Coal, COVID And Canavan

Senator Matt Canavan - net zero emissions

This is not Senator Matt Canavan’s hand pried open.

As grim acceptance among the Coalition of having to lift their game on climate change grows, so too have the rumblings from some members about the prying of coal out of cold, dead hands.

Coal supporter Senator Matt Canavan has been in fine form again recently, posting on Sunday:

I am deadset against net zero emissions. Just look at the disaster the UK is living through. They’re switching off their industry to keep their lights on, and they are struggling to feed themselves. Net zero emissions would just make us weaker.”

Not a lot of wiggle room in that assessment. But the UK situation is more to do with the impacts of Brexit, COVID and a few other issues, including reliance on fossil fuels. To pin it on the pursuit of net zero is incorrect.

On the topic of COVID, Senator Canavan also weighed in yesterday:

“Trying to get to net zero is like trying to get back to COVID zero. Both are unattainable and it will cost us a bomb of [sic] we try.”

The comparison is actually good in one way. Like fossil fuels, COVID has caused disruption, misery, illness and death. A shedload of cash has been spent across the world in battling it because, well, disruption, misery, illness and death.

In A Fight Between COVID And Coal, Who Would Win?

But COVID has been somewhat a rank amateur grim reaper compared to the impact of burning fossil fuels. This is thanks in part to the huge amounts of resources invested in trying for COVID zero initially and more recently to just reining it in as we prepare for what’s ahead. Mistakes have been made and will be made, but for the most part, we’ve been giving this reasonably new threat a red-hot go and throwing everything we can at it.

Fossil fuels are an old threat we have lots of knowledge about. The impacts from cooking our planet, poisoning waterways and degrading land aside, a study out of Harvard University early this year estimated the number of deaths attributable just to fine particle pollution generated by fossil fuel combustion in 2018 alone was 8 million.

Since the start of the pandemic in 2020, approximately 4.76 million have died with COVID so far.

Hopefully we’ll be able to live with COVID assuming an even nastier and vaccine-resistant strain doesn’t evolve, finishing the job we seem hell-bent on doing on ourselves.

But there is no jab for emissions that will vaccinate us against their effects – and we know what we have to do. A lot of cash has been spent and will need to be spent to reach net zero, and mistakes will be made – but it’s a cost vs. value situation.

For example, it costs a significant amount of money to install solar panels. But that upfront cost is more than offset by the value of the savings they bring, whether it’s a small-scale rooftop solar installation or a massive solar farm. The emissions reduction is of course a great and increasingly important bonus; as are the jobs that accompany sales, installation and service.

But unlike the COVID zero situation (unless it burns itself out), net zero emissions is doable.

Debate on the merits of anything is good and healthy, but suggestions such as it being unattainable or renewables being the “dole bludgers of energy” are not accurate or helpful to the debate.

If we invested the resources (time, effort, money) dedicated to propping up fossil fuels into pursuing safe, proven and viable net zero emissions technologies such as renewable energy and storage, who knows how much further along the track and how much better prepared we would be to deal with the other curve balls the world throws at us; such as the UK is experiencing.

Turning to leader of the pack Prime Minister Scott Morrison now, in one of his many comments about the impacts of COVID during the pandemic, the PM said:

“We’re all in this together.”

And the pursuit of net-zero emissions with firm targets requires pretty much the same mindset given the time we have left to really get things happening and perhaps avoid the worst that climate change could throw at us.

About Michael Bloch

Michael caught the solar power bug after purchasing components to cobble together a small off-grid PV system in 2008. He's been reporting on Australian and international solar energy news ever since.


  1. It interesting that Senator Matt Canavan references the UK “…are struggling to feed themselves.” If humanity cannot rapidly reduce all human-induced GHG emissions, then that’s what Australia could very well be facing later this century – not being able to feed ourselves. That would make Australia much weaker.

    The Australian Academy of Science published a report on 31 Mar 2021 titled The Risks to Australia of a 3°C Warmer World, and it included in section 8.2 Rising heat stress has negatively affected extensive and intensive livestock systems (on page 46):

    Climate change scenarios of 3°C or more are likely to be very challenging for livestock systems. For example, across the top third of Australia, almost every day will be a heat stress day, affecting livestock and the people who manage them. There will also be impacts on water demand, pasture quality and quantity, and fire management (Stokes and Howden 2010). Across southern Australia, large declines in rainfall will reduce both dryland and irrigated production bases for livestock.

