Monday, September 3, 2007

Disrupting Loy Yang

Early on this chilly Monday morning, we locked on to the conveyor belts of the brown coal power station called Loy Yang, in Traralgon, Victoria, cutting power generation to half capacity.

The protest was part of a national day expressing dissent against APEC's disastrous climate policies. We have targeted coal as the worst greenhouse gas polluter.

Massive conveyors taking the coal to feed Loy Yangs fires were stopped when two people attached themselves using lock on devices inside the conveyor belt room.

Another conveyor belt transporting tailings was also disrupted, banners flown in full colour.

Helicopters are circling above and there are many cold hands and feet, but the action has been an amazing success and we come back to the town laughing, knowing that our friends are still locked onto their machinery, blocking the movement of dirty brown coal.

Our protest has transformed into creative action. Under the smokestacks we have created something that is beautiful, and we walk away with coal streaked faces, but glowing eyes.

An opening- a moment of opportunity, people reclaiming their ability to create the world, people actively resisting. It is a beginning, we are part of a growing movement of direct action on the root causes of climate change.

From the front line...

Our Aims:

  • To shift the climate change debate from individual responsibility for individual behaviour change to collective responsibility for structural change. It’s important that, where they can, people make individual changes but switching light bulbs doesn’t connect a person with real causes of climate change, the political and economic system. We want to challenges the corporate interest which cause large emissions and which can only be tackled through collective action. We hope this action will inspire more grassroots action tackling climate change and be initial steps towards building a movement of decentralized groups committed to tackling the root causes of climate change.

  • A commitment to direct action; a belief that solutions to the problem of climate change lie not with governments and corporations but with grassroots movements for change. This action is a direct attempt to stop something real; to actually prevent the ability of a power station to produce CO2 emissions, or for coal to get exported, even if only for a few hours. The existence and continued use of fossil fuel (coal or nuclear) is incompatible with any kind of ecological or equitable future. Our attempts to shut down mine, power stations and ports are an audacious strike both at a source of CO2 emissions and a lynch-pin of 21st century capitalism. Our future is too precious to be entrusted to corporate bureaucrats and politicians.

  • An attempt to challenge the pessimism surrounding climate change – whilst reading the science and the increasingly shocking figures, predictions and likely impacts in Australia can leave people feeling crippled. Faced with the full facts about climate change and the massive reduction in emissions necessary over a very short period of time, it’s all too easy to either deny the problem or conclude that it’s too late, that it’s an issue so large and entrenched that it’s without solution. We wanted to move away from denial. We wanted to say that the future is, literally, in our hands.

APEC Fueling Climate Crisis

APEC, the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation, have been incompetent and ineffective dealing with climate change. The APEC climate agenda is not one that will ever or can ever lead to an environmentally sustainable or just world. Their policy mandate is to promote the neo-liberal market agenda. Howard has placed climate change on the APEC agenda and is making it one of the meeting's main focuses. He argues that APEC provides a “special opportunity” to address climate change issues because it brings three of the worlds major GHG emitters – United States, China and Russia to the same table. The APEC region accounts for 60 per cent of the world's energy demand, and across the group demand is expected to double by 2030. Internationally though, it has been APEC nations who have been hindering progress on international progress towards action on climate change and who have been actively sabotaging international attempts to reach binding agreements. For example, the United States, is the worst polluting nation; their government has been dragging their feet for years and refusing to ratify the Kyoto protocol. At the recent Vienna Climate change meeting, it was APEC members Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, South Korea who were most hindering progress. There is every reason to be skeptical of the intentions of these leaders; in fact the 'significant' climate debate that Howard and Bush are pushing is really smokescreen to real change.

It is clear that the difficult decisions on climate change are facin
g all the APEC member countries. However, we approach APEC with a confrontational attitude, since we do not think that lobbying can have a major impact in such biased and undemocratic organisations, in which transnational capital is the only real policy-maker.

APEC's corporate buddies

APEC has an Energy Working Group that meets twice a year. The Energy Working Group rejects the UN Multilateral Kyoto Protocol climate change strategy, and advocates ‘clean coal’ and nuclear energy as solutions to global warming. Australia and the US are strong supporters of these solutions. This focus in the APEC Energy Working Group is unsurprising, given its strong links to the business community and the private sector and its implicit mandate for protecting their interests. It is advised by an Energy Business Network that receives substantial input from companies such as Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton and US Chevron Oil Company, but no corresponding input from environment or community groups. In short, APEC policy is driven by all the corporations whose vested interests lay in the continual burning of fossil fuels.

