Juxtaposition, the placing of two things together for comparison purposes, I thought it meant. But when I looked it up, it often pays to look up words, most dictionaries have it meaning placing two things together to highlight their differences. And that is precisely the sense in which I would like to use the word. A clashing of lived experiences. In this instance, townspeople at the coalface versus "modellers" of a CO2-free future.
First to the modellers. ‘Net Zero Australia’ is a partnership between the University of Melbourne, the University of Queensland, Princeton University and international management consultancy Nous Group. Launched in 2021, it aims to set out how Australia can reach net-zero for products used domestically by 2050 and for exports by 2060. It uses modelling developed by Princeton University and Evolved Energy Research for their 2020 Net-Zero America study.
Be skeptical. Models of complex reality spit out results, often treated as gospel, on the basis of selective hypotheticals fed into a highly-simplified set of equations which cannot possibly mirror the complexity of real life. Thus, they are universally hopeless at predicting outcomes which deviate much from the prevailing norm. For example, find an economic model which predicted the sub-prime crisis? There isn’t one.
We're all right, mate.
Net Zero Australia released its report on July 12, 2023. It is not recommended reading. It’s seventy-one pages of questions and different scenarios (six of them), of diagrams and dot points. Writing a concise report in plain English has gone out of fashion. The reason is evident. "Bullshit baffles brains," is the way one former colleague of mine used to put it. There is however an eye-watering bottom line which concentrates the mind.
Apparently, Australia (governments plus the private sector collectively) has to spend “up to $9 trillion on the transition in the next 37 years.” Of this, AUD1.5 trillion must be spent by the end of the decade. Put this in context. Take USD1.5 trillion. A whole heap of money, even in America, yet it’s only about 6 or so percent of United States’ GDP. An amount of AUD1.5 trillion is over two-thirds the value of Australian GDP. It is simply an unbelievable amount of money for Australia to find. And AUD9 trillion? I wouldn’t be surprised if China was able to buy all of Australia’s recoverable resources for that amount of money, which it could then exploit without the least worry about emitting CO2; being a developing country and all.
What we have is a disconnect, as I will shortly come to, between paper plans developed by white-collar activists posing as researchers and action on the ground. I’m reminded of Mike Tyson’s well known remark, “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Of the things Australia must plan to do before 2030 to reach the nirvana of net-zero, this below is a mere sample:
Strengthen deployment drivers of renewables, transmission, and electricity storage, as the most important decarbonisation options… Begin planning and development of clean hydrogen infrastructure, including hydrogen storage… implement emission standards for all road vehicles… Decide and communicate the future of gas distribution to household and commercial customers… Implement integrated planning and delivery for renewable energy zones.
Note actual size.
Take the last of the things above; apropos renewable energy zones. And juxtapose doings at Muswellbrook, which came to light in the news only two days before the 'Net Zero report' was released. Muswellbrook (pop.≈ 12,000) is a small town on the New England Highway in the state of New South Wales. Trucks carrying wind turbine blades measuring up to 90 metres long and almost 7 metres in diameter have to be carried from the port of Newcastle -- where they are landed from China – along the New England Highway through Muswellbrook to a planned renewable energy zone near Armadale further north. Problem. The trucks cannot fit under the railway underpass in Muswellbrook, which has a height limit of 5.2 metres. A planned bypass will need to be built at a cost of $340 million. This will take years.
Separately, a small bridge just outside of Muswellbrook is on a different highway to another planned renewable energy zone near Dubbo in the central west of the state. As Sharon Pope of the Muswellbrook shire council reportedly said, “the only two options to get trucks across the Denman Bridge would be to pull it down and make it bigger or build a second bypass. Neither would come cheap.”
In the meantime, the trucks have to skirt the highways and travel on local roads. Local roads wind and the trucks have difficulty turning and churn up the roads, which are not built to carry heavy traffic. Who’s to pay for road repairs, asks the Muswellbrook shire council plaintively? Did the planners include this cost and others like them in their modelling? Silly question. It’s a literal case of plans being undone when the rubber meets the road. Not surprising for government projects.
Just a wee bit over budget.
The Sydney Opera House was planned in 1957 to be completed by 1963 for a cost of $7 million. It was in fact completed in 1973 at a cost of $102 million. The pumped hydro station Snowy 2.0 was planned in 2017 to be completed by 2021 at a cost of $2 billion. If it is ever finished, which seems increasingly unlikely, it will be years into the future with a cost tag of around $20 billion.
Government projects don’t always run to plan, an understatement if ever there was one. Still, I don’t believe we’ve seen anything yet to remotely compare with what’s ahead in Australia and, of course, in North America and much of the world. The sheer idiocy and scope of the project to rid the world of hydrocarbon fuels, which provided 83 percent of the world’s consumption of energy in 2021, is mindboggling. And to think it is being orchestrated by activists armed with computer models. I am sorry. I simply can’t find the words.