    Published at PNAS on Sep 21, was an op-ed by climate scientists Johan Rockström et. al. headlined Opinion: We need biosphere stewardship that protects carbon sinks and builds resilience. It included:

    Today, ocean and land ecosystems remove around 50% of anthropogenic CO2 emissions from the atmosphere each year [1], an extraordinary biophysical feat, given that these emissions have risen from approximately 4 gigatonnes of carbon (GtC) per year in 1960 to around 11 GtC per year today. Put another way, half our “climate debt” is removed, for free, by the biosphere every year—a vast subsidy to the world economy.

    Then a little later (bold text my emphasis):

    It is therefore concerning that the IPCC now concludes that Earth’s temperature is slightly more sensitive to rising CO2 concentrations than previously thought [4]—meaning our remaining carbon budget to achieve the Paris target may have effectively shrunk. If we were able to more accurately simulate feedbacks in the global carbon cycle, such as tipping points in forest ecosystems [5] and abrupt permafrost thaw [6], the estimated remaining budget could disappear altogether. Hence, safeguarding the biosphere from further degradation or collapse is an existential challenge for humanity.

    IMO, Canavan is effectively advocating for Australia to be a much weaker nation.

  2. George Kaplan says

    While not exactly a fan of Joyce, he made a fascinating comment in a recent interview – that the climate change emphasis places the burden on regional folk, not those in cities, yet if Sydney were to have a carbon strategy imposed on it “… to shut down three lanes of the Harbour Bridge and shut down the M2 and M7 and we are there, folks. [They] would lose [their] mind”.

    Given inner city Greenies are the loudest group about dictating how regional land is used, might this be another culture divide? That the loudest of the 66% or so of Australians that occupy 99% to suffer the entire burden of fighting climate change?

    Factor in that cities are concrete islands showing disproportionate heating, a statistic exacerbated by said concrete island expanding to incorporate formerly cool soil or forest based areas, and the data becomes increasingly corrupt.

    Just an embryonic idea, but one that likely will need addressing come election time.

    • George Kaplan,
      You say: “Given inner city Greenies are the loudest group about dictating how regional land is used, might this be another culture divide?

      Nope. The National Farmer’s Federation (NFF) policy position is:

      The NFF recognises that climate change poses a significant challenge for Australian farmers. As a nation, we must act to ensure that our economy is well placed to cost efficiently reduce our national
      greenhouse gas emissions profile.

      Australia’s farmers want more climate action:

      Agriculture is a big deal to Australia. Farms comprise 51% of land use in Australia and contributed 11% of all goods and services exports in 2018–19. However, the sector also contributed 14% of national greenhouse gas emissions.

      A climate-ready and carbon neutral food production sector is vital to the future of Australia’s food security and economy.

      You also state: “Factor in that cities are concrete islands showing disproportionate heating, a statistic exacerbated by said concrete island expanding to incorporate formerly cool soil or forest based areas, and the data becomes increasingly corrupt.

      Skeptical Science long ago outlined 198 climate change myths that climate science deniers keep regurgitating and what the science says, and the Urban Heat Island Effect myth is listed as #26, beginning with:

      When compiling temperature records, NASA GISS go to great pains to remove any possible influence from Urban Heat Island Effect. They compare urban long term trends to nearby rural trends. They then adjust the urban trend so it matches the rural trend. The process is described in detail on the NASA website (Hansen et al. 2001).

      They found in most cases, urban warming was small and fell within uncertainty ranges. Surprisingly, 42% of city trends are cooler relative to their country surroundings as weather stations are often sited in cool islands (eg – a park within the city). The point is they’re aware of UHI and rigorously adjust for it when analysing temperature records.

  3. Meanwhile, earlier this morning the NSW Premier, NSW Deputy Premier and NSW Minister for Energy and Environment issued a media release headlined NSW set to halve emissions by 2030. It begins with:

    NSW is set to attract more than $37 billion in investment while slashing emissions by 50 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, under updated projections and objectives released as part of the Net Zero: Stage 1 Implementation Update.

    I think it’s interesting to note that the NSW Nationals leader and NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro MP has apparently agreed to this, and thus it seems is now at odds with some of his federal Nationals colleagues.

    If the NSW Government means what it is now saying then I’d suggest it is inevitable all NSW coal-fired power stations (including Mt Piper Power Station) will close before 2030. We’ll see whether deeds will align with these aspirational words.

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