"Global Warming" is either the biggest beat-up in history
or is a catastrophe waiting to happen - both points of view are widely
promoted. Although I have written extensively as a skeptic of the global
warming predictions, and maintain a well-visited website
to present evidence to that effect, my remarks here are directed to the
practical issues involved in greenhouse gas reduction, should that
objective be embraced by governments and the Australian community.
Under the Kyoto Protocol signed in December 1997, Australia promised
to hold our greenhouse gas emissions to no more than an 8 per cent
increase on 1990 levels by 2008-12. Since that initial signing, our
emissions are already well past that 8 per cent mark and still rising,
which means the original promise was hasty and ill thought out. Since
then, the protocol has not been ratified by Australia, largely because
the United States also refuses to ratify, citing the inadequacies of the
science, the non-participation by developing countries, and the enormous
economic cost of putting healthy developed economies into 'crash stop'
mode in order to achieve the emission cuts.
To sign a binding contract without first having determined the means
by which the contract could be fulfilled is the height of folly. As with
private contracts, so with international treaties and protocols. The
question is therefore: does Australia have the means by which its target
could be met in less than ten years, and do so without massive damage to
our economic wellbeing?
I would suggest not. Consider the following possible policy options:
1) Reduce emissions by forcing arbitrary cuts on power stations,
industrial plants, transport, domestic and industrial power users. The
consequence of such arbitrary action would be power outages at the worst
possible times, industrial plant closures, increasing unemployment, the
growth of a police state to enforce it all on an increasingly restless
public, and the export of whole industries to developing countries not
bound by the protocol. It takes no leap of imagination to see what would
happen at the next federal election following such draconian action.
2) Cut emissions by replacing our power mix with nuclear power. This
is an option being used by the Europeans to meet their Kyoto targets,
and allows them to escape the worst economic effects of reducing fossil
fuel usage. But do we want nuclear power in Australia? This option would
not be supported by public opinion - just look at the political problems
with upgrading one small reactor at Lucas Heights. The Southern
Hemisphere is relatively `nuclear free', and there would be little
public support for violating that enviable status. Most people would
prefer a warmer world to an irradiated one, even if the warming were
proven to be real and significant.
3) Switch to 'renewables'. This makes for a great cliché and slogan
for street demonstrations, but where exactly are all these renewables?
Wind power? The one development which could make the surplus of
coastal wind in Tasmania available to the mainland states - Basslink -
is also bitterly opposed by the Greens. Wind power itself is
inefficient, unreliable, and dependent on large subsidies. They are a
blight on the landscape, spoil coastal views, and are notorious bird
Hydro power? The Greens have bitterly opposed all hydro development
in the past, even to the extent of campaigning to reverse existing hydro
developments. In other words they would roll back what little genuine
renewable energy we do have.
Solar Power? 'Solar Not Nuclear' goes the happy slogan on car
stickers, but again we have a worn-out cliché standing in for policy.
Solar power suffers from all the problems of wind power, with the added
problem of storage and transmission. To take advantage of our deserts
for solar power, the country would have to be criss-crossed by high
voltage transmission lines. But look what happened when Basslink
required such a line in Gippsland - it caused an outcry from the Greens
and residents. Burying such cables underground results in massive energy
loss and makes long-distance transmission unviable.
In effect, every practical option for achieving the emission cuts is
bitterly opposed by the Greens or by public opinion, or both. That
leaves only the arbitrary approach, which although favoured by the
Greens for ideological reasons of their own, would cause a public
backlash on a scale to make the GST debate look like happy hour at the
If the Greens were serious about the dangers of climate change, they
would be less hostile to practical alternatives such as further
development of hydro power, Basslink, nuclear power, tidal power,
overhead transmission lines, and be less contemptuous of technological
'fixes' such as the development of the hydrogen propelled Scramjet, or
fuel cell technology. They cannot have it both ways. They cannot on the
one hand point to climate change as the most serious challenge facing
society and then on the other hand set out to uncompromisingly wreck
each and every proposal that would seriously address the issue without
driving our economy over a cliff. Serious politics is about making the
necessary trade-offs to achieve an optimal outcome, and the Greens have
yet to mature sufficiently to see beyond slogans and clichés.