Saturday, April 28, 2007

Playing politics with climate change and nuclear energy

So now the worst kept secret in Australian politics out - John Howard has just announced his decision for Australia to "go nuclear" for power generation.

After "calling for a debate" and commissioning some nuclear physicists to write a favourable report on nuclear, and completely ignoring viable renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, Howard now leaps to the conclusion, and apparently "makes the decision" to go nuclear.

Were you consulted? Did you have any input to this "decision"? Does Howard have a mandate to do this? Is this the right thing to do? Is this good democratic process at work? Are the Australian publics views and wishes being represented by the elected government?

I think the answer to all these questions are emphatic "NOs".

Nuclear power stations are a bad idea because:
  • It is not a renewable energy source
  • There is no safe waste storage solution
  • Nuclear power stations will take over 10 to 15 years to build and commission, which is far too late to address the immediate emission reductions we need to make over the next 2-3 years
  • It isn't greenhouse neutral - huge amounts of greenhouse gases are emitted during construction of plants and the mining, processing and transport of uranium
  • Huge amounts of water (which we don't have) are required to cool them
  • The cost of decommissioning them are huge
  • A clear majority of Australians don't support nuclear power, or want to live near a power station
  • An accident could render a large area of Australia, possibly even one of our capital cities, uninhabitable.
  • Wind, solar and geothermal are viable alternatives that are being largely ignored
  • Reduction in consumption by improved efficiency measures mean that we don't need to build new power stations.

I think Mr Howard is on a real loser with this one. I wonder about his motives.

Is this really an attempt to wedge the ALP who have their own internal tensions on this issue? Is he really trying to shift the focus away from ramping up uranium exports of doing the enrichment processing in Australia? (neither of which have been supported by the Australian people either).

Or is Mr Howard just looking after his mates like Ron Walker, Ziggy Switzkowski and Hugh Morgan, who have all positioned themselves to get generous handouts of Australian taxpayer's (our) money? This would be very inappropriate, and may even be corrupt.

Is this just a giant red herring?

It is high time that Howard stopped playing politics and pushing his increasingly extremist neo-conservative agenda onto the Australian public. It is time he did what he was elected for - to represent us and do the sensible thing.

In the meanwhile, Australia is missing out on the booming world market for renewable energy, and all the vast local employment opportunities this could provide.

The Age: PM flicks switch to nuclear

Thursday, April 26, 2007

LETTERS: Seeing through Howard's denial of climate change

Three interesting letters in The Age on Thursday 26 April 2007 are below. It seems that many people see through John Howard's convoluted denials of climate and his increasingly extremist position of refusing to seriously address it causes and his blind and unwavering support for fossil fuel industries and the "Greenhouse mafia".

Just who is 'crazy and irresponsible'?
Graeme Scarlett, East Malvern

JOHN Howard says "it is crazy and irresponsible … to commit to a target when you don't know the impact of the target" (The Age, 25/4). Yet he has committed to short-term targets re jobs and economic growth with no understanding or acceptance of the long-term and irreversible impact his policies have on the ability of our global environment to cope. Nor does he have any understanding of the detrimental impact his policies will have on future jobs and economic stability.

Does this make him crazy and irresponsible? You bet. But as the 18th-century philosopher David Hume might have said in defence of such self-interest: "T'is not unreasonable for me to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the loss of my job!"

Opportunity knocks
Author: Rowan Dowland, Wonga Park

WHAT'S the point the PM and Opposition Leader arguing whether climate change is Australia's overwhelming moral challenge? It's both a moral and economic challenge, but most importantly it's an economic opportunity.

Solving the climate change crisis with the use of new technologies is something we have control over, can participate in at an international level and generate overwhelming levels of new business, income and jobs for Australians. Get on with it, gentlemen. Business is waiting for a clear vision of your policy framework.

Moral imperatives
Author: Peter Hanley, Townsville, Qld

IN HIS "Australia Rising" speech on Monday, Mr Howard was reported as saying that "maintaining economic prosperity was Australia's greatest moral challenge" (The Age, 24/4).

In our world today, between 400 and 500 million people in Africa exist on less than one dollar a day, while in the European Union every cow is subsidised two dollars a day. Our top climate scientists have warned us that unless decisive action is taken now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, global warming will be out of control. And in Australia the health statistics of indigenous people are worse than those in many Third World countries.

The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines "moral" as "concerned with the distinction between right and wrong". I wonder which dictionary Mr Howard uses — the same one that says "greed is good"?"


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

LETTER: Balancing act on climate change

Here is another good letter by Peter Christoff published in The Age on April 25, 2007, reproduced in full.

Yesterday's lead story about China and climate change told only half the story.

True, China will become the planet's biggest national greenhouse gas emitter within a decade. But there was no comment that China's per capita emissions are approximately one tenth of Australia's, which are the world's highest and indicate the major difference in living standards between our two countries.

No comment, either, that the UN Convention on Climate Change places the onus and burden of significant initial emissions reduction on developed countries. The United States and Australia, signatories to this treaty, have substantively refused to abide by their commitments.

No mention that China - unlike Australia - will derive 20 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, has rejected nuclear power as a major energy option, and is the world's largest site of emissions-reduction projects, funded through Kyoto's Clean Development Mechanism.

Nor that a significant proportion of China's emissions come from manufacturing goods to meet Western demand.

China is confronting both the substantial domestic impacts of global warming and the substantial challenge of overcoming real poverty and underdevelopment. This involves difficult moral and policy choices, not a "hard line".