Sabotaging Kyoto

Howard sees APEC as an opportunity for developing what he calls “a truly international framework for realistically tackling climate change”. Problem is we already have one – the Kyoto Protocol. Whilst it is clear that the Kyoto Protocol is manifestly inadequate to deal with the massive threat posed by climate change, its targets of 5% reductions go nowhere near that immediate dramatic cuts in CO2 emissions that the sceintific community agree is necessary to avoid dangerous climate change effects. However, Howard's plan (and the APEC agenda) is clearly aimed at weakening Kyoto further and to completely by-pass Kyoto with an even more ineffectual agreement. In his speech to the Lowy Institute Howard argued that “APEC can build consensus on a way forward that avoids the pitfalls of the Kyoto model.” When Howard points to the pitfalls of Kyoto he is arguing not against its limited targets or its highly contentious market based mechanisms but against the limited principles of equity in the Protocol.

Malaysia's Trade Minister Rafidah Aziz replied to this: "It is unfortunate that people who are talking about climate change like America [read: and Australia] are not even members of the Kyoto Protocol ... If you want to talk about climate change, please join in with the rest of the global community to make commitments about managing climate change,"

Australia and the US have set up the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, a group of six APEC countries, as an alternative to the Kyoto strategy. This group released a statement that “renewable energy and nuclear power will represent an increasing share of global energy supply” and pledged to “work together to develop, demonstrate and implement cleaner and lower emissions technologies that allow for the continued economic use of fossil fuels…”

Aspiration target pipe dreams

Rather than commit to real targets that are urgently necessary to avoid dangerous climate change, APEC is seeking aspirational rather than binding targets. Howard has stated that he want APEC leaders to agree for the first time that a international agreement should include long-term “aspirational goal” for cutting emissions. Countries will simply do what they can, on their own time-lines. It is not good enough for affluent countries to simply “aim” to cut their emissions, rather then actually take the steps necessary.

Europe has committed to 20% cuts by 2020, and the recent U.N. climate conference in Vienna concluded that industrialized countries should now strive to cut emissions by 25 percent to 40 percent of their 1990 levels by 2020, in line with recommendations of the latest IPCC reports. It was also proposed that the target would serve as a loose guide for a major international climate summit to be held in December in Bali, Indonesia.

APEC's Nuclear Agenda

APEC is aiming to promote nuclear power as a solution to climate change. Nuclear energy is no solution to climate change. Huge amounts of energy are needed to mine and enrich uranium, build and decommission nuclear reactors, and transport and store radioactive waste. There is still no safe way to dispose of nuclear waste. The huge costs needed to subsidise nuclear power would be better spent on safe renewable energy, such as solar or wind.

Discussions at APEC will pave the way for Australia and Russia signing a Nuclear Cooperation Agreement which will update our bilateral safeguards arrangements to facilitate the export of uranium.Discussions will also be happening with Bush about bilateral action plan for civil nuclear energy cooperation, including on research and development, regulatory issues and skills and technical training.

At the recent APEC Energy Ministers Meeting in Darwin, nuclear energy solutions continued to receive broad support, while the wind and solar industries were not even represented. We need real action on climate change. Climate change must be dealt with by real changes to our economy and society, not by substituting one environmental disaster for another.

Business as usual won't save us

APEC policies assume that climate change can be dealt with through market mechanisms and on a “business as usual scenario.” In his speech to the Lowy Institute Howard argued that any way forward on climate change “should take account of the reality of continued use of fossil fuels... and the proven contribution that can be made by nuclear power.” The harsh reality is that the continued burning of fossil fuels at current rates simply cannot be part of an ecologically sustainable or just future. The other mechanisms supported by APEC such as improving forestry and land use management, sequestering substantial quantities of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere are similarly no real solutions to the problem.

APEC also argues that “economic growth and prosperity is the best means of tackling the very environmental issues that rich industrialized countries are also tackling.” In fact, climate change cannot be tackled via economic growth and market mechanisms. Climate change and the current crisis we are facing is a direct result of an economic system that priorities growth and profit over human need.

APEC simply needs to get out of the way. We can't accept any more stalling from neo-liberal governments and corporations as we suffer debilitating droughts, the seas rise and countless species go extinct. Real solutions to climate change require a very clear rejection of capitalism, imperialism and feudalism; all trade agreements, institutions and governments that promote destructive globalisation.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

A Call to Action

Climate change is already having major effects on the world. In Australia we are already experiencing water shortages and drought for both rural and urban communities, extinction of plant and animal species and the slow death of the great barrier reef. Internationally, floods, droughts and storms are growing stronger, evident in the destruction of New Orleans in cyclone Katrina.

