,’ you’ve referred to it as well, whereby both major parties are absolutely beholden to keeping fossil fuel industry going no matter what for as long as possible with the kind of bullshit solutions that we’ve discussed, hydrogen and CCS, which is why it’s not surprising that one of the political solutions that’s being proposed that’s coming from an independent MP, Zali Steggal who famously booted out Tony Abbot from the Warringa seat at the last federal election, and I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about Zali’s climate bill. As you said, we don’t have climate legislation so this is a proposed bill that’s about to be tabled, why is it essential that we have this legislation to address some of the issues you’ve spoken about and what is it proposed to do and when is it going to be tabled?
RM: Mm, so this is the antidote to state capture which you’ve pointed out, which is basically more transparency, more accountability and a great example of this is the Climate Change Authority which was set up at the same time as the Clean Energy Regulator and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and ARENA; the same time that all those organisations were set up in 2011–12 an independent body called the Climate Change Authority was set up to give advice on what Australia’s target should be. Since then under this current government they’ve replaced the head of the climate change authority with Grant King, the guy who did the secret review for the government that said, hey let’s go gangbusters on carbon capture and storage, and stacked it with a number of other officials that have interests in the fossil fuel industry and they’re the ones who are supposed to be the independent advisors, so it just shows you how many different elements have been corrupted, have been coloured in such a way as to reduce the accountability. So that’s what Zali’s bill is trying to do, that’s what the Climate Change Act, Climate Action Now is supposed to do, it brings in a new body of experts that is independent, it doesn’t report to and take direction from the minister, but they only really have the best interests of the climate in mind and they can put that forward without any adulteration and not only that but every five years we will have independent assessment as to what our target should be in line with net zero by 2050 if not sooner, which is what the science is saying. And not only that, that’s on the mitigation side, that’s dealing with emissions reductions, they also are going to look at how we adapt to the unavoidable consequences of climate change because we’re also severely under-prepared for that as well. Australia has never done a risk assessment for how vulnerable it is to Climate Change, it doesn’t have a national adaptation plan which is why it’s no surprise that things like the Black Summer bushfires come through and we’re, kind of, sitting there, have to call in the army and that, just is a giant kerfuffle. We are ill-prepared for the impacts and we are ill-suited to dealing with the problem and the bill will help address all those things by bringing in a framework to actually get Australia on track by putting a system in place that helps that happen.
GN: And when are we likely to see this bill being tabled, are we waiting for after the election to see if we have a stronger crossbench to get it through or are we relying on Labor to …
RM: Yeah, so the problem is, Zali Steggal is in the Lower House and in the Lower House independents can’t necessarily bring forward a bill to be debated as a private members bill on the floor unless it has the tick-off of a committee that is stacked by the government, and so even though the bill went to a committee and there were official hearings and we did a big submission as did thousands of other people who put submissions in, it won’t go to the floor of the House of Representatives for a vote because the government’s said it won’t do so and the modern Liberals in other seats in and around where Zali’s seat is in Sydney have refused to do that and have come up with a whole variety of excuses not to. Maybe if that bill might find its way into the Senate – it could potentially be introduced in the Senate, that’s what we’ll find out soon enough – but it deserves to be voted on and politicians should vote with their conscience, not with political and party lines, because that’s what the climate crisis requires.
GN: So we’re more likely to see this bill be tabled if after the election there is a different line-up to this parliament, either a minority government or a strong crossbench with independents but that’s what people can take action with at the next federal election, is to vote in a way that changes the balance of power so that we can see this kind of legislation being not only tabled but also passed?
RM: Yeah, and it’s worth directly asking, like, directly ask your Member of Parliament, will you support Zali Steggal’s bill and if not why not, and are there candidates who will? Or something similar, that’s the most direct way that you can engage in this and you should.
GN: Just on the topic of policy, we have this climate summit coming up, the COP26 summit in Glasgow in November, have you got any thoughts about what this climate summit is shaping up to be? Are we likely to see something material happening or is it just another shitshow?
RM: The hosts, which is the United Kingdom, are taking this very seriously and the incoming individual who will preside over the summit, a minister called Alok Sharma has said that he wants COP26 to be about consigning coal to history, so it’s a very clear message that this is not just about net zero by 2020-50 commitments which can be just useless if they’re unaccountable, this is about taking immediate action over the next ten years and that includes getting rid of coal power. So I think that’s a very strong message which hasn’t been fully digested here in Australia but it’ll be really interesting to see what happens over the next few weeks when more and more of that messaging is coming through. And so hopefully the Australian government is doing its serious homework around what more it can bring to the table because it will be under pressure, and this will also be the first UN climate conference that President Biden and his special envoy John Kerry will be attending and so that will also add to the pressure because it’s nominally five years since the Paris Agreement, officially six years but the COP was delayed a year much like the Olympics so let’s just pretend it was five years, and the whole purpose is to take stock. There’ll be a big report saying, okay, everyone has put these targets on the table, let’s add them up, is that enough to keep global warming to 1.5º, no, there’s this huge gap, okay, how do we do more? That’s the conversation they’re going to have around ambition and it will mean Australia will be in a very awkward position because its target hasn’t changed since the Paris Agreement, it is weak, it is only reducing emissions 26% by 2030. The US had the same target and they doubled theirs. The Japanese had the same target and they increased theirs to 46%. The Canadians increased theirs, the EU it’s 55%, the UK it’s 68%. Many of our friends are doing the hard yards and bringing in more stronger emissions targets, that’s what we need to be asking. The whole game is around what we do in the next ten years and Australia should at the very least double its target if not triple it. Anything short of that is just more marketing and spin.
