Friday, August 23, 2013

The vital topic that's not being discussed this election

For a long time I've been trying to get my head around something that seems completely illogical and so far, I'm simply not getting there. Maybe you can show me where my logic is out of whack?

The role humans play in climate change is accepted in 97% of the world's peer reviewed climate papers, the burning of fossil fuels is a known factor in climate change. The scientists conducting the studies are experts in their field and have devoted their careers to the study of climate, and I accept and respect their expertise.

Health impacts
What is routinely overlooked are the health impacts from the extraction and burning of coal - coal dust makes people ill. Not just an itchy throat kind of ill, but debilitating, health destroying cancers, strokes and lung diseases - extremely unpleasant illnesses to have and all because of exposure to coal dust (also here).

At the moment those health costs are borne by the individual and community while our government subsidises the companies to extract the coal. Seriously, our government pays foreign owned companies to remove part of our country which can never be replaced to sell it overseas. And that's good because some jobs have been created. And any job is a good job. Even if it's slowly poisoning you. So they say.

But if the cost of personal and environmental ill health was factored in, and the generous subsidies removed, how viable would fossil fuels really be? 

"A major Chinese power company is in line to win millions of dollars in federal and state government grant money to develop Victorian brown coal." The Age

Development? How is it development? That implies to improve. I've tried to see where this is good and how we benefit, but try as I might, I'm at a loss. Not only are we paying a foreign company to rip out our coal and poison our communities, but it's also directly contributing to climate issues. That's not particularly smart is it? Or else I've got it all wrong. And so have the doctors, the scientists and every other trustworthy person involved.

We are only ever told that coal mining is good for the country. How is this good? Our taxes are at work to subsidise foreign companies to dig up our coal (which can never be replaced) and ship it away to other countries. We're not stockpiling it for future use, to use within a mix of sustainable technologies. It's gone. Forever. And we're left with the clean up bill. And we're told we don't want these companies to be taxed for polluting our land, our water, our sky, our communities. Really? Why not?

Some people have jobs with the fossil fuel companies. Some people get very ill. So more of our taxes are used to assist them with doctor and hospital visits, medications, nursing, maybe even palliative care. And funding is pulled from hospitals, there are cuts to nursing and beds are closed. What a lucky country!

We're left with the costs of pollution of land and waterways. With the loss of drinkable water. Loss of environment. With the ongoing expensive health impacts, not only for the people who made a conscious decision to work in coal dust, but for the innocent families and children living nearby. And this is good. So they say. But I'm not convinced.

Alternative energy
Then, in Victoria, we have the vilification of alternative energy, and in particular wind power. On health grounds. Some people report getting headaches and not being able to sleep. Really? And in its wisdom, the Victorian Government makes the wind industry jump over all sorts of hurdles that aren't applied with the same enthusiasm when it comes to coal and CSG.

The government listens to a cashed up, vocal minority who are repeatedly discredited and yet NEVER comment on the very real and negative aspects of reliance on coal. It's hard not to be cynical. The vocal minority who don't like wind power and with spurious claims have more clout than those suffering with real, genuine and identifiable diseases. It's as if the people living in and around coal mines and coal fired power stations are expendable. Their lives are of less importance. That seems to be the unspoken message from the government. And this is good. So they say. But it doesn't seem right to me.

Doctors warn of "the costly legacy unfolding for Australia from under-regulation of the pollution caused by many [coal and CSG] resource projects" (link). Yet simultaneously we have over-regulation and rejection of studies in the case of wind power. Who benefits from this inconsistency? ...
"It is clear that State government approvals of coal and coal seam gas projects are often influenced by potential economic gain without thorough assessment of potential harms," said DEA spokesperson, Dr David Shearman.  
"Permitting dangerous pollution is creating a costly legacy for Australia that is being picked up in the healthcare and other sectors."  
"The social and financial costs of this pollution are not being measured or factored in when projects are given the go ahead." (here
But 'no worries' says the government, and gives the green light to more and more coal and CSG operations - and people who live along roads and train-lines where the coal is transported continue to get ill. But this is good for the country. So they say.
My apologies. I don't have the source for this graphic.
The end of coal?
And while all this is happening (or not in the case of wind farms) ...
"Goldman Sachs this month produced an explosive report, titled "The window for thermal coal investment is closing." In it, the bank revealed that "thermal coal's current position atop the fuel mix for global power generation will be gradually eroded by the following structural trends:
1) environmental regulations that discourage coal-fired generation
2) strong competition from gas and renewable energy and
3) improvements in energy efficiency." 
and of a statement that should be of great concern to everyone:
"there is little evidence Australian Governments are acting to adjust our economic and social structure to the reality that coal is over: despite knowing this must be the case if we are to avoid dangerous levels of global warming and if emerging economies are to act on the health and water crises precipitated by their too-fast growth of coal power." (here) (my bold)
And so we come to an election where none of this is mentioned. Not climate change. Not our role in it. Nothing about building a resilient country. Nothing at all from the major parties about plans for the inevitable impacts of rising seas, changing and erratic weather patterns and the effect this will have on food production or communities and cities. Nothing about the clash of water requirements for people, farming, agriculture, mining. Nothing to do with the incredible heating of our country. Nothing. Not a hint that with climate change, we are currently facing what has been described as "one of the greatest threats posed to the future of human-kind and the world"- Stephen Hawking.

In the minds of Australian politicians feted by our embarrassingly mediocre media, these issues don't rate a mention, and in the case of Tony Abbott they're shunned. And I'm appalled because our changing climate affects us all whether we like it or not.

To date, glib politicians are showing a marked lack of understanding, wisdom, courage and leadership on climate change. Hiding their heads and continuing to support coal so generously doesn't appear to benefit Australia or the world. (For an Indian perspective on Australian coal being shipped there this is an interesting article.)

And if I'm wrong, could you please explain how. Nicely of course!

Or if you happen to also be uncomfortable about our reliance on fossil fuels, and the dreadful associated health impacts you can do something and encourage your super fund to divest from fossil fuels. (Are you the Vital Few) Because fossil fuel investments are seen as being increasingly risky and you wouldn't want to see your super go down the gurgler would you. (Forbes)


On the importance of voting thoughtfully: Why vote? Because if you don't vote, someone will speak for you.

Some of the articles used in the above spray:'s_pneumoconiosis

Australia’s legendarily irresponsible mining industry has a new plan: while the planet faces catastrophic climate change, build the world’s largest coal mining complex, and then build a shipping lane to that port straight through the greatest ecological treasure we have - the Great Barrier Reef!
Blogged by Sue Travers

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