A rational view of economics

The coronavirus pandemic has had tremendous impact on the economies of the whole world, whether or not each country has had a health crisis. During this time our focus has been on the consequences for peoples’ livelihood and wellbeing – rather than the loss of profits of affected firms. This tells us something fundamental about the purpose of the economy, which is to support the wellbeing of citizens, both now and in the future. Enduring wellbeing is the essential goal of sustainability. In this article I unpack the economy to demonstrate how it functions, and how it could be better aligned to this central goal.

Corona virus in Australia

At the time of writing the Covid19 epidemic is rapidly spreading in Australia. What can systems models tell us about the potential of various policies to limit the scale and health impacts of the virus. In this article I apply a system dynamics model to the Australian data available to date. The results of the simulations underline the messages of the medical experts about the importance of behavioural measures in limiting the outbreak.

The dynamics of climate change migration

The inevitably increasing impacts of climate change on the poorer countries of the world will lead to a large affected population over the coming centuries, with estimates ranging from 200 million to 1 billion. The countries of Asia are predicted to be particularly hard hit. Without urgent action in the coming decades by the rich world (who have created the climate crisis) to proactively plan for this mass migration, the likely outcome is that most displaced people will end up in camps either in their own countries or in other countries that struggle to accommodate their presence, but are not able for one reason or another to prevent their arrival. Many will undoubtedly perish.

Breaking the cycle of short term politics

The big loser in the recent election is not the ALP, it is our grandchildren. Electoral success based on populist short term policies act as a brake on action to address the long term challenges the country faces. This success is not a function (purely) of Bill Shorten’s unpopularity, it arises because of the ignorance and / or denial of a (small) majority of voters about the nature and importance of those long term challenges and the urgency required to deal with them. The only way to overcome this is to engage citizens themselves in the development of policy options through an independent commission advised by the best minds in the country.

Why emissions reductions are urgent

It is not well understood how difficult it will be to avoid the worst effects of climate change if we delay emissions reductions. Many think, erroneously, that achieving peak emissions in 2030 will have the same consequences as if they peak now. This is essentially a failure to understand that the impacts of climate change are a consequence of the accumulation of atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases not emissions per year. The longer that emissions continue to increase, the longer that atmospheric CO2 concentrations will increase. Even if we eliminated all emissions today, CO2 concentrations will remain high for millennia (Clark et al. 2016).

Time to focus on climate policy, not energy policy

Australia’s emissions are set to far exceed our Paris accords target. Yet our national discourse is around ‘secure and reliable’ energy rather than a proper review of climate policy, setting up the likelihood of a weak response to both. The government must be brought to account on the reality of climate change and the urgency of climate policy. If there are climate deniers / doubters in the cabinet room, make them speak up, so their opinions can be challenged by the science, not hidden under the fig leaf of secure and reliable energy policy.

Towards a New Age of Reason

The historical advancements in human society that have greatly increased the human population, average living standards, and reductions in violence are a result of the application of reason to our ever growing knowledge base. However our political and policy culture (including the influence of vested interests) tends to resist the full application of our knowledge to properly address our problems. This resistance can only be addressed by increasing a commitment within all cultures to evidence and reason based policy formulation, i.e. to a New Age of Reason.

Why Finkel is wrong on storage

The Finkel review proposes an obligation (under certain circumstances) on renewable generation projects to be able to dispatch a set proportion of their nameplate capacity, a requirement that in reality will force generators to either install or contract energy storage. Not only is this an impediment to investment in renewable energy projects, it will lead to sub-optimal storage outcomes that will be paid for by consumers.

Beyond the Death Spiral

Model based projections for the rapid uptake of rooftop solar photovoltaics in Western Australia indicate that private capacity will be so large that the centralised network based electricity system will become disrupted in the 2020s. By 2050 private systems may produce around 85- 90% of projected electricity demands. In the interim period it may be more economically viable to avoid introducing large scale renewable energy to the network while planning for a completely renewable system by 2050 when rooftop solar approaches saturation levels.

Coal fired power – twin elephants in the room

Ever since the South Australia blackout, debate has raged about the role of coal vs renewables in meeting Australia’s future electricity generation needs. The debate was ramped up significantly by the Prime Minister’s recent call for new generation coal to underpin future baseload power. However, energy market experts believe the cost of future coal will not stack up against the alternatives, it would undermine our commitment to reduce emissions and overlooks the practical realities of private solar PV on baseload power, and the dwindling global stocks of fossil fuels.