The Coalition has conjured up a great policy idea and Tony Abbott should latch onto it. He’ll be damned if he doesn’t.
Of course, there are a few practical issues with the opposition’s draft plan to build up to 100 new dams across the country. The cost could be astronomical – approaching the levels of Labor’s National Broadband Network. Well, about half the cost of that actually, but it’s still a hefty price tag.
There are also environmental concerns to consider. No construction project should proceed if it will bring undue harm to the environment. Green groups will undoubtedly protest loudly against any dam proposals.
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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.
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The damage to Japan’s Fukushima reactors has probably ended any risk of Australia going down the nuclear path.
In fact, despite some uninformed commentary, there has been no international renaissance of nuclear energy, only a resurgence of pro-nuclear talk. In the years 2008 and 2009, the world retired 3000 MegaWatts of old nuclear capacity and only 1000 MW was brought on line. In the same two years, about 60,000 MW of new wind power was commissioned.
When I was a young physicist, nuclear power was seen as cheap, clean and safe. I went to the UK in 1968 and accepted support from their Atomic Energy Authority for research on a problem affecting the useful life of fuel elements in power reactors. Since then, despite huge public subsidies, nuclear power has proved to be very expensive.
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Global warming and rapid progress in renewable energy technology has bought us to a turning point. Do we cling fearfully to coal, or keep up with the rest of the world and develop our vast renewable energy resources?
Senator Christine Milne, the new leader of the Australian Greens, is using this question to construct a new political axis, with the Greens on the side of the future and the Liberal (& National) and Labor parties on the side of the past.
She has the facts of science on her side and, increasingly, the successes of the world’s smartest technology companies and investors.
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In his 2011 State of the Union address, President Obama outlined his vision for an America powered by clean energy, traveling by High Speed Rail, and competing in global clean technology markets. Obama set out a clear principle: “[I]nstead of subsidising yesterday’s energy,” he implored, “let’s invest in tomorrow’s.”
Excellent idea Mr. President.
By choosing the future, not the past, President Obama has opened a fierce technology competition with China and Germany, to bring the cost of renewable energy down below gas, coal and nuclear.
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A number of times in each federal Parliament, the elected representatives of the people face important tests of their values, ideas and policy credentials. This week will see one of these tests when the House of Representatives votes on the Gillard Government’s clean energy future legislation.
MPs will be asked whether they want to respond to scientific advice and take action to leave a cleaner environment for future generations or whether they prefer to ignore the advice of scientists and squander the opportunity to tackle climate change.
They face a choice between a market-based reform and the discredited nostrums of subsidies and politicians picking winners.
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Australians want to help improve the world in which they live. Most would therefore rightly assume that if they pay a Carbon Tax this will at least clean up emissions in Australia.
Certainly this is the impression given by the Government’s Carbon Tax ad campaign and from the debate as the Parliament this week votes on the legislation. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Australia’s emissions will go up, not down, under the Carbon Tax. And on top of the $105 billion the tax is to raise between now and 2020, Treasury’s own modelling shows that we will also have to spend an additional $3.5bn each year on foreign carbon credits.
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It’s time for a quick quiz.
1. In Italy, people marched and voted against nuclear power recently. Every Australian news service carried the story. But did they mention how many nuclear power stations Italy will need to close as a result of this courageous decision?
2. Following the Fukushima failure the Chinese suspended approvals on new nuclear power stations pending a safety review. Did the Chinese stop work on any of the 26 reactors currently under construction? How much nuclear power are the Chinese planning for in 2050?
3. The recently announced Moree Solar Farm will take 4 years to build and will be, so far, the largest solar photovaic power station on the planet. How many food producing hectares will it displace? How many such “farms” would you have to build to replace a large coal-fired power station like Victoria’s Loy Yang A?
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A poll by Roy Morgan Research several days into the Fukushima nuclear crisis found that 61 per cent of Australians oppose the development of nuclear power here, nearly double the 34 per cent level of support. Thus the growth in support for nuclear power over the past five years has been totally erased ... and then some.
While there was undoubtedly growing support for nuclear power until Fukushima, the issue has been the subject of a great deal of hype and spin.
In 2009, for example, a flurry of media reports and commentary followed the release of a Nielsen poll which found that support for nuclear power had risen to 49 per cent and had overtaken the level of opposition.
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The situation at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear reactors seems to be improving, but the long-term fallout remains unclear. The Punch spoke to Associate Professor Haydon Manning - head of politics and public policy at Flinders University and a man with a particular interest in nuclear power - and asked him what it means for the political future of nuclear.
What’s the history of nuclear fear in Australia?
In the Australian community we’ve never had to confront the stark reality - like the French, the Japanese and South Korea have - of real energy shortage. Given our abundance of coal and gas we’ve never had to focus on any of the positive arguments for nuclear power as the answer to a problem or energy security.
Rather, we associated nuclear power with weapons. This is certainly true of someone like me, who as a student marched on the streets in opposition to Olympic Dam in the late 70s. Then in 1979 we had the ‘icing on the anti nuclear cake’ when Three Mile Island had its minor meltdown.
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Some parts of the environmental movement will be quietly high-fiving each other this week, as the nuclear industry’s progress over the past decade looks certain to take a massive step backwards.
They have been quick to proclaim ``I told you so’’ and make the fallacious analogy that the incidents in Japan mean that Australia and indeed all other countries should not consider nuclear as part of the energy mix.
Incidents which, it should be kept in mind, involved an unprecedently large earthquake and decades-old technology.
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Done right, Australia’s imminent renewable energy boom could provide the biggest boost many regional communities have seen in decades, providing secure, skilled, well paid work in areas where many youngsters are forced to move to the ‘big smoke’ to make a decent living.
Done wrong, the next decade could see chronic skills shortages that slow development, cripple roll-out, hamper productivity, and result in skilled jobs being taken by an army of fly-in-fly-out workers or overseas based tradies.
The question is not ‘if’ this shift towards sustainable energy will occur, but when, thanks in a large part to the fact that Australia has the potential to generate vast amounts of renewable energy due to an abundance of natural resources distributed around the country.
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The Labor government is clearing the decks to position itself for the forthcoming federal election. After resolving the mining tax dispute, and adopting a position on asylum seekers, climate change is the last issue Gillard must address before the campaign. Whatever policy the Gillard government adopts must account for the scale of the climate crisis.
Current levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are already so high that if unchecked will push the climate system past significant tipping points. This worst-case scenario poses an unacceptable risk of dangerous and irreversible changes to the climate, to biodiversity, and human civilisation. These adverse climate changes will affect Australia’s food and water security, and increase the risk of regional instability.
The worst of these impacts can be avoided, but only if Australia, together with other major polluters acts now and at a scale the challenge demands.
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A Nielson poll has reported that about half of Australians are open to nuclear energy being considered as part of the solution reducing carbon emissions, up from 38% in 2006. So the question remains as to why half of the population doesn’t even want nuclear on the table as an option.
Is the dislike or even fear of nuclear power a rational one? The threat of nuclear war or nuclear power station accidents such as Chernobyl or Long Island (the only two accidents of any significance) should not be taken lightly; nuclear energy is awesome in the true meaning of the world.
But does it actually deserve the bad reputation is carries?
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There’s an ad running at the moment by a green group that attempts to paint anyone who isn’t fully supportive of “urgent” attempts to fix climate change as a dinosaur.
The so-called Climate “Institute” (cue images of scientists not activists) labels any Australian not fully behind clean energy as a scaly throwback to extinction.
“It’s time for these dinosaurs to evolve and support strong action on climate change,” the ad says.
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