It is generally agreed among scientific bodies that the maximum temperature rise we can handle is 2°. Anything above this will push the earth past 'tipping points' like the melting of polar ice caps and arctic tundra. These events may cause the earth to heat itself further in a vicious cycle to four, five or even ten degrees above 20th century temperatures. That would mean a crisis like none we have ever experienced.

We need to act quickly to cut our GHG emissions and keep the temperature rise below two degrees, yet emissions continue to rise and industry continues to pump GHGs into the atmosphere at alarming rates.

Stand Up For Renewables

Whilst changing our light bulbs and shower-heads, riding bicycles instead of driving and growing veggie gardens are important steps in combating climate change, alone they will not solve the problem.

Economic forums like APEC continue to push polluting and dirty Coal and Nuclear industries at the expense of clean, renewable technologies like Wind, Solar and Geothermal.

The Australian government has one of the worst climate change records in the world, yet they continue to obstruct real international agreements like Kyoto and ignore local initiatives.

Our government and corporations are happy to perpetuate the myth that only a change in the habits of individuals will bring meaningful reductions in emissions, while big industry continues to pollute unhindered at ever-increasing levels for ever-increasing profits.

We need real action on climate change to highlight these issues. Our protests are direct and act to raise awareness of the impact the coal industry has on climate change and promote renewable technologies and an environmentally sustainable society.

You Cant Dig Your Way Out of Climate Change

Burning coal is the biggest single contributor to climate change in Australia and globally.
78 per cent of Australia's electricity is generated in coal-fired power stations, making us one of the most coal-dependent countries on Earth, after Poland and South Africa. Most countries have a much more diverse mix of sources for their electricity.

The myth of clean coal.

There are voices within the coal industry and some sectors of government who are putting large amounts of money into an untried, untested and unknown technology knows as Carbon Capture and Storage, or Geo-sequestration. The idea behind this, and it is just an idea as it exists as no more than a few artists impressions in CCS promotional powerpoints, is that you can pump the pollution from coal fired power stations into the earth. By pumping these gases underground into cavities in the earths various sub stratas the hope is that they will stay there long enough that we can forget about them for the time being.

CCS as is being promoted in Australia would involve mixing the carbon rich green house cases with a saline water solution, essentially turning that water into a heavy and toxic soda water mix, and pumping this acidic water into chambers within the earth left from various mining activities or into already existing aquifer systems. There is no knowledge of how this acidic solution would react with different types of rock substrata over any length of time. Proponents of CCS cannot give assurances that this acidic pollution we used to pump into the air, with the confidence that it would disappear and do no harm, will not create problems in our soil, water ways and potentially re-enter the atmosphere through leaks or event gaseous explosions in the future.

CCS is an unknown, undeveloped and unnecessary way of allowing the coal industry to continue with a business as usual attitude, while climate change increases in severity.

Capturing the carbon dioxide and injecting it into long-term storage deep underground (“geo-sequestration”) does not solve the problem. Large-scale geo-sequestration is a speculative technology which faces a number of risks. Estimated by the Petroleum Cooperative Research Centre to cost at least A$46 per tonne of carbon dioxide, geo-sequestration would be more expensive than the likely carbon price of A$25 per tonne. (IFS)

The coal industry claims it can solve these problems with “clean coal”. In the greenhouse context, “clean coal” is a contradiction in terms. “Clean coal” is a marketing term invented in the 1970s and 1980s in an attempt to counter the linkage between coal and acid rain caused by coal’s sulfur content. The term covers a number of technologies and processes, some of which are not relevant to brown coal and many of which are of little or no relevance to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.(IFS,2001)

It will be far cheaper and more effective to switch to renewable energies that are ready for use now instead of continuing to pollute while we wait for clean coal that may never come.

Greenpeace outlines Australias coal agenda

Background on Loy Yang

The Loy Yang power station, which has a generation capacity of 2210 MW, is the largest in Victoria and its adjacent open cut brown coal mine is the largest in Australia, with an annual output of approximately 30 million tonnes of coal. Located within the heart of the Latrobe Valley, 165km east of Melbourne, the Loy Yang Power site covers an area of about 6,000 hectares. Electricity generation at Loy Yang Power requires 60,000 tonnes of brown coal a day, supplied exclusively by Loy Yang mine. Its four dredgers can dig up 3600 tonnes of coal per hour each. This roughly equates to 109,800 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per day, or 55 million tonnes of CO2 per year. (1kg coal = 1.83 kg CO2)

The mine is also highly water intensive, 270 liters/second of high quality artesian water is pumped form underlying aquifers to maintain stability within the mine and to supplement water supply to the power station.

Loy Yang Power is owned by GEAC (Great Energy Alliance Corporations), which comprises the Australian Gas Light Company (32.5%), Tokyo Electric Power Company (32.5%) and a group of investors led by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (35%).