By any single objective measure, Australians have it pretty good. Today we are healthier, wealthier, better educated than any previous generation of Australians. Underpinning the country's prosperity has been the ability to use energy to generate useful power cheaply and reliably for decades.
Motive power, lighting power, electrical power, and digital communications have been fundamental to modern Australian life as we know it. It has enabled us to transcend the tyranny of distance and connect across a vast continent. It has enabled us to manage the climatic extremes of a country of drought and flooding rains. It has enabled us to share ideas and information. It has enabled us to dream and aspire.
As life has improved over the years, we have aspired to bigger and better things. And such aspirations require energy, lots of it.
Not only is this true of Australia. This is true for any modern developed country. Now the rest of the world wants in as well. From Indonesia to Bangladesh to Kenya, people there are aspiring to have electricity, to have lights, to have a washing machine, a TV, a smartphone, an education, a job, the list goes on. Hundreds, if not thousands of people are being lifted out of poverty daily, literacy rates, particularly for girls, are rising, child mortality is falling and people are living longer.
Why? Because they are gaining access to energy that generates useful power that frees them from the vagaries of nature and a hand-to-mouth existence. It is why leaders in these countries are doing their best to get electricity as quickly, cheaply and reliably as possible to their people. They understand what is at stake. It is why Bangladesh is building 13 coal-fired power stations, a nuclear power plant, and numerous renewable energy projects. It is why Hilary Clinton as Secretary of State upon visiting Pakistan in 2009 told her hosts that they should use their coal to produce electricity.
Yet this scale of human aspiration and the energy required to provide it no longer seems to be recognized in the public discourse in Australia. This has been demonstrated in this year's Federal election, where the fear of climate change has dominated as an election issue. It has been driven mostly by emotional and alarmist rhetoric for reasons of political self-interest, rather than real concern for the environment. This is particularly true of Labor, trying to capture the green vote in inner-city electorates. Here faux morality and climate virtue are the currencies traded, not reason or facts.
No doubt there are many Australians who have legitimate concerns about climate change. But they rightfully should expect and demand that their democratic representatives to tell them all the facts, particularly if they are being asked to make an informed decision on such policies at the ballot box. Policies that will involve significant change and a lot of money. Sadly, Labor and the Greens have failed to disclose to the public the cost, both in economic, and in environmental terms, of their utopian vision of a cleaner and greener Australia powered by variable renewable energy.
For example, the public may want to know that numerous studies have found "a high degree of agreement on several key features of renewables-centric power systems that are likely to make these systems more costly and challenging than balanced low-carbon power systems employing a diverse portfolio of resources."
Or that there are only eight places in the world with very large electricity grids and low emissions. No, none of them are Germany or Denmark. They include France, Quebec (Canada), Ontario (Canada), Sweden, Norway, British Columbia (Canada), Paraguay and Switzerland. How? Because they use a large share of nuclear and/or hydro to generate electricity. This can be confirmed by simply visiting Electricity Map.
Or that the material throughput and land requirements of solar and wind will have significant environmental impacts because of their low-energy density as highlighted by Environmentalist Michael Shellenberger from Environmental Progress.
Or that the battery revolution ain't happening anytime soon, which means the bulk of the backup for variable renewables will come from fossil fuel generation such as natural gas and diesel like in South Australia.
Or that Germany's vaunted Energiewende has stalled, costing US$ 36 billion annually, while trillions more will be needed to keep it going, as cited by the reputable newsweekly Der Spiegel in the article titled "A botched job in Germany"("Murks in Germany")(English version here). Germany will also fall short of meeting its own greenhouse gas emission reduction targets by 2020.
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