When Karl Marx analysed the class struggle between workers and capitalists in the mid-1800s, he concluded that in that ever present struggle, sometimes the workers were successful but the capitalists would try and take back from the workers what they had won, whether it be a wage increase or some improvement in working conditions. He concluded that as long as capitalism existed, this would be the case.
The same thing is happening in the 21st Century regarding the struggle by the workers and their allies to protect the environment and retard global warming. The people have a win in forcing some concessions from the government of the day regarding their policies on renewable energy targets and decreasing dependency on fossil fuel as a source of generating electricity. Then the people see the government of the day retreat on policy and raise the flag for a fossil fuel future once again.
The latest example of this is Prime Minister Turnbull's announcement to put so-called "clean coal" as the solution to Australia's affordable electricity supply and to commit to subsidise “clean coal” power station construction. The “clean coal” plants are supposedly High Efficiency Low Emissions (HELE) producers of electricity which sounds pretty good compared with the contrasted “dirty” brown coal plants that are being deserted by big business and some governments.
Well not really. The business association, Australian Energy Council, responded to Turnbull's announcement by saying that “clean coal” power stations were "uninvestible". The Council's spokesperson said that as far as the cost of building the “clean coal” plants, they were "prohibitively expensive". He also said that while “clean coal” power plants emit less carbon per megawatt hour than “dirty” coal plants, the amount of carbon emitted was high, about 700 kilograms per megawatt hour.
He said that the life of such a plant was about 50 years which means a lot of carbon emissions over what scientists say is a critical time frame in the fight to reverse global warming. In fact some scientists argue the damage already done from carbon emissions to the atmosphere and temperature trends has passed the point of no return.
What about the cost of building a “clean coal” plant compared with renewable energy plants?
According to the Council, a “clean coal” plant capital and operating cost (called “the levelling cost”) is between $134-$200 per megawatt hour.
The cost of building and running a wind farm is $61-$118 per megawatt hour.
The cost of building and running a gas plant is $74 to $90 per megawatt hour.
Why then is the Turnbull Government trying to "turn back time" to the "good old days" of coal fired power plants? To win a few votes perhaps in electorates that the Liberal Party are at risk of losing? To put the blame for the high cost of power in SA on that state’s Labor Government policy of a higher than Australian average component of renewable energy electricity? Or is it simply that powerful corporate interests from the fossil fuel and mining industry are threatening to get rid of him?
Turnbull is playing a dangerous game by playing politics while the Earth heads towards a sizzling future. Even some of the biggest corporate exploiters of the Earth's resources can see the writing on the wall for coal as an energy source. Royal Dutch Shell corporation wants to move to a combination of renewable energy and gas. Last year Shell set up a new division to invest in bio fuels, wind and hydrogen.
France's Total is investing heavily in solar and battery power. Danish fossil fuel firm Dong Energy is now the largest investor in off-shore wind farms and will be coal free in power generation by 2023. These multinationals can see dollars to be made in renewables and their purse strings are still attached to gas to some degree.
They cannot be trusted to maintain their shift towards renewable energy. It is only people power that has moved them onto the renewable path.
People power within capitalism is forcing progressive reforms towards renewable energy and away from carbon pollution of the atmosphere. The question is whether the constant struggle and small wins by the people against the incomplete commitment to renewable energy of corporate powers and their political parties in government will be enough to retard and reverse global warming?
My view is that it will not be and that the only hope is for the tremendous people's movement against global warming to become an integral and conscious component of the people's movement for a world based on the needs of the people and environment, not on maximizing profit for a small, ever decreasing but obscenely wealthier minority.