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Green politics bad for climate

29, July 2011

Greens political agenda triumphs in carbon tax package

If it is accepted that the government’s carbon tax package should be about addressing the best means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and committing research and development funds to emerging technologies to achieve that goal – rather than rewarding political support – then the package must be judged an abject failure.

Multiple opinion polls over recent months have shown the majority of Australians do not believe the alarmist rhetoric of the government, the Greens or assorted sycophantic environment groups and climate commentators with vested interests in proclaiming climate catastrophe.

The political conundrum of many people apparently wanting to “do something” about the climate, but unwilling to foot the bill as increasing doubt about the cause of climate change rises in parallel with the ever more shrill pronouncements of impending doom, is diabolical for the government.

It is therefore amazing the government has announced such a tawdry package of political pay-off, denying key mitigation components widely accepted globally as potentially useful in emissions abatement. 

Detailed discussions between the Greens and environment groups concurrent with the Multi-Party Climate Committee negotiations has produced a flawed carbon tax package that excludes abatement methods that are anathema to the Greens, such as Carbon Capture and Storage [CCS] technology and use of biomass from native forestry. This same flawed package will help achieve long-cherished goals of radical environmentalists by encouraging the eradication of sustainable native forestry.

CCS technology research and development was specifically excluded from the Clean Energy Future funding and this was justified unambiguously by Senator Bob Brown: "So let the multi-billion-dollar coal industry pay for its own research and not pilfer the public purse over that while we get on with supporting solar power and the alternatives." Fair enough, but then also require the multi-national billion dollar wind and solar industries to pay for their own research and development as well.

Coal use is expected to rise by 92 per cent between now and 2050; to exclude CCS research on the basis of minor party ideology opposing coal is to deny the opportunity of harnessing what could be the most effective means of reducing carbon dioxide levels available. If this small-minded approach to nascent technologies was adopted in the past, some of our greatest scientific advances may never have been realised.

The agenda driven exclusion of producing energy from forestry biomass residue is also egregious policy, contradicting existing overseas experience and practice. A report released by WWF in Europe confirms its support for biomass and projects that Australia could produce 15,000 gigawatt hours of electricity from biomass. To put this scale in perspective, the total wind energy supplied in Australia in 2010 was around 5,000 gigawatt hours of electricity.

The European Union is unequivocal in its support of biomass stating: ‘In order to exploit the full potential of biomass, the Community and the Member States should promote greater mobilisation of existing timber reserves and the development of new forestry systems.’

A 2009 Victorian parliamentary inquiry report into renewable energy stated: “Unlike some other forms of renewable energy, technologies for producing energy from biomass have already been established. However, a key challenge for the bioenergy industry is the current absence of national and State policies that include concrete plans for exploring its potential.” Amen. Biomass potential will now never be realised in Australia because of the ideological hatred of native forestry by the green movement.

To not support the use of existing forestry residue via a proven technology that can deliver such a large amount of environmentally friendly energy is environmentalism gone mad.

Realists such as Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson seem to be caught between a rock and a hard place with the government acquiescing to Green’s demands over the carbon tax package while clearly holding a differing view, as expressed by Mr Ferguson after the release of the government’s plan: “Carbon capture and storage is potentially a key solution to a clean energy future for Australia, as is geothermal, solar and biomass. Unlike Bob Brown, I’ve got no intention of trying to social engineer Australia’s economic future and I’ll continue to support all forms of clean energy.” Really? But that is not what the carbon tax package says.

The composition of the carbon tax package is a clear demonstration that the Greens political agenda – without the support of the values embraced by the bulk of neither the electorate, nor it seems, key parts of the government – is driving change, based on ideology rather than science or evidence. 

Max Rheese is executive director of the Australian Environment Foundation

Published in at Quadrant Online on July 29th 2011

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