25 years ago last week, the battle to stop the Franklin river dam was won. I think it provides some lessons for today. At the time it was seen as a battle between the economy and the environment. Most now concede that by stopping the dam, we have both — the stunning scenery of the area has been protected, and the towns have boomed from tourism.
The battle against climate change is being framed by the same terms — economy vs environment.
Various groups of people and industries have been highlighted as losers under an emissions trading scheme (ETS). But I think some of them are missing the point. The role of an ETS should not be to simply sting people for continuing their high-emission activities.
The point is to get them to find low-emission alternatives, which of course is where the revenue from the ETS should go. It shouldn’t be handed out as cash, so people can go on with business-as-usual, but targetted at more efficient alternatives.
If people are getting stung for driving everywhere, and good quality public transport is provided at a lower cost, they’ll move some or all of their travel to it. Or if they can do more of their activity remotely via voice or Internet or whatever, they will.
If energy-intensive industries keep doing their thing, they get stung for it and look for either more efficient methods, or they diversify into less carbon-intensive industries.
If power companies keep digging coal out of the ground and burning it, they should get stung for it, until they realise it’s cheaper to go and build wind farms and solar installations instead.
And if it’s handled right, it shouldn’t overly effect the economy. Railways are cheaper to build than freeways. Genuinely clean power is only 8 cents per kWh more expensive than dirty coal — I bet the difference is even less compared to “clean” coal (which only reduces emissions by 30-50%).
We have a good chance of radically reducing emissions (by capita the highest in the world) if we make the effort. And, as with the ban on incandescent lightbulbs, the world will watch and follow.
As for people like economist Ron Woods, who apparently still doubts it all, well, apart from the vast majority of scientists agreeing it’s happening, I just find it unbelievable that anybody could think we could burn off the incredible amounts of fuel that we do and have no impact.
- Coal: 14,871,232 tonnes per day
- Oil: 80 million barrels per day
- CO2 emissions: 74,645,912 tonnes per day
Our use of fossil fuels is phenomenal. We have to reduce it. But other, more sustainable methods of power generation will take its place. Coal and oil workers can move to building wind turbines, or installing solar panels, or driving public transport vehicles, or maintaining forests…
The Franklin river shows us that taking the environmentally responsible option is not necessarily financially irresponsible.
(Some thoughts on specific reduction targets will be in another post.)