Reflections on a hot summer

Reflections on a hot summer

Our nation has suffered greatly this summer. The bushfire season has been devastating.

Usually when natural disasters hit our shores, the natural inclination is to put politics aside and to pull together to overcome the crisis and rebuild the affected communities.

But not this time. This time the bushfires have been politicised and they shouldn’t have been. The media went after the Prime Minister for not doing enough, when they knew emergency management and bushfire control is a state responsibility, a matter for premiers and state governments.  They also knew the PM had offered the states whatever help they needed, and they hadn’t seen the need to take up the offer.

Managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby, Martyn Iles was spot on when he said:

Nothing (the Prime Minister) does will be good enough. Every step, every word, every act, will be ridiculed, contemptible, broadcast in the most critical light, and the anti-ScoMo narrative will build steam, relentlessly.

He visits fire-ravaged communities, he's a shameless self-promoter. He stays away, he's a useless leader.

He gets accused of doing nothing, so he puts out a social media video explaining what the government is doing, and he's derided globally as tone-deaf and insensitive for "advertising."

(If you are curious about what the Federal government is doing to help with the bushfire recovery effort, you can read about it here The short answer is, a lot!) 

The harsh criticism was followed by hysterical claims the bushfires were the result of human-induced climate change. 

Where do we go from here then?

Once the fires are out, we will face the enormity of the challenge of helping those communities affected to rebuild. Approximately 2900 homes have been lost, and 33 people have tragically lost their lives, including six firefighters. Businesses have been decimated, and with them the jobs of many people living in affected communities. Many of the areas were popular family tourist destinations over the summer, and the loss of trade the remaining businesses have experienced, will have a financial impact even on those untouched by the bushfires themselves. The misinformation caused by poor international reporting about the scope of the disaster will have an impact on inbound tourist numbers that will extend the pain well beyond the extinguishment of the flames. 

Going forward

Second, we need to learn lessons from this summer. If we don’t understand the real causes of these bushfires we will see them happen again.

The first of those lessons is the need to get serious about fuel reduction. When we are in drought and the foliage is dry, that process becomes even more important.  States need to get real about their role. The approach that has been taken by the states of locking up national parks and failing to manage the density of the fuel in them must stop. Being environmentally responsible does not necessitate refusal to manage the wildlife and foliage in these parks. Furthermore, the vegetation management laws in place in Queensland and elsewhere repeat and demand that neglect on private property statewide - criminalising the responsible management of the land that agricultural families have done so well for generations. It’s simply wrong-headed: it is in the culture and commercial interests of farmers to take a long-term view of managing their environment. They know a lot more about it than inner-city Greens pollies, too.

The same can be said of state government approaches to backburning.  Aboriginal Australians have known for generations the importance of fire in this country. Strategic, planned burns prevent major fires and minimise wildlife impact. Victorian voters are rightfully angry that their government only achieved 130,000ha of backburning out of a planned 246,000ha target.

The Queensland government has introduced a new process for approving backburning licences, which is not approving burns in a timely manner and leaves properties and firefighters vulnerable to bushfires. Deputy Commissioner of Queensland Fire and Emergency Services John Bolger has been quoted as saying when an internal fire danger rating reaches 25 or above, the incident controller must be notified and a request logged before permission to back-burn is given. This is adding another layer of approval to the process: more red tape at a time when we have shorter periods to backburn.

Second, we need to change the way we think about the politics of climate change, in a way that brings Australians together rather than indulging and entrenching the division that the hard green-socialist left propagate. 

It actually doesn’t matter whether you are a ‘believer’ or a ‘denier’. Whether you think it is human-induced or part of natural cycles, or a combination of both, doesn’t matter either.

The fact is, the implementation of drastic emissions reduction targets now by Australia – in the manner demanded by those who want to declare a “climate emergency” – won’t make it cooler or stop the bushfires.  Does anyone really think there wouldn’t have been fires had Mr Shorten won the election, because he supports drastic reductions and declaring an emergency? I’m being a little facetious, but the answer is obvious. Australia produces less than 1.3% of the world’s carbon emissions.  Even if you’re a person who accepts that carbon emissions are the problem, devastating our economy to bring that down to zero will make no impact in a world where almost every nation is radically accelerating the rate at which it produces carbon emissions.

