Are we becoming fatigued by so much bad environmental news?

 Every day we seem to have a new announcement of temperature records being broken (March was globally the hottest on record*), bleaching of the Barrier Reef coral and so on  We seem to be inured to bad news. Australia’s CO2 emissions rose by more then 1% in 2015, when land clearing is taken into account**.


The Paris Conference decisions were viewed as a great success in most quarters. There were some who held a dissenting view, e.g. former NASA climate scientist James Hansen

“It’s a fraud really, a fake,” he says. “It’s just bullshit for them to say: ‘We’ll have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years.’ It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned”***.


Nations have set there own targets to reduce CO2 emissions and must report on progress  every five years There is no compulsion to meet the targets, only ’name and shame’ to be suffered. Australia’s target is less demanding than most other countries. It at 26-28% below 2005 levels. As a result it has been excluded from the High Ambition Coalition, who are planning  to do more.


There seems to be a faulty belief that all that matters is that Australia will sometime reach the target. Like achieving a balanced budget, postponed to further out each year. In fact immediate progress is very important, because the CO2 emitted is building up in the interim.


Australia leading the world in household solar power installations, which will increase further when storage batteries become cheaper. There is increased emphasis on sustainability in building, and some minor gains with Direct Action. Renewables generation is growing at over 10% pa, but from a small base of 15%. Regrettably and stupidly the Coalition refuses to consider anything which might raise the price to consumers, which is a very effective way to reduce demand. The ALP has announced ambitious new targets, and a mish-mash of measures, mostly unlikely to achieve much, dodging any mention of price increases to consumers.. It includes the purchase of ETS credits from overseas, where they were mostly corruptly obtained with government connivance. Sheer hypocrisy.


There are some less discussed measures which should be actively considered.


Transport is now a higher energy consumer than electricity. There are no regulations on fuel consumption by new road vehicles. Apparently this is because it would create hardship for local manufacturers and nothing will be done until they have all ceased production by 2018. So we pour out CO2 in our national interest, just as other nations will do in country specific policies. Australia should apply consumption standards to imported vehicles, even if it causes an uproar


All governments need to have a policy of public transport before private; i.e. rail before road. Mostly they are acceding to populist demands to relieve road traffic blockages, which leads to higher usage and more demand.


There is excess electricity generation capacity in Australia and with the increase in renewables there is room to close down a coal fired generator. The Hazelwood  plant in the Latrobe Valley is the most inefficient in terms of electricity generated per CO2 emitted. It burns brown coal and is old and inefficient. However it sits on the coal field and electricity generation is cash positive. The Victorian Government is putting pressure on by increasing the royalties and the contributions to a rehabilitation fund. Now is the time to go back to 2011 when the ALP were considering buying it for closure, at around $2bn. The cost sank the proposal. It would be to the benefit of all other coal fired operations to have excess capacity removed, so a concerted buy out and shutdown by them is commercially feasible. Naturally it would have to be organised by the Government, otherwise anti- competition laws would prevent such a scheme. 


The driving force is litter reduction, but energy consumption is a side benefit in container deposit laws and measures to reduce plastic bag usage. The SA container deposit scheme has led to 80% recycling. Other States now have it under consideration, they need to get on with it. The over usage of plastic bags by retail shops has been a matter for debate. The best way to encourage shoppers to bring a bag is a tax of 5¢ a bag levied at the checkout. Collection would be practically costless for the Government and the shop. The 5¢ would be a contribution to waste disposal.


There is a massive ethical question about abatement of CO2 emissions. Activists want to stop or at least reduce coal exports. The Western world can expect the developing world to aspire to move to the energy consumption which supports the standard of living in the West, which hopefully will  be less energy reliant in the future than currently. Should we refuse coal which would enable them to do so? 


Unfortunately the developing countries are pouring out increasing numbers of people to exacerbate their problems. Instead of promising technical aid to energy technology, the Paris Agreement should have promised aid to the education of women in those countries, conceded by all as the most effective method of voluntary population control, and make contraceptive advice free.


*the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)