MPU: Climate & the Federal Budget
Senator RENNICK (Queensland) (17:08, 12 May 2021): The great Franklin Roosevelt once said that there’s nothing to fear but fear itself, so it’s good to speak to this urgency motion. For the record, I don’t support any subsidies at all to any type of energy. Twenty years ago we were fed the neoliberal line that if you privatise the energy market, the market would fix itself. I can assure you that the market hasn’t fixed itself, despite governments basically shovelling subsidies into all sorts of energy. We’ve heard a lot about the fossil fuel subsidies, which I don’t think are all that high at all. I’ll go into the renewable subsidies: there’s $10 billion for the Clean Energy Finance Corporation; $5 billion for the Snowy Hydro, which purely exists so we can have a big battery for solar and wind; $3½ billion for the Climate Solutions Package; $2½ billion for the Australian Renewable Energy Agency; and another $1½ billion for the Grid Reliability Fund which got pulled and is now used for gas and things like that. Long story short: at just the federal level there’s $20 billion in subsidies for renewable energy.
Then we’ve got the state subsidies, whereby we have the ridiculous proposition that the Queensland state government, for example, is paying foreign renewable providers for their energy, undermining our own home-grown coal, which is basically free and owned by the Queensland people. Kogan Creek Power Station actually sits on the coal mine, and coal gets funnelled straight up the conveyor belt, and it’s all free because it’s owned by the Queensland people. That used to generate about $1 billion to $2 billion in profits for the state government every year, and now last year it lost a billion dollars because it kept getting turned on and off. So there are lots of things I think that we should address. I think we’ve got 10 energy agencies just at the federal level. The whole energy market is completely ruined, and there needs to be a discussion about whether or not we nationalise all the base energy and start again, because it’s out of control.
I just want to jump onto this other point here: there is no climate collapse. There is no climate science. The field of science that we are dealing with is called thermodynamics and it’s existed for about 200 years. The first theories were created by a brilliant young French engineer, Nicholas Leonard Carnot, who came up with, believe it or not, the second law of thermodynamics, which is that the entropy of a system always increases. Unfortunately he died at an early age from cholera, so we don’t have his papers. But we move on to the English scientists who took up his work, who were of course James Joule and William Thomson, who later became Lord Kelvin and who was the first scientist appointed to the British House of Lords. They came up with the first law of thermodynamics, which is that energy is neither created nor destroyed; it’s just transformed or transferred.
These laws matter. Heat is basically transferred in three forms: it’s either radiation, which is what we’re dealing with when we talk about climate science; convection; or conduction. I want to talk about conduction first, because conduction is the main form of heat transfer in the atmosphere. Effectively, the rule that applies to that is the second law of thermodynamics, and I’ll explain it to you. If we have half a glass of water at 10 degrees Celsius and half a glass of water at 20 degrees and we pour one into the other, we know, if there’s no heat loss, it will average out at 15 degrees Celsius. What I want you to do is to turn those cups upside down or on their side, and effectively that’s the way the atmosphere works. The atmosphere is basically one big pressure gradient driven by temperature differentials. The greater the temperature differential, the faster the convection will be.
We see convection in many forms. We see it in the wind. The other major form of convection is what’s known as evaporative cooling, and that’s where we have a change in temperature from a phase change—for example, the heat will hit an ocean, and the water will evaporate and go up as water vapour. When it gets to a point in the atmosphere where it cools and gets to its condensation point, it will then condense again and fall to the ocean. That’s effectively a cooling process, hence why it’s called evaporative cooling. It doesn’t just happen in the ocean. If you exercise, for example, you might sweat. That’s also known as evaporative cooling, and that is the major form of heat transfer on planet Earth. We get most of that around the equator, where there are these massive convection cells where the heat rises.
It has to be said that carbon dioxide does increase radiation in the atmosphere. No-one is denying that. But what’s very important is to actually quantify that amount of heat, the direction of the heat and how that process works. In order to understand that you need to go back to other laws of physics. The first one is obviously E equals MC squared, whereby 600 million tonnes of hydrogen are burnt a second and converted into 596 million tonnes of helium and four million tonnes of energy. Some of that four million tonnes of energy comes to planet Earth here in the form of a photon. If the photon was created in the inside part of the sun, it will have low energy and come here as infrared radiation. If it was created at the edge of the sun, it will come here as ultraviolet radiation, and ultraviolet radiation has a lot of energy, and that’s why it causes skin cancer. It can hit a molecule and knock an electron straight out of its orbit, and that will ionise the atom, which is when it becomes oxidative and starts causing cancer and things like that.
What’s important to understand with carbon dioxide in terms of radiation is that it has four vibrational frequencies. The first frequency is found at 2.8 microns, and that refracts incoming infrared radiation, so that’s not actually adding to the heat at all in the atmosphere. The second vibrational frequency is at 4.3 microns, and that particular frequency has no dipole moment. That means it’s not electromagnetic, and so it neither absorbs or emits. Then we get to the two degenerate modes at 14.8 microns. This is where, basically, carbon dioxide absorbs and emits heat. One of the big myths we hear in climate science is that carbon dioxide traps heat. That is an oxymoron. Heat is kinetic energy, the energy of motion, so every person, every molecule, on this earth will basically absorb and radiate heat. If we were to turn the lights off in the chamber now and put an infrared light on you, we’d all be glowing red.
What’s interesting with the 14.8 micron is that we need to use Wien’s law of displacement to determine at what temperature that will radiate. Long story short, the formula for that is 2,888 over the frequency of the vibration, which is about 15. So it will radiate at 192 degrees kelvin, which, if you convert back into degrees Celsius, is negative 80 degrees Celsius. So carbon dioxide does emit heat at about negative 80 degrees, so you’ve got to go somewhere up about 10 or 15 kilometres in the atmosphere to get carbon dioxide to actually refract heat.
The amount of heat that will increase as a result of increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is very marginal, because let’s not forget that, while you might have 430 parts per million of carbon dioxide, it’s not the biggest greenhouse gas absorber in the planet. The biggest greenhouse gas absorber in the planet just happens to be this thing we call H2O, which is water or water vapour. That, at about 75 degrees humidity and 25 degrees Celsius is about 15,000 parts per million. So, if we add another part per million, the increase in heat is what’s described as a negative logarithmic scale. For example, if I had 10 patty cakes and I got another cake, it’d increase by 10 per cent. If I had 100 patty cakes and I got another patty cake, it’d increase by one per cent. So gradually the rate of change—and those of you who understand your calculus will know what I’m talking about—diminishes. So the whole thing about radiative heat is overblown, because most of the heat transferred throughout the atmosphere is through convection and, if it isn’t through convection it will be through conduction. That is where if one molecule absorbs a photon, it heats up, bangs into another molecule and passes energy to that other molecule. Now, we’ll apply the first law of thermodynamics there, so basically the energy gained by one molecule will be lost by the other molecule—you cannot increase the overall energy in the system.
So, long story short, there is nothing to worry about at all. We’re not going to have a climate collapse any time soon. The first time you would expect to see a climate collapse is in about three billion years time, when the sun starts to burn out. It’ll start to blow up into a big red blob, and it will gradually come out. It’ll consume Venus and then Mars and then planet Earth. But you haven’t got to worry about that, because life on earth will probably come to an end in about a billion years time, when all the hydrogen is slowly evaporated out of the earth and water will cease to exist. And, as you all know, when water ceases to exist, it’s kaput for all of us.