Black Day in the Valley……..

The VCAT ruling in favour of a new 600 MW coal fired electricity generator in the La Trobe valley is a black day for all of us.  Deborah Hart of L.I.V.E, who with others mounted a long and complicated challenge to this proposal, lamented that,

 'As every legitimate science agency in the world is calling for drastic cuts to greenhouse gas pollution, we are devastated that a project that would add hundreds of millions of tonnes of global warming gases to our atmosphere over decades to come could win legal support in a so called advanced state like Victoria'.

'Big questions still remain around the social and economic viability of this unpopular project, and who will ultimate-ly bear the costs of this new coal plant.  Having sat through 22 hearing days and read the transcripts, we can tell you that there was evidence presented that HRL's project is not economically feasible, even with $150 million of taxpayer money promised by the state and federal governments.  Yet, as we all know, according to mainstream science, the real damage from this plant will be borne by the community, now and in the future, as we experience further extreme weather events…………If this project goes ahead, the community's interests will be sacrificed in favour of a corporation seeking to profit from a project that will have enormous short and long term impacts on all of us.'

What ARE we going to do about coal?  Deborah says that evidence was presented to demonstrate that HRL's plant would not even be 'best practice' electricity generation and that a myriad of safer, cleaner energy solutions are available and affordable, but that didn't stop it being approved.

At Kyoto all the wealthy nations (except the US!) agreed that since they were responsible for most of the emissions over the last few hundred years they should act first.  But not only are countries like Australia only talking about cutting emissions rather than acting, there is also a tendency to blame the developing world for catching up and improving their living standards.  And although it's true that emissions from China and India are rising rapidly, the developed world's emissions also continue to increase.  And it must be remembered that something like 10% of the developing world's emissions are due to goods being produced for sale to the West. 

 The Kyoto goal was to limit temperature increases to two degrees above pre-industrial levels, but scientists are seriously concerned that the possibility of achieving this goal has already passed. 

Although Australia is not one of the biggest emitters, we tend to use our size as an excuse, arguing that whatever we do will not make much difference. 
At the same time we are the third highest in the world in per capita emissions.

And a great part of our mineral exports is coal, over two hundred and fifty million tonnes every year, that has enabled others, mainly the Chinese, to pollute the atmosphere and help change the world's climate for the worse. And we take the money with a straight face as though the pollution caused elsewhere is nothing to do with us.  But it's the same world wherever it's being burnt, and all that coal helps to push temperatures higher here and everywhere else.

 It has to stop.  We've been totally conned about the importance of the coal industry to our economy.  The taxpayers have already heavily subsided coal over the years through railway, port and other infrastructure improvements.  The coal industry is so mechanized it doesn't even employ as many workers as MacDonalds and is largely owned by foreign shareholders so even the profits go offshore; surely the benefits to Australia must be queried.  

I support the carbon tax as a beginning,  but I'm always a bit nervous about trying to bring about physical and industry changes by systems of taxes and incentives.  It might be a bit too clever and might not have the desired affect, in the same way as negative gearing failed.  Taxatin incentives didn't ever bring about the promised increase in low income rental housing, and became a form of middle class welfare which, although ineffective, no one is now game to cut out. 

 I'm concerned the carbon tax will disappear into a void only understood (and manipulated) by energy traders at places like Goldman Sachs, and end up as artificial as collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps.  I'm not yet convinced the tax will actually reduce emissions, which of course, is the real purpose of the exercise. 

But it's the only game in town, so all we can do is press on, accept that while R&D is highly desirable it will take a long while, that we should improve and maximize all the renewable sources and keep our fingers crossed that a carbon tax will prove itself a vehicle for bringing about desirable change as is intended.

I don't know how best to do it but sooner rather than later we'll have no option but to shut the whole coal industry down, to simply leave the stuff in the ground. And why isn't there a Mining Tax on coal?  The trouble is that we have so much coal and it's relatively cheap, and the mine owners will fight to stop us doing anything that will affect them making profits and continuing to kill us with green house gas emissions.  In his 2011 Review, Ross Garnaut describes a turn around in China that puts us to shame:

'The Chinese Government's direct action includes issuing instructions for factories with high emissions to close, subsidising consumers to buy low emission products lie solar electricity panels and electric cars, and restricting new investments in industries judged to have undesirably high emissions.' 

Would that our government had the courage to take direct action to stop this dirty power station.  Right now all we can do in the short term is increase the pressure on our politicians to stop adding to the problem.  And here's to Deborah Hart and her colleagues for fighting such a good fight on our behalf, thank you all.

 Don Gazzard
April 2012