Some words are simply SO taboo that even saying them brings catastrophe to the speaker.
In the UK, it’s widely accepted that the NHS is the political “third rail”, i.e. any politician touching it will be electrocuted.
Australia has a different political N word. Let’s see if you can guess which it is before getting to the end of this page.
Some background first.
This week saw the Australia media panjandrums pop on a jaunty little face mask, head to their local airport and fly off to Canberra for the Australian ceremonial version of Changing of the Guard, the Federal Budget.
The first question in many minds might be why? As in, “why, after 2020, is anyone still languishing under the illusion the Federal government has any power or influence?”. But I suppose the chance of a night away from home with the corporate credit card is too tempting for those few souls toiling in the dog days of the news industry.
The ritual regarding the release of the details of the budget to the press is somewhat ridiculous too. The press corps are locked in a room without communications to the outside world to pour over an early glimpse of the details. Ah, if only that room could be of greater capacity and the locks made more permanent…. we can but dream.
What then were the interesting or amusing highlights of this year’s flavour of returning a portion of our taxes to us in a magnanimous grand gesture of altruism?
One which grabbed my attention was the $100m splurge of my taxes into three 10 megawatt power stations. That’s a good thing, I suppose, given the third world power cuts parts of the country experienced in recent years due to the sun and wind being inconveniently unavailable at times when people in South Australia wanted to run their fridge or boil a kettle.
What type of power station can be built these days without the moong dal crunchers becoming upset? Turns out hydrogen is acceptable as it is a zero carbon energy source.
Ring the church bells! We have found a source of “clean energy”, rejoice!
A wander around the various media sources will reinforce the article linked above, explaining to their readers that generating electricity from hydrogen doesn’t emit carbon.
By the way, when did “carbon” become the approved shorthand for “carbon dioxide”? I suppose we shorten amphetamine sulphate to amphetamine or even speed so we have form on this.
Curious minds might ask a question or two about this new wonder fuel, however. For example, where does all the hydrogen come from?
The wiki page answers the question in an unintentionally hilarious way (bold highlighting is mine):
Hydrogen fuel is a zero carbon fuel burned with oxygen. It can be used in fuel cells or internal combustion engines. It has begun to be used in commercial fuel cell vehicles, such as passenger cars, and has been used in fuel cell buses for many years. It is also used as a fuel for spacecraft propulsion.
As of 2018, the majority of hydrogen (∼95%) is produced from fossil fuels by steam reforming or partial oxidation of methane and coal gasification with only a small quantity by alternative routes such as biomass gasification or electrolysis of water or solar thermochemistry, a solar fuel with no carbon emissions.
“Zero carbon” seems a somewhat fluid and forgiving definition, as anyone who proudly drives a coal-powered Tesla will virtue signal to you.
Is it accurate then to summarise hydrogen cell energy generation as “zero carbon when the energy used to extract hydrogen was generated using zero carbon energy but almost all of the time it isn’t”?
To be fair to those pushing hydrogen-based energy projects, there is a clearly a “build it and they will come” desire to see the hydrogen extraction become based on wind and solar. It’s just they haven’t come yet.
Back to the politics of it all, because everything about climate change is politics, after all; are we missing any key pieces of information?
Of course we are. Firstly, let’s remind ourselves who the biggest polluter is by a country mile. China now produces more CO2 than all of the western economies combined. Good luck if you think Australia’s actions could change the global climate either positively or negatively by comparison.
Secondly, did you know Australia has some of the largest deposits of uranium in the world?
Did you guess the N word before that sentence?
Australia, like most countries, has a national narrative it likes to tell itself. One such example is regarding the events at Gallipoli in the First World War.
If you speak to most Australians about it, you will likely hear a version of the following; Nasty Winston Churchill sent the Australian troops to a certain defeat because they were expendable, unlike the English. Also, an Australian bloke called Simpson bravely carried wounded soldiers on a donkey. It’s all a bit more complicated than that, of course; the English lost about four times as many Anzacs and Simpson was an English deserter, most likely using the donkey as an excuse to keep away from being permanently on the front line.
Just like the Gallipoli story, Australia has told itself a story about nuclear energy, such that it is political suicide to even mention its name.
For decades now, no Australian politician, or indeed political commentator, has seriously mentioned the possibility of using our vast stores of uranium to produce cheap and truly zero carbon electricity.
It’s not even a topic to be named and then dismissed after a brief discussion. It’s as if we’ve put the words “nuclear energy” in a locked box, thrown away the key and buried the box deep in a snake infested cave.
And that’s how we get to a national delusion that our three new hydrogen power plants are, by any stretch of the imagination, “green”.