News | 12th Jul, 2014

The burning question of our times

Herald Sun
Monday, 12 July 2004

For the past few years Victorians have rallied to the cause of water conservation, understanding the need to save a precious resource.

Following this success we are now on the brink of the next big shift in understanding and change: energy use.

Last week top Australian scientists formed a group to inspire action on energy consumption and its effects.

So concerned is this Australian Climate Group they say we must urgently change our use of energies such as coal and oil or else face worldwide disaster.

And the reason for their concern? Global warming.

Unlike water, the urgency with energy is not in the amount of resource we have left to use – in Victoria we have hundreds of years of brown coal left to burn.

Rather, the urgency comes from the dangerous effects of our energy use – the greenhouse pollution that is released when energy is produced. And there is no grottier, more greenhouse polluting fuel than brown coal.

Global warming is real and happening now. We just need to look to recent droughts, increased bushfires and extreme weather events such as flooding and heatwaves, and the diminishing snowline to realise human-induced climate change is on our doorstep.

Recently Britain’s chief scientist said that Antarctica was likely to be the world’s only habitable continent by the end of the century if global warming continued on its present course.

Even the head of petroleum company Shell last month declared that he saw very little hope for the world unless carbon dioxide emissions were dealt with.

And the Pentagon said global warming could bring the planet to “the edge of anarchy”.

So with greenhouse pollution from energy totaling almost 70 per cent of Australia’s emissions, and our energy demand continuing to grow by about 2 per cent every year, the urgency to curb our energy use and use more renewable energies has never been greater.

While it’s easy to feel powerless in the face of many global problems, when it comes to climate change we all have a role to play, both at the individual and government level.

At an individual level we must simply decrease energy use.

For instance, if every Victorian household reduced the thermostat setting on their heater by just one degree for a day, greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by more than 6000 tonnes – equivalent to taking 1200 cars off the road for a year.

Better still, we can all switch to green energy, which sources power from renewable energies such as hydro and wind.

Most importantly, when it comes to global warming governments have a major role to play.

While the Howard Government’s energy statement, released last month, took some small steps to improving energy use, it was largely a failure, relying on the unproven and risky technology of geosequestration, or the burying of emissions from coal power stations.

The Bracks Government has shown stronger leadership on energy. On July 1 its 5 star energy standard for all new homes came into operation, while it has been supportive of renewables such as wind farms.

But the State Government could be doing much more.

At the moment, the Government is on the brink of a serious global warming decision.

Not only is Victoria one of the worst greenhouse polluters in the world, per person, we also boast the country’s worst greenhouse polluting power station – Hazelwood coal mine.

Hazelwood has applied to expand its Latrobe Valley mine, which will create an extra 85 million tonnes of greenhouse pollution, equivalent to putting 20 million cars on the road for a year.

Unless it wants to undermine its own positive greenhouse contributions as well as those of individual Victorians, the Government must reject the expansion of Hazelwood.

Governments and individuals alike have shown remarkable abilities to rally to the cause of our water crisis. Now is the time to rally to the cause of energy because, when it comes to saving the precious resource that is the earth, we don’t have a moment to waste.