Saturday, February 10, 2007

Australia should stop dirty exports - coal is the new asbestos

February 9, 2007: Australian of of the Year, Professor Tim Flannery, said exporting coal is not in Australia's national interest and the Federal Government should no longer be supporting the industry.

"This government has let the country down. This government has become a menace to the future of our children."

Greens Leader Bob Brown says Australia should phase out coal exports within the next three years. Brown's proposal follows comments by Professor Flannery, who said the "social licence" of coal is being withdrawn across the globe because of its massive contribution to greenhouse gas emissions...
Prime Minister John Howard is at odds with Australia's most celebrated climate scientist over coal. After being named Australian of the Year and vowing to criticise the government, Professor Flannery has called for an end to coal exports.

Dr Flannery said exporting coal could no longer be considered to be in Australia's national interest. "The social licence of coal to operate is rapidly being withdrawn globally, and no government can protect an industry from that sort of thing occurring," he said. "We've seen it with asbestos, we'll see it with coal." Professor Flannery said it was too late for the planet to clean up coal.

Dr Flannery said rather than dirty coal, solar thermal and geothermal technologies could form the basis of meeting Australia's energy needs and they were better options than, for example, nuclear power.

Senator Bob Brown agrees. "Neither the Howard Coalition nor Rudd Labor will tackle our biggest cause of climate change - burning coal. Both the parties support burning more, not less," Senator Brown said. "This is an extreme position considering the massive economic and environmental crisis the world is facing."

"The nation should rapidly transform to being the world's largest exporter of solar power technology, other renewable energy options and energy efficiency technology - creating thousands of jobs and a multi-billion dollar export income in tandem with the replacement of coal," Senator Brown said.

However Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce says Australians would be "living on the streets under a tarpaulin" if the country adopted the plan. Senator Joyce said coal was Australia's major trade export earner, and ceasing exports would cause untold economic harm. Senator Joyce said Australia should be pursuing research into clean-coal technology, but not at the expense of the coal industry.

Senator Brown said Howard's silver bullet of "clean coal" technology was at least a decade away and the government could not wait to phase out coal over 30-years.

Senator Brown proposed a reduction of coal exports and their replacement with exports of renewable energy. He said Australia had fantastic solar energy research which could save the planet but which was being purchased by foreign companies. "We do need extreme measures compared to what has happened in the past," he said. "This government has let the country down. This government has become a menace to the future of our children."

Senator Brown said the Greens saw it as politically unacceptable to have a phase-out over 30 years which would wipe out the lifestyle, economy and jobs of future generations. "The Greens are talking about intervening on the market. The big parties won't and so are therefore saying let this country and the rest of the planet go to perdition because we won't take action," he said.

"We are a rich and wealthy country. We can look after the coal miners and we can replace their fortunes with a much more job-productive industry." Senator Brown said he was proposing a reduction of coal exports and replacing them with exports of renewable energy.

He said Australia had fantastic solar energy research which could save the planet but which was being purchased by foreign companies. Australia can no longer put its head in the sand. Even if we do nothing to phase out coal exports, our customers will. The Europeans are already talking about sanctions and restrictions on coal imports. The issue is not just what we think the future of coal is, but what our customers think the future is. Business in Europe is not going to accept the Australian government freeloading with coal," Senator Brown said.

Greens MP Lee Rhiannon has called on NSW Premier Morris Iemma to meet with
Professor Tim Flannery to discuss the future of the coal industry. "The best thing Mr Iemma could do ... is to announce an end to coal exports and no new coal projects. Voters are looking for leadership and real solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Now is the time ... to move past the coal age. A good place to start would be to talk with Professor Flannery," Ms Rhiannon said.

"The links between the expansion of the coal industry and global warming are beginning to resonate with the electorate. We can have a win for the environment and for jobs by phasing out coal. Generating a unit of energy from wind power creates about four times the number of jobs as coal. The Greens are working with a range of community groups to plan for a just transition from the era of coal to a renewable and energy efficient future," said Ms Rhiannon.

