If attitudes can change on water conservation, then why not renewable energy!

Below is a short piece I was asked to write for the Messenger masthead of newspapers – a suite of community papers that are distributed across South Australia each week, free to each mailbox. So it’s an excellent place to put forward some simple ideas about renewable energy and climate change and reach a broad audience (i.e. most SA households).

This column accompanied a survey showing that the vast majority of people who responded now support permanent water restrictions and many are already taking positive personal action towards reducing their own environmental footprint. Granted, such self-selecting surveys are likely to be biased towards those who care about such issues to begin with, but it’s encouraging nonetheless.

Now, I beg the indulgence of regular BNC readers, because much of this column is simply a reworking of ideas I’ve discussed (and harped on and belabored) in previous posts – but there are a few new ideas regarding the encouraging link between changing attitudes on water conservation in South Australia (we are currently in a deep and sustained drought) and what is possible for energy efficiency, GreenPower purchases, and support for large-scale renewables.

You’ve got to start somewhere…

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Green Power Shift

Published in The Messenger, 29 Oct 2008

THERE is no doubt that public opinion on an issue can swing quickly when evidence on the need for change stacks up.

Just think of the old truism “a week is a long time in politics”.

The current worldwide financial crisis is a good example of a situation where a huge problem seemed to suddenly hit global markets.

Yet the root causes of this crisis – poorly secured loans, risky investments and energy insecurity – were long in the making.

It also forced actions by federal governments, such as the part-nationalisation of banks, that would have seemed absurdly improbable to most people just a year or two ago.

So, too, for environmental sustainability. The recent Messenger Community News survey, which elicited 1092 responses, reveals more than four out of every five respondents now want permanent water restrictions in South Australia.

Ninety-eight per cent use some form of environmentally-friendly practice in their gardens and 75 per cent use at least four different methods, such as drip irrigation, mulching, recycled water and drought-resistant plants.

A few years ago, this sort of community consensus on water conservation would have been unthinkable.

My hope is that the same will soon be true of renewable energy and energy conservation. Australia has the potential to be powered from solar, geothermal, wind and wave power and, indeed, to export this energy and know-how to the world.

We just need the collective motivation for change that will bring about a fast transformation.

The signs from the Messenger survey, in terms of the proportion of people now voluntarily investing in green power and energy efficiency measures, are really encouraging.

But we can’t afford to stall on climate change solutions.

If we wait too long, it will be too late and there will be no second chances.

So as a community, let’s decide to be proactive and switch from 20:20 hindsight to a clear and positive vision for our future.

* Barry Brook is the director of Adelaide University’s Institute for Climate Change & Sustainability

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5 Comments

  1. Of topic Barry but the Australian Treasury economic modelling of mitigation strategies was released today (30 Oct): http://www.treasury.gov.au/lowpollutionfuture/

    Treasury modelled the economic cost of stabilisation scenarios between 450-550 ppm CO2-e and allowing a rise of 2-3°C in mean global temperatures above pre-industrial levels. It concluded (at page ix):

    “Australia and the world continue to prosper while making the emission cuts required to reduce the risks of dangerous climate change. Even ambitious goals have limited impact on national and global economic growth.”

    Read the fine print, however, and you will see that the report does not incorporate costs such as the loss of the Great Barrier Reef with 2-3°C warming. A deliberate omission from the report, noted at page xi, is that “the modelling does not include the economic impacts of climate change itself, so does not assess the benefits of reducing climate change risks through mitigation.”

    The report refers to “other studies” for analysis of the costs of climate change on the economy such as Stern 2007 and Garnaut 2008. In working on stabilising at 2-3°C warming, it is not even mentioned that Stern (2007) concluded that at 2°C warming “coral reefs are expected to bleach annually in many areas, with most never recovering, affecting tens of millions of people that rely on coral reefs for their livelihood or food supply.”

    In my view, the Treasury report is fundamentally flawed by omitting the costs of climate change on the economy. It’s conclusions on the economic benefits of the targets it recommends should not be accepted on this basis alone.

    Reference

    Stern N (2007), The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change (Cambridge University Press), http://www.occ.gov.uk/activities/stern.htm

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  2. To Hcukster@2: Cost? Plenty right now, but not as much as you might imagine. Prices are falling steeply for renewables and rising steeply for fossil fuels (spot price of anthracite coal has tripled over the last year – Aust is currently buffered by local production/use of poor-quality lignite). Take solar concentrating power. Costs are dropping about 7% per year, which would create a price cross over with the levelised cost of coal in Australia in 2015, or about 2009 with a carbon price of $40/tonne.

    I don’t know why you choose to disparage academics on this point – the same arguments are being made by venture capitalists.

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  3. Chris, the treasury modelling is fundamentally flawed for another reason too. The model of fossil fuel energy supply they use is heroically optimistic, and not supported by any empirical, real-world data on extraction costs and supply declines of oil, gas and coal. Michael Lardelli explained this point in the CCQA Lecture 6.

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  4. Pingback: Renewable energy cannot sustain an energy intensive society « BraveNewClimate.com

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