Clean coal and other greenhouse myths

The Australia Institute has published a list of 16 widespread myths on climate solutions.If there is to be an effective response, very large changes are required in the global economy, and especially the global energy system. There will be both winners and losers among industries and companies. The potential losers are fighting to retain their advantages and privileges. Others are positioning themselves to profit, in some cases from ineffective or even counterproductive ‘solutions’.

Part of the strategy of potential losers and winners is to influence the public debate through myths and half-truths. Governments and oppositions are also attracted to convenient half-truths to mask inaction or lack of effective policy. The scope for misinformation is high.  The 16 most common myths are as follows.

  1. Coal can be part of the solution. In reality, coal is the main problem, and curtailing its use is essential. There is no such thing as ‘clean coal’ at present, and there is a chance there will never be.
  2. Carbon sequestration can be the centrepiece of policy. This technology is unproven and expensive.
  3. Nuclear power can be the centrepiece of policy. This technology is expensive and risky and, if pursued, is unlikely to have any significant impact for 15-20 years.
  4. Renewable energy is always benign. All forms of energy have advantages and disadvantages, and not all renewables are completely ‘clean’.
  5. Renewable energy can support our current level of energy use. In reality, we cannot make the transition to a renewable energy system without first relying on natural gas and greatly increasing the efficiency of energy use.
  6. Renewable energy cannot provide baseload power. An electricity system that uses a mix of geographically dispersed renewable technologies, with some gasfired power and energy storage, will have just as much ability to supply reliable baseload power as the current coal-based generation system.
  7. Voluntary ‘greenpower’ schemes can make a difference. Experience shows that they have had little effect.
  8. Buying carbon offsets is the same as actually reducing emissions. In fact, buying offsets is too often just a smokescreen for large emitters who intend to operate on a ‘business as usual’ basis. A reduction in emissions requires a reduction in emissions, plain and simple.
  9. We can plant enough trees to get us out of trouble. We can’t.
  10. We need to wait for new technology. In reality, if the technology is not already available, it will come too late.
  11. The hydrogen economy will save the day. Energy is required to produce hydrogen, so the hydrogen economy would be only as greenhouse friendly as the energy system which supports it.
  12. Expanding public transport is the answer. Cars are here to stay and reducing emissions from them must be the primary focus of policy.
  13. It won’t cost anything. Tackling climate change will mean the end of the era of cheap energy.
  14. Higher energy prices mean lower living standards. In fact, with good policies energy bills could come down while energy prices go up.
  15. Gas is an important transitional energy source. No its not

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