It is very different from the situation Prime Minister Howard faces as he seeks, inappropriately, to avoid real action on global warming (including significant assistance to China) in order to preserve a completely different level of "economic prosperity".

Author: Dr Peter Christoff, School of Social and Environmental Inquiry, University of Melbourne

Monday, April 23, 2007

LETTER: Praying for rain, or just praying for votes?

Here is a good letter by Peter Kartsounis, Footscray published in The Age on April 23, 2007, reproduced in full.

LAST week delivered one of the saddest ironies in Australian political history. A Federal Government that has spent the better part of a decade being sceptical of the growing accumulation of scientific evidence of climate change has had to tell people to be prepared for one of the direst consequences predicted by that science: that the second driest continent on Earth faces a year without sufficient water to meet all its needs, and that there is no way of predicting when this situation might be alleviated.

It has had to tell people to be prepared for great losses in our national economy, with reduced exports and greater need for imports, and to expect an impact upon the cost of living for ordinary households as the price of foodstuffs rises to unprecedented levels. This from a Government that has sold itself to voters on its supposedly superior credentials in economic management.

And John Howard still just plays politics. His dire announcement is perceived, by many, to be primarily aimed at forcing Victoria to end its resistance to a handover of powers to Canberra — under a "back of the napkin" water plan that has provided no details and appears to reward other states (such as Queensland and NSW) for decades of water mismanagement, compared with the relatively more responsible administration at Spring Street.

We might all be praying for rain. Howard is praying for votes. His administration does not deserve another chance after we, ordinary Australians, have been made to endure the severe consequences of previous years of federal neglect over environmental matters that crucially impact upon the common good.

This year, we might have hardly any local vegetables or fruit in our diets: next year we might simply have no water to drink. Many saw this coming, and we must not reward a Government that consistently failed to heed earlier warnings because of the "economic rationalist" blinkers all its ministers were directed to wear by its leader. We need a government we can trust to act in a more timely fashion to a better set of national priorities than the usual school of "economic rationalists" have.

Author: Peter Kartsounis, Footscray


Thursday, April 19, 2007

Murray Darling water and climate change are linked

Prime Minister Howard’s warning today that no water would be available for irrigation in the Murray Darling Basis unless the drought breaks in the next eight weeks is an admission of serious Government policy and process failure.

Howard and Turnbull’s recently announced 10 billion water reform package will not address primary causes of the drought such as climate change.

Howard has repeatedly claimed that Australia cannot reduce carbon emissions or coal exports because it will affect our level of income and standard of living. He is terribly wrong – the reverse is the case.

Ignoring climate change and refusing to address it has now exposed Australia to the very real risk that our food production will be greatly compromised due to lack of water. The Murray Darling Basin provides about 40 percent of Australia’s food production, and relies very heavily on irrigation. If the drought continues, many farmers and rural towns will go broke, and food prices will rise for everyone, which will have a major impact on both incomes and lifestyles.

We cannot afford to have short-term partisan political imperatives compromising our environment and our collective future. Warnings by scientists of an impending crisis have been ignored for over three decades.

We need a vision, long term planning and new approaches for sustainable living. A dedicated taskforce of scientists and community representatives is required to address the technical and social factors outside of the political arena.

Irrigation levels at 'dangerous' lows, warns PM

This was published as the lead letter in The Weekend Australian on April 21-22, titled "An empty Murray is a result of policy and process failure"

Friday, April 06, 2007

The cost of doing nothing about climate change

Here is an excellent letter just published in the Age by Professor Ian Lowe on April 6, 2007

WE ARE continually being told by the Australian Government that we don't know what it would cost to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Australian Business Roundtable on Climate Change last year published the results of independent economic modelling by Allen Consulting. It found that there is no significant difference in future economic outcomes between a responsible approach, cutting emissions by 60 per cent, and the irresponsible do-nothing approach that would increase emissions by 85 per cent. A 2003 government study found cost-effective efficiency measures would achieve 30 per cent cuts. Just half these measures would create 9000 jobs.

What we don't know, but a local Stern report could determine, is how much unchecked global warming would cost Australia. Some estimates suggest it is already costing us over $1 billion this year in lost agricultural production, increased costs of water supply and the costs of extreme events.

Any serious study will confirm that the costs of taking responsible action are small and the costs of continued inaction very large. So setting serious targets makes economic sense. It is also our moral duty to future generations of Australians.

As for the Government's push for nuclear energy, even the Switkowski report, with its pro-nuclear leanings, showed that nuclear energy is too expensive, too slow and makes too little difference to global warming. It is a distraction from the priorities we should adopt: a clear commitment to improving the efficiency of energy use, a price signal for greenhouse pollution and a mix of renewable technologies.

Professor Ian Lowe, President, Australian Conservation Foundation

Well said Professor Lowe. The Howard Government and the Rudd Labor opposition are committing massive funds towards dirty clean coal and are basically ignoring genuine renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Howard is stuck in a 19th century industrial economic paradigm, while Rudd in pandering to both the coal mining industry and the coal mining unions such as the CFMEU.

In addition, Howard is banging on the nuclear drum which will just dig more holes, use non-renewable resources and pose an intractatable hazardous waste problem. In addition, it would not actually lead to a significant reduction in carbon emissions and would not be available within 10 years, which is 9 years too late.

So how do we get climate change addressed outside the political arena, where it is clearly being fudged by short sighted politicians who are prepared to gamble with the future of the planet and our children?