Friday, February 7, 2014

When will Australia's fossil fuel industry stop receiving handouts?

Corporate welfare!
and fawning adulation!

What more could an undeserving industry lust after?

At the expense of other industries, Australian governments choose to generously support the already wealthy, demanding, powerful and often foreign owned, fossil fuel industry. Petulant, entitled, selfish, like an indulged only child, they suck up our taxes, demand more, and throw hissy fits and stamp their collective feet with fury, whenever a suggestion is made to curb their excesses. 

To continue to support the wealthy fossil fuel industry to the tune of around 10 BILLION dollars every year is unnecessary, unsustainable and unconscionable.

And yet the current government has shown by word and deed that when thinking of an energy future for Australia, they are only prepared to consider fossil fuels. 

It's a case of:
fossil fuels = all good
renewable energy = all bad.

There seems to be no concept that a mix of energy sources would be a sound investment, a buffer for a frighteningly heating country where unprecedented temperatures create a demand for energy to feed fans and air-conditioners. Not unexpectedly there are times when there is peak usage. Australians don't want to be cooked alive in their own homes. And while that seems like an overly dramatic statement, the statistics are there. There are significantly more deaths during, and immediately after heat waves, and heat related deaths are on the rise.

In late January 2014 in this article, "Ambulance Victoria says it received a 700 per cent rise in the number of call-outs it received for cardiac arrests on Friday, when temperatures spike at almost 44 degrees Celsius." There's also a rise in other illnesses as discussed in this paper.

And yet, it's at precisely those times when the air is superheated, that in Victoria, citizens have been asked to go easy on the electricity.  There have been rolling blackouts. The fossil fuels so beloved of the state and federal governments can't cope. 

This seems to the government to be time to roll out the welcome mat and increase our already significant reliance on, and subsidies to, the fossil fuels industry, to increase our emissions and to show that we aren't ready to take our rightful place on the world stage of sustainable energy.

Put simply we're being left behind. Australia is a 'has-been', following the same well worn coal fired path, spewing emissions carelessly into the air, sullying water and leaving sick people and ailing communities in its coal dust wake.

There is massive potential for growth in the alternative energy sector. We have skilled professional, and trades people keen to be involved with what should be a positive growth market. This is a real opportunity for jobs creation! Yet, obstacles are created, hurdles erected and alternatives to fossil fuels are consistently, persistently talked down. 

I've worked with people who are enthusiastic, ready, willing and able to take up positions in the sustainable energy field. It's where their passion lies and they want to be part of a positive future for Australia and see us take our place alongside other countries looking forward, not backward.

They want to have hope that their children will have a positive future, not one supporting climate change and contributing to appalling pollution in developing countries.

Our creative talent is going to waste in this area. We could be proudly sponsoring people and groups to attend international sustainability forums and strut our stuff on the world stage. As a nation, we should be receiving positive accolades, and celebrating!

We're an international laughing stock when it comes to wind power and having a Prime Minister who listens to fringe, discredited pseudo-science as opposed to reputable evidence. Too many other countries to mention are harvesting wind, solar and wave energy. We are far, far behind the 8 ball and need to do a lot to catch up and join this positive, growing international movement.

To take our place alongside the rest of the world who are actively investing in sustainable energy technologies and consequently employing thousands of people, we need to encourage and support our best and brightest minds. Encourage them to stay here and use their expertise to assist Australia to catch up with what's happening in sustainable energy in other parts of the world. How exciting it'll be when we join in with other countries who are already getting up to 40% and often more of their energy from sustainable sources such as wind, wave and solar.

How embarrassing that in this day and age, we'll need to catch up to the rest of the world. How shameful that 5% use of sustainable energy is referred to by our PM as "reliance".

We're not even in the ball park we're so far behind! It's already bad enough attempting to explain to people in Scotland, Ireland, Germany, The Czech Republic and many other European countries as well as a significant number in Africa, why we don't harvest our abundant sun and have solar panels on every roof and wind turbines capturing the wind. They shake their heads in disbelief.

So many countries and regions are doing better than Australia in lowering their emissions. We look pathetic and incompetent while they can strut around pointing at their reduced emissions and be proud of what they're doing in contributing less to climate change. Not only are they reducing their emissions and increasing employment in sustainable energy, but they are therefore less reliant on our fossil fuel exports. Good on them I say!

If Australia is genuinely dedicated to ensuring future energy security, stability and needs, we'll plan for a solid mix of alternative sources alongside fossil fuels.

It should not be a one size fits all either/or scenario where fossil fuels are the only option. It's not a competition, though it's often presented as one. When all our energy sources come from the one kind of energy basket it's a recipe for disaster. There is no back up plan, no plan B, no choice - we are completely at the mercy of that industry.

We should be focusing on Australia going into an uncertain and increasingly volatile climate future where a balanced portfolio of energy is supplied from different sources. 

I'd love to see the government have the courage to remove subsidies, tax breaks and all other forms of hidden assistance from fossil fuel companies and put that level of support into renewable energy. Predictably, the companies become hysterical whenever they're asked to play fair, but it'd finally show how much they rely on government support via our taxes.

The next best thing would be for the subsidies and supports that the fossil fuel companies receive, to be mentioned with the same enthusiasm that the supposed negatives regarding sustainable energy are. 

