Is it just me or does everyone think things are rarely black and white?
In the heat of the January bushfires Australia felt like ground zero of a climate catastrophe and people who had rarely had an opinion on global emissions were suddenly looking for answers.
Our pollies are still at war. Conservative National MPs remain committed to coal, moderate Liberals are desperate to tackle climate change yet the government has commissioned a feasibility study into a new coal-fired power station in Collinsville.
Anthony Albanese has said there will be no ‘new’ coal projects under a Labor government.
Coal is linked to many types of air pollution but none more harmful or irreversible as global warming. The same chemistry that enables coal to produce energy – the breaking down of carbon molecules – also produces gas emissions that rise into the atmosphere and act like a blanket warming the earth’s surface.
The consequences of that include rising temperatures and sea levels as well as extreme weather events such as heat waves, heavy rainfall, intensified storms and exacerbated drought.
So why do we keep burning coal? Is it just about jobs and the mining lobby?
The truth is, every single one of us needs coal.
In 2020 37% of the world’s electricity is generated by coal. Right now we need it to keep the lights on. However, it’s important to note coal is being phased out of electricity production.
The real problems are steel and cement. Coal is an essential raw material for steel production and 85% of the world’s cement is made using coal. Without coal, no steel and no cement.
There is hope. The European Union is funding a cement plant that integrates carbon capture and storage. The Swedish government is funding a new type of clean steel plant that will eliminate coal and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 98%.
But these exciting reforms are slow, they also require government policy, financial incentives and guaranteed markets to make them commercially viable.
As a nation we need to reward recycling and champion new green technologies like alternative concretes, coal-free steel and industrial carbon capture and storage.
Without those policies the planet will continue to warm and we already know that that looks like.
In the 1990’s, after Martin Bryant shot 35 innocent people, John Howard took away guns. Because of what happened at Port Arthur there was an appetite for reform, as well as angry skeptics furious the government was listening to do-gooders.
In 2020, in the wake of the summer fires there is a growing appetite for climate reform, as well angry skeptics convinced global warming is a hoax.
Back in the 90’s Mr Howard and his deputy Tim Fischer faced the skeptics head on, they spent months travelling Australia arguing their case. That was leadership. They made a brave, correct call and fought for it.
Who will lead us now?