Coal shmoal. We have 767 wind farms and one HOT sun
In the mid-eighteenth century, coal engines did not only power factories and illuminate streets; they fired up entire nations. Burning coal allowed for material production to explode.
It facilitated the development of the quintessential assembly line necessary to produce building materials like iron to build infrastructure and allowed for the mass production boom. Burning coal allowed goods to be transported across countries and saw diaspora from pastoralist lifestyles to the thick smog of the city for employment.
In 1863 Sydneysiders saw electricity in action for the first time with the illumination of a battery powered lamp on Observatory Hill in celebration of the marriage of the Prince of Wales.
Electricity proliferated gradually and by 1904 Sydney was the down-under version of the City of Light when gas was replaced with coal-powered electricity and Sydney’s streets were finally switched on. Today, we cannot imagine it otherwise.
The problem, is that ‘imagining it otherwise’ is precisely what we have to do if we are going to avoid the cataclysmic impacts of a rapidly warming world.
This week here in Doha, Qatar youth from around the world wrote an open letter to UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres demanding that the big industry interests holding back the negotiation process be removed.
They argue that the very raison d’etre of the oil, coal and gas heavy weights is contrary to the purpose of the climate negotiations – to reduce carbon emissions in order to limit global warming to a 1.5C – 2C increase. They have a point.
It is somewhat akin to big tobacco sitting on the board of the Lung Foundation and determining safe levels of smoke inhalation.
Australia, like many other countries, has an uncomfortable history with corporate interests influencing political decision-making. The most obvious example of big corporations and Government getting a little too cozy is the asbestos debacle which culminated in the James Hardie compensation cases in the 1990s.
The Northern Territory Government and successive Queensland governments have been accused at the very least of turning a blind eye to severe and, in many cases, terminal consequences of asbestos exposure. At worst, the government has faced recent allegations that it has been complicit in its silence.
Even our free press has felt the hot breath of corporate power on the back of its neck when Gina Rinehart grasped at seats on the Fairfax board.
When corporate heavy weights are filling their coffers through the exploitation of the very thing, which in the case of climate change, is compromising the fabric of our future; and when they have an uncanny knack of keeping governments on side through meaty political donations and multi-million dollar advertising campaigns; it is understandable that the youth in Doha want them as far away from the negotiating table as possible.
Perhaps it is also time for Australia to eliminate the cronyism from Canberra and sever the unsavory relationships that keep us dependent on coal.
We have grown up in a young country founded on coal but it is time to envision a different future.
The Climate Commission last week released the report ‘Generating a Renewable Australia’ which found that the renewable capacity within Australia is currently underutilized.
Not only is renewable energy becoming more and more affordable, but with the rate of growth in wind power exceeding any other major power source, Australia is well placed to capitalize on the strong foundations that have already been laid.
As the sunniest and one of the windiest countries in the world; using these abundant and self-replenishing sources of energy seems more logical than digging up a finite, rapidly depleting and environmentally harmful substance from the earth.
Evidently a switch from coal to renewables is not quite as simple as replacing an incandescent light bulb with a florescent one. But it is not the impossible task the coal industry would like us to think it is. And, if you believe every major science academy in the world, it is an absolutely necessary one.
Our current renewable energy industry provides us with a good indication of what could be possible if we supersized the industry. We are currently on track to meet our 2020 renewable energy targets with the number of wind farms in Australia growing to 767.
The cost of solar panels has dropped by 75 per cent. Considering the fact that only 0.3 per cent of Australia’s land surface would need to be devoted to solar generation to supply all of Australia’s domestic needs; the solar industry is ripe with untapped potential.
For the first time ever the world is investing more money in renewable energy than in oil, gas or coal and it is time for Australia to jump on the bandwagon that it could well be leading.
In light of Australia’s ample natural renewable resources there are only really two possible reasons why Australia could be so reluctant to take strong, decisive action on climate change.
The first is that we are irrationally attached to the romanticized image of the Australian chimney sweep. Unlikely, since the image of the gold miner or the first explorer are far more attractive and we hardly have a population of Australians attached to the idea of finding gold in the backyards or discovering new pockets of weathered Australian terrain.
The second, is that the Government is not simply thinking about the longevity of the planet, or the health and economic stability of future generations or even the refugee crisis climate change is likely to precipitate within our region. Instead, they are acting in the interests of the coal industry who bring in short-term export profits whilst compromising the sustainability of our entire planet.
It’s a tough one.
My guess, is that if the renewable energy big wigs (who happen to be scientists, economists and the like) could press down just as heavily on the shoulders of our parliamentarians, Australia might be quite a different place.
The carbon price legislated at the end of last year was a commendable first step; and Australia’s decision to sign up for the second Kyoto commitment period here in Doha, Qatar is positive.
However, weak carbon emission targets are not enough to do our fair share in dealing with the immanent climate crisis. It’s time for our government to display courage and integrity, and decide to prioritise long-term national and global security over fattening the wallets of the domestic coal lobby.
Comments on this post close at 8pm AEST.
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…