LAST week I saw Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Sequel, a powerful and persuasive follow up to his An Inconvenient Truth film of 10 years ago, which made it very clear to one and all that the world is in grave danger from climate change caused by human use of fossil fuels, while in the same week Houston, the “oil city” of Texas, was reeling from Hurricane Harvey.
What struck me most about the film was that convergence, for at no time during the relentless TV news coverage of the disaster was there any mention of our addiction to coal, gas and oil being responsible. Certainly not from President Trump, who was keen to splash around billions of dollars to rebuild this bastion of prosperous and largely white addiction to fossil fuels.
But last week was also when here at home the Turnbull government failed the test it has been urging the rest of us to follow since the advent of unregulated capitalism in the 1980s, namely to listen to the market, and make decisions based on what it is telling us.
I’ve never had any truck with such anti-social neo-liberal nonsense, but at the moment I do wish Turnbull & Co would heed their own advice, for the market is telling them to get out of coal fired electricity generation.
“Electricity crisis: AGL boss rebukes Turnbull government plan to keep coal power stations operating for longer” headlined the Sydney Morning Herald. The smaller print told us that Australia's largest electricity generator had strongly dismissed a new push by the Turnbull government to make the country's coal-fired power stations run for years longer than originally planned.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull raised the prospect in Parliament of keeping the Liddell power station open beyond 2022, and also in a phone call to AGL chief executive Andy Vesey, who has ruled out keeping it open beyond that date.
Government sources say that the PM stared down resistance from the company, which has repeatedly said that it will start exiting coal-fired power generation from 2022, and complete the transition by 2050.
This is despite business, environment groups, the Greens and Labor demanding the government implement the post 2020 Clean Energy target, recommended by Chief Scientist Alan Finkel, to help drive investment in new generation and put downward pressure on soaring power prices.
That recommendation has not been welcomed by conservative sections of the Coalition party room, stirred up by Tony Abbott, who oppose a Clean Energy Target and back the construction of a new coal-fired power plant, something Mr Turnbull has not ruled out.
As Adam Bandt, the Australian Greens energy spokesperson pointed out “The Turnbull government, hounded by Tony Abbott and the coal industry, is set to kill off the Chief Scientist’s plan for a Clean Energy Target and instead pay dirty and ageing coal fired stations to stay open longer”.
Worryingly, instead of opposing subsidies to dirty energy, Bill Shorten and Labor have said they are open to supporting them. With the government crumbling and Labor likely to win the next election, now is not the time to sign on to an energy policy that will lock in coal and lock out renewable energy.
We know that only new investment in wind and solar, together with battery storage, will cut pollution and bring down energy prices, and so it was good to see Mr Bandt introduce a bill to Parliament to continue and extend the Renewable Energy Target.