Others are saying Professor Flannery should address Parliament about his proposal for solar-thermal geothermal energy to replace the dirty coal industry. WA Rights group Project SafeCom said "Mr Howard stumbles around in Parliament like a greedy child in a pitch-dark school tuck shop on environmental issues, and that Mr Howard can only do what he thinks is best - and that is to support his 20th Century friends in the coal industry."

"The Prime Minister either has no idea that solar technology already can supply all base load energy for Australia's energy needs, or - more likely - that he tries to hide these options at all costs, even showing that he and his government is prepared to lie about the baseload generation capacity of these technologies. Tim Flannery can wake them up, and make them think clearly again. He should be given the opportunity to make his case in Parliament in a joint sitting of both Houses." Mr Smit said.

Greens climate change and energy spokesperson Senator Christine Milne said Labor's refusal to accept that coal is part of the greenhouse problem shows it has failed to come to terms with climate change and the actions needed to combat it.

"The Australian Labor Party cannot expect to be taken seriously on climate change while it adopts the coal industry's line that exporting fossil fuels to power the world is of no consequence for global warming," Senator Milne said in Canberra. "Australia under the Howard government has spent 11 years evading its international responsibility to help reduce emissions while making handsome profits from selling coal. We have plenty of other options, including solar thermal power, wind, biomass and geothermal. It's time to get on with creating more jobs and wealth from building these industries."

Meanwhile, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, which represents coal miners, declared its support for establishing a carbon market. "Coal miners have voted to support carbon trading and, frankly, it is a disgrace that the Howard government has taken 10 years to even start talking about it," CFMEU president Tony Maher told the ABC. The prime minister disagreed. "Union leaders don't necessarily speak for workers," Mr Howard told parliament. For the last 10 years, a lot of coal miners have voted for us."

Mr Howard said coal-fired power stations were a very cheap source of energy in this country, and Australia was the largest coal exporter in the world. Ignoring the benefits and availability of Renewable energy, Mr Howard said as "clean" coal became more expensive, we could then start to look at nuclear power. "At the moment nuclear power is not economic, compared to dirty coal. But if you apply new technology to that, the cleaner technology becomes dearer and make nuclear power economically more feasible."

Professor Flannery said that in the future, coal would be seen as just as dangerous as asbestos is now. "As the situation unfolds and the matters get more critical, the world is not going to allow people to pollute our common atmosphere, as occurs at the moment," he told ABC. Dr Flannery said solar thermal and geothermal technologies could form the basis of meeting Australia's energy needs and they were better options than nuclear power.

His comments were immediately dismissed by the Prime Minister, John Howard, who said money would be better spent on developing technologies to clean up coal production.

Meanwhile, Beach Petroleum last month announced a $30 million investment in Petratherm's hot-rock project in South Australia. If successful, the project will supply electricity to the Beverley uranium mine and eventually link to the national grid. Petratherm is also working to help China establish its geothermal potential.

The Earth's atmosphere is not as big as many assume it is, for example, it is much smaller than the ocean. Professor Flannery says our thin atmosphere is about one 500th the size of the ocean.

He says "that explains why we've had three atmospheric emergencies, if you want, through my lifetime, you know. We had acid rain, then we had the hole in the ozone layer and now we’ve got greenhouse gases and climate change. We haven’t yet precipitated a global oceanic pollution crisis. It is not that we don't throw rubbish into the oceans, it’s just that the oceans are so much bigger."


Coal exports earned the nation $25 billion last year. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, coal mining employs 28,300 workers. Over the last 12 months, employment growth was over 299,000.

PM fights Flannery at coalface - February 8, 2007 News Ltd
PM, Flannery clash on coal industry - February 8, 2007 SMH
Brown back eventual coal export ban - February 8, 2007 The Australian
Flannery should address solar-thermal power - February 8, 2007 SCOOP
Labor's climate policy in tatters over coal exports - February 8, 2007 Greens Media Release
oyce blasts Greens over coal exports- February 9, 2007 The West
Coal will be the new asbestos, says Flannery - February 9, 2007 SMH
The Australian Editorial: Keeping the message cool on climate - February 9, 2007

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