Illnesses directly related to the extraction of coal have been known for many, many years. They're real, verifiable and have a huge cost, not only on the person suffering, but on their family and community. Yet this massive cost is consistently ignored when fossil fuels are discussed. These real, genuine illnesses, which leave people with asthma and cancers which have occurred due to coal dust, should be mentioned alongside EVERY spurious comment made about renewable energy. 

It's then that the true cost of fossil fuel energy would begin to be understood and a more informed, balanced and honest discussion could take place.  

Any government that is serious about jobs growth will support alternative energy.

Any government that is serious about community health and the significant costs associated with illnesses as a direct result of fossil fuel extraction and in particular coal, will support alternative energy.

Any government that is serious about planning for the future will support alternative energy.  

What will Australia's government choose?

Part of a small mixed farm - including solar
 The Czeck Republic

Now that's what I call a wind farm. Tehachapi Pass. California.

And just in from the IMF:

The planet is "perilously close" to a climate change tipping point, and requires urgent cooperation between countries, cities and businesses, International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde has said.  

Addressing an audience in London, Lagarde said reducing subsidies for fossil fuels and pricing carbon pollution should be priorities for governments around the world.

More reading: 

From Laggard to Leader. How Australia can Lead the World to Zero Carbon Prosperity


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

On politics, ethics, integrity and lying.


From The Guardian

"It is hard to imagine how he thinks – having made such a point of the importance of keeping election promises, right down to the footnotes – that he will not be judged by precisely the same authenticity standard he used so implacably against his political opponents. 
If you promised to match school funding dollar for dollar over the next four years – if you promised that every single school in Australia gets the same deal whether there is a Labor government or a Coalition government after 7 September – then that's what you promised. 
You cannot subsequently put it down to some well-meaning person's hallucination, a mass delusion, as Abbott suggested on the Bolt Report on Sunday. "But Andrew, we are going to keep our promise. We are going to keep the promise that we actually made, not the promise that some people thought that we made or the promise that some people might have liked us to make. We're going to keep the promise that we actually made."
Katharine Murphy goes on to talk about the political campaign fudge - it's expected, it what happens in elections.
To fudge information is to avoid making something clear. Many of us do it with an (almost) clear conscience in response to questions about the style of clothing a friend may be about to purchase, and similar things which don't have a major impact on anyone else.

The above article uses the word fudge in an interesting way. It softens and almost lightens a very serious issue. After all, to call a Prime Minister a liar is unlikely to be something a responsible journalist would do without due consideration. (I'm thinking here of the photos of a grinning Abbott in front of posters of the then PM Julia Gillard, making a pun on her name - juliar .) 

At what stage does a "fudge" become a lie? At what stage are the standards which are expected of children, and of employees in the workplace - to be honest and to tell the truthapplied to adults in parliament?

If a person applies for a job and lies at interview, is hired and is found out to have lied, or fudges figures or information, the employer will take a dim view of the falsehood, and will most likely fire the person. To lie is considered to be a serious breach of appropriate behaviour, and there are consequences.

A scientist who 'fudges' data, who is shoddy and falsifies results will be named and shamed. We expect their work to be free from bias, for results to be presented accurately and as such their papers are subject to scrutiny from qualified peers. If something is amiss, steps are taken to correct the information

Yet politicians aren't held to the same standards expected elsewhere in society. Given what were learning about addiction and money as well as addiction and power, it is an oversight where we, the public are likely to lose.

In a speech to the UK House of Lords in 1770, the British Prime Minister said: "Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it." (here)

Abuse of power has been known since Roman times - Isn't it time to look the implications seriously and to attempt to address the issue before societies are ruined?

Is it acceptable for a politician, running for the highest office in a country, to "fudge" information relating to education? to healthcare? to issues which honesty and clarity would be more beneficial to voters PRIOR to an election?

Do we accept (or even expect) the 'fudging' of ethics, of integrity, of honesty? How can those in power be held accountable if we don't know which statements about policy are true and which are lies, when they're both presented as truths? Are we being taught to assume that everything a politician says is a lie? to expect the opposite of what's stated?

It's an appalling state of affairs when what's being affected is our lives, our liberties, our services. When it's a country which is being governed and voters expect to be lied to, it's vastly different to whether a pair of jeans suits a friend. It's serious and can have dire and unexpected consequences for those who expect a modicum of honesty and decency from their representatives.

How can you make an informed decision if lying is more common than honesty?

The voter then has to contort their thinking to go along the lines of:

If he says this then he probably means that, but then again, it could be something else entirely, depending on what way the wind's blowing and the state of his digestion. "

Trust in relationships is eroded when one partner lies, shifts blame and is shown by words and actions to be self-serving, unreliable and dishonest. And yet, it's what we've learnt to expect from some of those who have some of the most influential jobs in the country ... by word and deed, too many politicians have taught the electorate not to trust them, and I believe we're all diminished as a result.

Our elected representatives would do well to pause often, and reflect deeply on the words of Stanley Melbourne Bruce, Australia's Prime Minister, 1923 - 29. 

"May those who enter this open door 
govern with justice, reason 
and equal favour to all. 
May they do so in humility and without self-interest. 
May they think and act nationally. 
May they speak with the voice of those who sent them here
 - the voice of the people." 
9 May 1927

Old Parliament House, Canberra.