Think about what moving now to zero-emissions would mean: no more mining jobs – including engineers, drivers, manufacturing and professional services which depend on mining. One in seven Queenslanders has a job directly or indirectly in mining. It’s arguably even higher when you take into account the small businesses in regional towns which depend on mining spending for their survival. 

But to meet a target like that, agriculture and transport would also need to be shut down. To cease producing and distributing food is ridiculous. And to end transport will mean no online shopping, affordable travel, and so on. You can’t hitch a ride on a sailing boat, in the manner of Greta Thunberg, if you need to get to Longreach.

It’s no exaggeration to say ending these three industries would necessitate a return to the past, before we travelled, before we traded widely. It’s not just a matter of whacking a feel-good solar panel on the roof (which has a whole lot of rare earth minerals in it too, by the way). It’s not just a matter of building a wind turbine in someone else’s neighbourhood or buying a Tesla. 

And for what?  No real impact on global emissions.  No impact on the climate.  No impact on the rate of bushfires.

The fact remains that we need to be as clean as we sensibly can, and technological progress is making that more efficient than ever. We can expect that progress to continue, and make everything from energy generation to industrial production cleaner, safer and more efficient. That means we don’t need to devastate our economy chasing political hysteria. 

The Australian Government is already doing a lot to reduce its emissions. Some say it is too much, but the most hysterical think Australia is doing nothing. We have to remember we are a nation of 26 million people in a world of 6 billion.

That said, there is a lot going on in the Australian energy sector that is being market driven and over the entire economy emissions fell in 2018-19 (-0.1%). The ANU has found Australia is a world leader in clean energy investment and we will meet our 2030 targets. Our emissions are lower than when the Coalition came to government in 2015-16. There is a $3.5 billion Climate Solutions Package that will deliver the reductions we need to meet the 2030 target.

The government has invested $1.42 billion in expanding the Snowy Hydro scheme, developing the Marinus Link and the second Bass Strait interconnector.

But the fact remains: we rely on energy to live, work and learn. We must ensure it is reliable and secure. The latest official projections show the National Electricity Market (NEM) emissions is on track to be 26 percent below 2005 levels by 2022, eight years early.

Per capita, Australia is a world leader in investment in clean energy, with more than double the investment of countries like the United Kingdom, Germany and France. You’d never know it, from the way that activists carry on.

Where we can, Australia will beat its targets, but we won’t be doing it through higher taxes on you, or by increasing electricity prices.

Is there more that can be done?  Sure. We could seriously consider nuclear energy, which has advanced greatly in recent decades to become far safer than any other electricity generation method, with near zero emission production. [If you want to know more about it, I highly recommend this article. We can encourage those companies that have joined the climate change campaigns in recent years to put their money where their mouth is, and invest in the development of the new technologies that will facilitate ongoing improvements in the cleanliness and efficiency of energy generation and industrial methods. A good example of this is Star Scientific which has developed a new catalyst: the Hydrogen Energy Release Optimiser or HERO. The Government is backing hydrogen with a $500 million investment in research and development of the technology into the industry. Power is generated when hydrogen and oxygen are introduced to a controlled environment, creating over 700°C and the only emission it produces is water.

At some point, we must end the renewables subsidies which distort the market for investment to favour solar and wind over other more reliable technologies, and call out the self-serving advocacy of the renewables industry for what it is.  We should also be honest about the real price of renewables. A coal company has to price in the remediation of the land it uses and repair any environmental impacts, but there is no plan made for, or pricing in of, the costs of disposal of solar panels or wind turbines at the end of their lifespan. One look at the wind farm graveyards of California shows the seriousness of the problem.

This is not a do-nothing approach, it is a do-what-matters approach. 

And whatever your view on the divisive politics of climate, these should be matters we can all get behind.