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Climate Change



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Issue #1429      23 September 2009

The battle over coal continues

Last week, 22 climate change protestors invaded the Hazelwood power plant in Victoria, which is said to produce Australia’s worst greenhouse gas power station emissions.

The protesters were demanding that the plant be closed down, but were prevented from delivering a “decommissioning notice” to the station’s management. Police also charged the protestors on horseback, causing a number of injuries.

The Hazelwood protest signifies deepening public anxiety and impatience with the climate change policies of the two major parties. Another demonstration will take place next month at the Metropolitan colliery at Helensburgh, south of Sydney.

Britain waives
the rules

The Hazelwood protesters may benefit from the recent trial of six Greenpeace protesters, who had painted anti-pollution slogans on a chimney at England’s Kingsnorth coal-fired power station. When tried, they argued that they intended to prevent the harm that would be caused by future greenhouse gas emissions from the plant.

Their acquittal has been cited as a legal precedent in Australia. Clive Hamilton, Professor of Public Ethics at Charles Sturt University, claims that the case legitimises civil disobedience. “With scientists predicting runaway climate change unless we take drastic action in the next five years, and the manifest failure of our democratic system to respond adequately to the overwhelming threat posed to our future, it is legitimate to step outside the usual boundaries of protest,” he declared.

The British government has gone much farther than the Rudd government in limiting the use of coal. It recently enacted legislation forbidding construction of new coal-fired power stations unless the proponents could provide feasible proposals for the geosequestration (i.e. the capture, liquefaction and deep burial) of carbon dioxide emissions from the plant.

If fully implemented, this policy would effectively prevent construction of new coal-fired power stations in Britain, not only because of the technical difficulties, but also because the extra cost involved would probably make constructing and operating such installations economically unfeasible.

Green energy costs

Within the last few years federal government subsidies have enabled many outback communities to install solar power facilities, in which photovoltaic panels convert light energy to electricity, which is then stored in banks of batteries for base load power. According to one testimony, after subsidy the cost of installing one of these plants approximately equalled the costs of one year’s supply of fuel for the old diesel power plant. In other words, the solar plant paid for its construction in approximately one year of operation.

However, the Rudd government recently eliminated the subsidies for these plants because, it said, the demand had outstripped the budget allocation for the program. The not-for-profit business, Bushlight, which had been installing these plants, may collapse because of the withdrawal of subsidies.

State and federal governments have repeatedly underestimated the demand for renewable energy, so budget allocations for subsidising renewable energy systems have consistently proved to be inadequate, and the renewable energy development programs have in effect been nipped in the bud.

Which way to go?

In a recent opinion poll, 55 percent of respondents wanted the Rudd government to introduce its emissions trading scheme in November. The scheme is based on a commitment to reduce Australia’s emissions by only five percent, raising this to 25 percent if other nations agree to do the same at November’s UN climate change conference in Copenhagen.

The Liberal Party wants Australia to make no commitment at all until other nations do so, and even then they would oppose a commitment much bigger than five percent.

What a choice for the Australian people! One of the major parties says do almost nothing, the other says do nothing at all until someone else does something and then do almost nothing!

The coal industry wants to open up more mines, even under Australia’s richest agricultural land, and it wants even more coal loading facilities built at the taxpayer’s expense. Meanwhile, the Rudd government is providing a $2.4 billion subsidy for development of geosequestration, which has almost no hope of success and which will effectively block the development of renewable energy generation.

In comparison, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Australia is recommending the phasing out of coal mining altogether in Australia. If adopted, this would have a major impact in reducing atmospheric pollution. Australia is the world’s biggest exporter of coal, the combustion of which is the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

Scientists claim we must make major cuts in greenhouse gas emissions over the next ten years, but the current policies of the two major Australian parties will make little or no difference at all within this period. As the Hazelwood protesters have made clear, to gain major emission reductions we must shut down the worst-performing installations of the corporations responsible for the greatest atmospheric pollution, as fast as possible.

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