Media Releases | 28th Feb, 2003

Global warming: the Victorian case

March 2003

By 2050 the number of summer days over 35 degrees in Geelong will double because of global warming, say CSIRO scientists.

The area around southern Victoria will suffer decreases in spring rainfall of about five per cent, it will experience more extreme rainfall events leading to flooding and it will even have fewer frosty days.

Victoria as a whole will have more bushfires, less water, further drought and a diminishing snow line.

And globally scientists tell us that climate change will threaten more than a million species with extinction by 2050. In the meantime climate change will continue to kill 160,000 people through its effects each year.

And what is the cause of this global warming scenario? Scientists at a United Nations meeting in December last year gave a clear answer: there was no doubt, they said, that global warming was real and there was “unquestionable” proof it was being caused by human beings.
“Most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities,” say the scientists.

The scientific message is clear: our appetite for fossil fuel-munching, greenhouse gas-spewing activities is causing the sun’s heat to be trapped, which forces the earth to warm up and nature’s delicate balance to change.
Driving a car, turning on a light switch or cooking tonight’s meal all add to the millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases that are pumped into the atmosphere each day around the world.

But while it is a world-wide problem, Australia – and Victoria – hold a disturbing distinction in this global scenario.

Australia is the worst greenhouse polluter in the developed world, per capita. And Victoria is the worst greenhouse polluting state in the nation, per capita. Because of our reliance on brown coal for electricity generation – the grottiest of the fossil fuels – we emit more gases than any other state.
As alarming as this all sounds, the answer is not to pack up and move to Mars. There are clear and simple solutions.

The key is to move away from burning coal. Like we now save water we should all be energy wise. We must reduce energy use and use energy more efficiently. Further still we should rely more heavily on renewable energies such as tidal, solar, geothermal and wind.

Because of cost and technological advances, some renewable energies are more available than others. This is why across the world, wind – as the least expensive, large-scale source of renewable energy – has become so popular, with international growth rates now standing at 35 per cent.
Because wind is an intermittent source of power and cannot be stored, it can never be relied on like we now rely on coal. However, unlike coal wind power is non-polluting and safe. Every megawatt of power generated goes towards reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. Australia’s – and Victoria’s – power supply would therefore be best served with a mix of renewables.

But what are our governments doing about tackling these solutions?
Last month (January) the Federal Government abandoned a major international measure aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions. And the Howard Government is one of just two developed nations which refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, the international community’s response to global warming.

In contrast, the Victorian Government has set a target for wind power of 1000 megawatts by 2006 – the equivalent of between 450 and 600 turbines. In doing so it is aiming to achieve the country’s most ambitious targets for renewable energy.

Through these policies the Bracks Government is rightly working to combat the dangers of global warming. While the State Government has sometimes handled the emerging wind industry in a clunky fashion – consultation has not always been thorough for example – we should avoid muddying the issue and tarring wind power with such shortcomings. Just because the process has not been smooth, wind power should not be sullied.

Above all, it is important to remember the crux of the matter: Compared to the greater risk created from our existing energy sources, wind farms may not be perfect but they are essential.

A wind turbine could kill between one and two birds a year, research has shown. But global warming could kill up to one million species. In other words not having wind turbines carries inherent risks to animal, plants and humanity.

If we are to tackle the urgent problem of global warming we need to look at more sustainable energy sources and ways to be less wasteful with energy. We need to be supporting governments in their efforts to curb our greenhouse-loving ways and opposing all efforts to block progress.
Wind power may not be the panacea to our global warming problems, but it is an essential piece of the big picture solution.