Saturday, 12 January 2013

Australia Cooking on Coal

Australia is burning as record temperatures scorch the country. I wonder if this will be enough to put a bushfire through Australian coal policy.

Australia's highest recorded temperature is 50.7C, set in January 1960 in South Australia. The record for the hottest average day across the country was set last Monday, at 40.3C, exceeding a 40-year-old record. Wildfires are raging across New South Wales and Tasmania. For next Monday Australia's Bureau of Meteorology forecast temperatures over 52C – so high that it has had to add a new colour to the top of its scale, an incandescent purple.

 This is a country with huge reserves of coal which it burns to generate electricity and exports, particularly to China. The coal industry defends itself in forthright Aussi style with mining magnate Clive Palmer accusing the Australian Greens and Queensland environmental campaigners of "treason" in conspiring with US powers to destroy the nation's coal industry. This is also a country blessed with one of the largest solar energy capacity per head of population on the planet. Australia could close down its coal industry and get all the energy its needs from solar, not just solar power stations but houses with air conditioning running from solar panels on the roof and a whole range of innovative methods to gather the Aussi rays. This includes a huge commercial opportunity in the potential market for ‘liquid sunshine’ as I wrote in my book Adapt and Thrive: The Sustainable Revolution:

Australia has huge deserts, technical expertise and investment capital. It is a great country, but under the Howard premiership (1996-2007) it has risked undermining its standing in the world by not engaging with the world’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions. I believe this is very short-sighted. If the world turned against fossil fuels, then the economic barrier that prevents us from solving the challenge of fuel from the desert would be removed. I believe that it would be in Australia’s long-term interests to switch policy and push hard to eliminate fossil fuels. Australia should act first at home and close down its coal mining industry in order to have the credibility to then support world efforts to close down the market for fossil fuels. In this way, Australia could become much more sustainable and establish a lucrative market for ‘liquid sunshine’ from Australia’s vast desert interior.
The world would have enormous respect for Australia if it could put short-term economic considerations aside to pursue such a strategy.

The case for closing down the world coal industry is strong on environmental grounds. For many countries this would be hard; for Australia it is feasible and sensible to stop cooking on coal but short-termism and vested interest will intervene. Aussis don’t like being lectured by outsiders but I am an insider born in Hobart, Tasmania with every right to speak out. Wake up Australia, pull your thumb out of your bum and stop the Barbeque whilst you still can.

No comments:

Post a Comment