By Louise Young "I was born in the late 1950s at a time when the climate was more benevolent than it appears to be now. I feel that each generation has a profound duty to try to leave the earth a better place for those who come after—not just people, but nature as well. I am saddened to see what we are doing to this beautiful planet, and will continue to do what I can to improve our shared future."
The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” - Chinese Proverb
In case you do not know, fossil fuels contain very high amounts of carbon, which is perfectly safe when left in the ground, but when they are brought to the surface and burnt as fuels they release CO2 into the atmosphere and the cumulative effect of this is the primary cause of man-made climate change.
The scientific knowledge that we now possess is unparalleled in our shared history. So when extensive, rigorous and prolonged scientific investigation into climate change tells us that rising levels of atmospheric CO2 will cause the climate to shift, and we can chart the rise and rise of CO2 each and every year, then why do we continue to still rely so heavily on the fossil fuel industry?
The fossil fuel industry is enormously powerful and has huge influence in many of the governments around the world. Unfortunately, due to our vast mining industry, Australia is one of the fore runners for this ‘out of public view’ agreement between government and big business. This collusion is well documented and makes for sobering reading.1, 2, 3
Back in February 2006, the ABC’s ‘Four Corners’ program exposed how the Australian climate change policy was decided under the then-Howard Government. It told the story of a small but powerful group that called themselves the Greenhouse Mafia. This group consisted of executive directors of the coal, oil, cement, mining and electricity industries. Apparently, they were given extraordinary influence over Australia’s position on climate change.4
They did their best to skew any reports on climate change, painting the renewable energy section as unreliable and bad for the economy. They also successfully painted anyone actively concerned with the environment as ‘left wing’, and also bad for the economy.
In 2007, Clive Hamilton wrote “Scorcher, The Dirty Politics of Climate Change.”1 Reading this book was like taking a journey into a time warp. The words could have been about exactly what is happening today, except it was written seven years ago.
The trouble is, all of this collusion and double speak and sidelining still continues. We seem to be stuck in a repeating pattern, which ultimately ensures that whilst we talk endlessly about climate change; we do very little that is useful, all the while getting closer to a point of no return.
Burchell Wilson, chief economist for the Chamber of Commerce, was interviewed on the ABC the other day, and said that “the cost of the RET [Renewable Energy Targer] to average households is around $102 per annum.”5 He used this figure claim that the “RET is corporate welfare on a massive scale.”5
I am definitely not an economist, but I would consider this $102 that I have spent exceptionally well.
On the other hand, in 2010, the annual value of fossil fuel subsidies in Australia was valued at $7.7 billion. The largest of these subsidiaries are in the form of diesel fuel handouts to the miners, called the Fuel Tax Credits Scheme: this scheme equates to $182 per taxpayer every year (we are talking individual taxpayers here, not households like the RET).6
The Abbott Government has recently announced a review into the RET. The head of the review is Dick Warburton, who stated last week in an interview that what he is sceptical about are “the claims that man-made carbon dioxide is the major cause of global warming”.
The other members of the four person review team are:
Mark Zema, the CEO of Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO operates Australia’s National Electricity Market).
Shirley In’t Veld, the former head of WA government-owned generation company Verve Energy.
And finally, Brian Fisher, the former long-term head of ABARE (Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics) who gained notoriety for his positions on climate policies. Under Fisher, ABARE systematically produced modelling to demonstrate the massive costs to Australia of any action to mitigate carbon emissions. However, these models were often found to be highly misleading, and “came under severe criticism for what it included and for what it left out”1
Although it is possible that these four people will carry out the review with impartiality and concern for the future, the team does have a definite lean towards the fossil fuel industry and away from renewable energy. And since the RET review will examine clean energy impact on power prices, and not the long term benefits, or even the economic and environmental costs of staying with fossil fuels, then this seems to be yet another example of wasteful and expensive misdirection, something that we really cannot afford.
The politics behind our inaction on climate change are complex and convoluted and have become embedded in our Australian culture. Sadly, this could be our undoing. We all need to try and think and rethink this issue afresh, we need to learn the facts and learn what we can about it, and then do what needs to be done. It is not something that will go away on its own accord.
We are fast running out of ‘catch-up’ time. If we just keep doing what we are doing now, by the end of this century the world will be 4oC warmer than it is now.7 And this would indeed be catastrophic.
No matter how hard it is we need to ‘plant that tree’. If we leave it, it will just get harder. We collectively need to work towards a world of low carbon emissions, work towards a world of low pollution and toxicity, where our remaining natural resources remain in place because we are clever enough not to strip them bare.
More next time on what we as individuals can do, as well as what positive steps other countries around the world are taking.
1. Scorcher, the Dirty Politics of Climate Change. Clive Hamilton. 2007. Published by Black Inc. Agenda
2. Requiem for a Species, Why we Resist the Truth about Climate Change. Clive Hamilton. 2010. Allen & Unwin
3. Merchants of Doubt. Naomi Oreskes & Erik Conway. 2010. Published by Bloomsbury Press
Featured image: 'SolarGas' by David Hoys