GN: It’s kind of funny because compared to Australia so many other countries are doing good work but Greta is not impressed. From just looking at what the UK’s doing without comparing it to Australia there’s been a lot of criticism about them calling themselves climate leaders and I think all power to her because we need people to just keep the pressure on, it’s not like, oh yeah great, cool, that’s wonderful, we can relax now.
RM: Yeah, that’s right, yeah.
GN: Now just one last question and this is kind of so that we provide – everyone’s always, like, what about the balanced view, kind of thing and I’m all for that when there is a valid alternative or counter-argument and we didn’t touch on this in the Honest Government Ad but it’s important to also acknowledge that there is a potential role for technologies that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere sometime in the future to help stabilise climate at 1.5º maybe after mid-century and even IPCC has included such technologies like CCS in their models and are saying we’re going to need them. Some of these technologies also don’t entail burning fossil fuels like direct air capture which sucks the CO2 straight out of the air, there’s some species of kelp that absorbs CO2 when they sink to the ocean floor and then of course there’s forests. Just to see us out can you elaborate a little on what you see as the positive role that negative emission technology can play in the future if any?
RM: Technology nominally is neutral, it’s a modality, it’s a tool. The problem is, that tool in Australia has been used for marketing, it hasn’t been used to actually reduce emissions and that’s why your ad is an ‘honest,’ because that is how it has honestly played out in the last two decades in Australia. That technology however which is basically taking CO2 and then burying it or using it as something else could and should be used in some instances where there are no alternatives. Where there are no alternatives and we’re going to have emissions then yes, find some technology to go ahead and do that, and also if we’re going to draw down which we’re most likely going to have to, which is going up in emissions and eventually sucking down more CO2 than we’re burning, then we will need to use new technologies like direct air capture to find different ways to suck down the CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions so, yes, they will have a place but their place is not going to be alongside extracting new fossil fuels. That is just lining the pockets of fossil fuel companies at the expense of everyone, that’s really all that is, and so, yes, there will be a particular niche role and that’s okay but right now we’re all being taken on a ride and we need to get off this ride and so we need to call it for what it is, and that’s a marketing tool. And if those that really think that there’s a niche role and that we should be backing in that niche role, well then they need to go out there and call out CCS that is being used for marketing, that is being used as clean coal, or clean hydrogen, because the obligation’s on them as much as it is on me, as much as it is on Juice Media to actually call out bullshit, and right now their technology is being taken on a ride and it’s on them as much as it is on us to call it out.
GN: Thanks so much Richie for helping us to understand complex topics and thanks for all the work that you do at the Australia Institute. We’re going to link to the reports that we mentioned on Gorgon, on the failed CCS projects which we used. We really based a lot of the Honest Government Ad on the work of the Australia Institute so thank you for doing all of that hard work on research. I also want to plug the show that you’re doing now on YouTube called SPIN BIN which is just brilliant, I love it. Basically you’re taking interviews with senior ministers like maybe it’s Matt Canavan or Angus Taylor and basically pausing the interview and de-spinning and decoding some of these messages which is just a civic service that you’re providing, so we’ll put the link to that, to the SPIN BIN show and check it out, it’s a really good addition to educating the public about climate and energy policy, some of the most important issues that we’re facing today, so thanks very much Richie.
RM: Thanks, Giordano, and can I also say thank you to the Juice Media, it’s great work that you guys do. It’s a really complicated issue and that’s why a lot of people don’t want to engage in this but to take it and to simplify it down really does help, it makes our research a lot more communicable and that’s what we’re learning from as well in doing stuff like SPIN BIN, we have one on the COP that we’re doing called Good COP Bad COP, it should be coming out soon as well, so thank you for giving us the opportunity to turn all that into something digestible.
GN: Awesome. All right, thanks very much Richie Merzian, thanks very much for joining us.
GN: Well, that brings us to the end of this episode of the Juice Media podcast. If you found it useful please recommend it to your friends and family because as I said at the start we have to improve our collective understanding and literacy of climate and energy policy so that we can make a better informed decision at the next federal election. Right now around the world everyone who cares about the climate crisis is working their arse off to turn this ship around and here in Australia we have one job before we can do anything else, replace this government owned as it is by fossil fuel interests and replace it with one that will pass serious climate legislation which will not only begin to restore our international reputation as a responsible citizen of the world but also benefit our economy – our economy, not that of fossil fuel companies – create jobs and maybe even improve our collective mental health. That’s what our entire team here at the Juice Media is working hard to help bring about which makes it sound like we’re a big team. We’re not, we’re tiny, but when you include our thousands of patrons and millions of viewers we can collectively help to change the framework of the conversation and maybe, just maybe, the course of history. Thanks to Ellen for helping to produce and edit the Juice Media podcast and as always thank you, our patrons, who make the podcast and the Honest Government Ads possible. In particular our patron producers who support us at the highest level of a hundred dollars a month, thank you. If you value the work that we do here you can support us at patreon.com/theJuiceMedia. You’ve been listening to the Juice Media podcast with me, Giordano, I’ll catch you very soon for our next Honest Government Ad. Until then, take care.