Thursday, 16 August 2007
The journal New Scientist published on 28 July this year has an article by Professor Lawrence Krauss of Case Western Reserve University that warns voters to swiftly reject any candidates that flaunt their scientific illiteracy. The article questions whether a scientifically illiterate individual can be expected to properly assess the complex scientific and technological issues that now form the basis of significant policy issues, such as global warming or weapons of mass destruction.
Acknowledging that this advice is directed towards electors in the United States, I believe that the same warning should be heeded by voters in our country, particularly when it comes to deciding which major party has a realistic policy regarding climate change. As Professor Krauss stated:
Science is not mere storytelling. It makes predictions that help us control our destiny.
It now appears that the destiny of the Howard government is to be decided in part by its members’ abject failure to acquaint themselves with a basic understanding of the science behind climate change. Science is not ideology—a point that the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources has yet to comprehend. Recently, we have seen members of the Howard government repeatedly reject the mass of overwhelming scientific evidence that demonstrates a direct connection between carbon dioxide emissions and climate change. Now it seems that, driven by the evidence of the polls, not the science, the government has begun to accept the possibility that greenhouse gas emissions could just see them expelled from their comfortable ministerial offices.
Major countries and states, with the exception of the United States and Australia, have already set carbon dioxide emission reduction targets for the short and longer terms. The United Kingdom government has called for emissions to be reduced by 32 per cent by 2020 and by 60 per cent by 2005 based on 1990 levels. Sweden will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 25 to 30 per cent by 2020 and aims to reduce emissions by between 50 and 75 per cent by 2050. It will also stop importing oil by 2020. California, which by itself would be ranked as the seventh largest economy in the world, has passed a bill that requires reductions in carbon dioxide emissions by 25 per cent by 2020 and 80 per cent by 2050. While the rest of the world is following the California lead, the Howard government continues to ignore this most pressing issue.
The Labor Party has set a target to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 60 per cent by 2050, which is the same as the United Kingdom, similar to the Swedish target and less than the Californian target. These targets are based on science, not prejudice or opinion. The continuing growth in Australian emissions from fossil fuels has to be arrested and reversed quickly if Australia is to have any chance of avoiding the consequences of increased droughts, extreme weather events and rising sea levels.
Coal-fired power stations are the largest single source of Australian emissions, responsible for 290 million tons of carbon dioxide, or 48 per cent of the total, in 2007 and increasing by approximately two per cent per annum. While the government flounders with geosequestration, effective, cost-competitive and proven technologies for reducing emissions from coal-fired power stations already exist. Modern combined-cycle power plants that join coal gasification with gas turbines and steam plants have the potential to halve emissions per unit of electricity generated, yet the government has no plans to encourage the uptake of this working technology. There is also the realistic possibility of using solar energy to replace a very substantial part of Australia’s coal-fired electricity generation, yet disinterest—if not outright hostility—from the government has driven one of Australia’s leading solar scientists, Dr David Mills, to relocate his company to California.
Carbon dioxide emissions from transport have grown almost 10 per cent under the Howard government and now total over 80 million tons per annum. They are growing at the rate of 1½ per cent per annum, significantly because of increased subsidies to road transport combined with cuts to support for publicly owned railways. If we are to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, it is clear that energy efficiency has to become a guiding principle of public policy, and this is nowhere more obvious than in the transport sector. As NASA physicist Dr James Hansen of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies has warned, we have no more than 10 years to act before serious climate change becomes irreversible. I can see no evidence that the Prime Minister even vaguely comprehends the magnitude of this threat to our nation and the planet. The citizens of Australia must do their bit by voting the government out at the coming federal election. (Time expired)