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Posts Tagged ‘Beyond Zero Emissions’

Just after Anzac Day is a good time to reflect on our collective failure to meet the challenge of altering Australia’s energy mix. We all know coal is plentiful in the wide brown (oh yeah!) land, and that our polluting power stations produce cheap electricity, but that’s just the problem: it pollutes, to use an old-fashioned word. And one day the coal will run out (what’s left after exports to China), which is why it’s called a finite resource. Now, which part of that do people not understand? Oh, and yes, there’s a high probability that it’s also changing the climate.

A study by the University of Technology and Melbourne Business School on Australian attitudes towards society, politics and the economy has confirmed that we are ‘effectively indifferent to global and societal issues’. Concerns about industrial pollution, climate change, renewable energy, and depletion of energy resources fell dramatically compared to 2007. Attitudes in the UK and USA to environmental sustainability were equally parochial and selfish, and in stark contrast to Germany, where global issues ranked high.

The corollary is well explained in an excellent program on ABC Radio 702 – ‘Germany and Renewable Energy’ – in which a few experts take us succinctly through the politics and facts of twenty years of German experience of building a renewable energy network. National laws on feed-in tariffs were passed in 1990, and in 2000 with twenty year contracts. The cost of photovoltaics is tumbling, and demand so strong that Germany cannot manufacture enough at present. The base load power and economic viability of renewables are demonstrably clear there. Germany has an average of 1738 hours of sunshine a year, or 4.8 hours a day. We have that much before breakfast! Finding plenty of wind in our empty continent is also a no-brainer. Geo-thermal, bio-mass and other clever renewable methods make up the energy mix.  Wake up Australia!

Germany has grown its renewable energy from 2% of total supplies in 1990 to 20% in 2012; meantime Australia has managed to finally get to 5%. Anzac spirit my arse. At that rate Germany will reach 100% renewable energy by 2030, and decommission all nuclear power stations. ‘Beyond Zero Emissions’ shows that Australia could also reach 100% renewables before then using existing technologies. What’s missing is our political leadership. And our collective will, which may involve sacrifices on our part. Lest we forget indeed, wombats! Eats, roots & leaves a mess.

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Sometimes you get a really disturbing feeling that our governments have stupidly declared war on the environment and the people who are an integral part of it, which in this case means not only farmers but all the rest of us who need food and fresh water. A new mining ‘gold rush’ is on for coal seam gas in NSW, where it constitutes 4% of gas supplies (compared to 88% in QLD).

The Crown holds mining rights under everywhere, and Her Maj has allocated mining and exploration licences under some of our prime farming land, including the very productive Liverpool Plains. Against farmers’ wishes drilling rigs arrive and get to business. The extraction process consequences are unproven, with possible pollution of ground water & aquifers, as it uses toxic chemicals to fracture coal beds to release the gas, in a process thus known as fracking. The resulting mix of chemicals and saline water has then to be handled somehow. The drastic effects of this process were shown in the US film ‘Gasland’, where landscapes are dotted with drilling rigs.

As George Wilkenfeld, a Sydney energy & water policy consultant explained recently, drilling has to be continuous to maintain field production; and he outlined the unacceptable risks involved with an energy source which we don’t really need anyway. CSG extraction is very different from ‘natural gas’, which has a track record of proper management.

The threat of drilling even extended to inner Sydney St Peters, where residents recently demonstrated en masse against planned prospection under their houses and parklands. Even more scandalous is the NSW government granting a licence to Apex Energy to drill under Sydney’s water catchment area. Truly unbelievable! Worse than Dart Energy’s licence near Wollemi National Park.

Meantime, the NSW government’s submission to the Legislative Council’s ‘NSW Coal Seam Gas Enquiry’ extols the essential role for CSG in meeting NSW’s energy needs, with a “balanced co-existence of mining and agriculture….(which) necessitates appropriate management and assessment requirements on CSG and mining activities”. Weasel words to say that they are going ahead without knowing the consequences of fracking, and without the Enquiry’s findings. And to boot, the government is relying on ‘confidential’ data supplied by the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association consultants to prove that CSG carbon emissions are so much lower…. puh-lease!  Whatever happened to the cautionary principle of risk management?

The final observation on this disgusting state of affairs is to state the bleeding obvious – we live on the world’s driest continent, with a dismal track record of abusing our water resources. If we can’t protect our greatest natural treasures, those mysterious aquifers, and our river systems, then we deserve to be well and truly fracked! Meantime, we continue to suck it all up, including the greed, political cynicism & expediency. And a related subject for another day: ignoring the real possibility that we can satisfy Australia’s total energy needs from renewables, including the oft-cited baseload power requirements.

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