This recent article in The Canberra Times suggests – as I have worked out for half a decade now – that Australia is at far greater risk of runaway climate change than was ever thought beforehand. At long last our scientists are trying to persuade radical changes that should have taken place in the days of the horrific Lonie Report, whilst opinion polls in the US show clear support for radical measures to cut greenhouse emissions.
In his most recent work, Now or Never, Tim Flannery shows that only storage of carbon dioxide can prevent catastrophic climate change. The problem is, unlike his previous books Flannery really does go into the wildest flights of imagination in believing sustainable cities will soon be developed in Australia. He dreams a city based on geothermal power being developed in the centre of the continent! Whilst that might theoretically be possible, in reality I cannot see where the money would come from.
Even with Melbourne receiving less than 50mm of rain per year, it is hard to see how people could be persuaded to move such a distance. The abundant coal and land resources mean that even the complete drying up of southern Australia’s water resources could never make the tiniest difference to this. With petrol’s cheapness rising to 1330ml/$ according to reliable forecasts, the fuel efficiency of cars will tumble to record lows even as other countries mandate extremely strict emissions standards. (Indeed, such emissions standards could serve to further increase the cheapness of petrol in Australia by lessening competition from abroad). Public transport patronage will decline enough that the closures advocated by the Lonie Report become a reality – especially if a major depression does ensue.
The prosperity that record cheapness of petrol will cause would make it very hard for Australia’s politicians to really think about changing policies to improve sustainability. Already ultraconservative outer suburbanites will – even if they know of the changes taking place – feel extremely sensitive to governments taking their prosperity, and of course there is the obstacle of powerful mining and car companies opposed to any emissions targets.
Even if our scientists become more and more vocal, I do not see the fantastic plans put forward for dealing with Australia’s appalling emissions actually happening. Simpler, lower technology and more straightforward plans to phase out all private registration of motorised vehicles, revegetate farmland, shift metal smelting abroad and prevent further coal development make much more sense and if put forward passionately and vocally enough would have a much better chance.