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(Image by @Takver via flickr.com)

Not only did we not save $200 a year as Abbott promised, but energy prices have doubled since the Coalition scrapped the carbon tax; now, dropping subsidies for renewables is the latest thought bubble from the Nationals. John Passant reports.

IN 2013, Tony Abbott won power in part on the back of rising energy prices and lies about Labor’s so called carbon tax.

Here is what he told us about energy prices in 2013.

"When this bill [to repeal the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme or CPRS] is passed, this Government estimates that power prices will go down by 9%, gas prices will go down by 7%, and that means that the average power bill will be $200 a year lower and the average gas bill will be $70 a year lower."

Wholesale energy prices have doubled since the CPRS was scrapped. So today we have not only rising energy prices but short and long term supply concerns. Neither side has much of a clue although some are scrambling towards solutions like batteries, which, while a start, do not address the interrupted supply issues in the long term.

Snowy 2.0 is another example. It is sheer genius — pumping water uphill to let it fall and generate electricity. It is not "a magic panacea". It is a political response. It helps Malcolm Turnbull from having to turn to wind and solar power for a solution.

For the Turnbull Government, coal is the answer. Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce told a meeting of the 1880s society, sorry, the National Party on Saturday, that "we have no problem in coal fire power".

Coal, the politicians trapped in the past tell us, will ensure reliable supplies of energy. The cities and towns that various hurricanes have hit in the Caribbean and South East America, the floods across Asia, the fires ravaging various States in the U.S., might all suggest that regular supply is being interrupted by forces far greater than the powers of Malcolm Turnbull or Donald Trump. Indeed, the regular supply that coal supposedly provides has fed those conflagrations.

A spectre is haunting the globe — the spectre of climate change. And what is the response?

Donald Trump pulled out of the inadequate Paris Agreement on climate change. That agreement kowtows to capital but even its minor, too little, too late commitments are anathema to some sections of society.

The Turnbull Government has done nothing about addressing climate change other than a tokenistic greenhouse gas reduction goal in the form of the Renewable Energy Target (RET) — a target they have emasculated.

There is a wonderful line from Marx in the Eighteenth Brumaire of Napoleon Bonaparte that sums up our energy action paralysis:

‘The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.’ 

And so it is with energy policy in Australia.

One of those dead generations is coal fired power. The nightmare is climate change.

Can capitalism address climate change? The indications, so far, are not good. For a start, it may already be too late. The system may have lit the fuse of irreversible warming that will produce catastrophic consequences in the decades and centuries to come.

Having as a goal of limiting warming to two degrees Celsius is itself an indication of the catastrophe 180 years of the industrial revolution and its externalities – a nice economic term that hides the true cost of greenhouse gases – have produced.

Even if it is not too late, the politicians and profiteers of the past hold power. Their "coal is king" irrationality makes some sense if you accept capitalism is rational. The current system has been built on fossil fuels. They are the lifeblood of capitalism and greenhouse gas emissions are its hidden soul.

In other words, capitalism is a structure of climate change. To fix that would require drastic economic, political and social change. Ultimately, to address climate change we have to address the system that produces it.

However, as Keynes said"In the long run we are all dead". Climate change might be shortening that long run, at least societally, and for my children and grandchildren in reality. To me, at least – and to echo Rosa Luxemburg – the choice is becoming clearer and clearer — socialism or barbarism.

Climate change is an existential threat to the system as a whole, which explains why some sections of the rich and powerful are beginning, however inadequately, to factor it into their plans and even attempt to address it. The problem, of course, is that those attempts are limited by the overarching grundnorm of capitalist society — profit.

The kerfuffle over Liddell Power Station is a good example. Electricity generator and retailer, AGL, owns it. It will close it down by 2022. It is old and simply not economically viable in the medium to long term. It may be that the government will nationalise it to keep the coal powered fire station going beyond then.

I merely note that AGL is also a gas provider and with less coal-fired power there will be increased demand for electricity generated by gas — itself a fossil fuel that produces greenhouse gas emissions (albeit less than coal).

The "free market" is inadequate to address the challenge of climate change.

Government intervention, in the form of the CPRS, as part of addressing the inadequacies of the free market, only lasted about 18 months. Tony Abbott and the Coalition destroyed the CPRS. However, his government left in place the renewable energy target.  

John Quiggin argued, in 2013, that the increase in prices has to do with, among other things, the privatisation of the state owned energy monopolies and their manic profit at all costs (including skimping on reliability expenditure and cutting staff). Re-nationalising these natural monopolies would be part of the solution. So, too, might be price controls on the retail price of electricity.

However, that does not address the energy mix of fossil fuels and renewable energy.

Back in 2010, Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) and the University of Melbourne issued a plan to move Australia to a totally renewable energy society in a decade. It would have cost $370 billion over that time, according to BZE.

That is almost $40 billion a year — a large amount but one which a net wealth tax of 1% per annum on the top 10% of wealth holders could pay. 

Read more by John Passant on his website En Passant or follow him on Twitter @JohnPassantSigned copies of John's first book of poetry, Songs for the Band Unformed (Ginninderra Press 2016) are available for purchase from the IA store HERE.

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