BY: Tracey Carpenter
Our Prime Minister regularly ‘shirt fronts’ the renewable energy side in the high stakes energy championships being played out right across this vast, resource rich playing field of a land. Visibly excited by the macho and machines of yet another new coal mine the Prime Minister declared his devotion to an Australian future of digging up dirt and selling it offshore.
The problem is not perceiving Australia as an energy super power it is tying our fortunes exclusively to a fast outdating and highly contaminating source of energy. For our pugilist PM thumping his fluoro vest in the name of coal was a direct response to China’s latest blow to Australia’s fossil fuel exports. Worryingly for Australia’s fossil fuel sector China has imposed a 6% tariff on non-coking coal and imposed bans on dirty coal imports into its heavily polluted cities. As the world moves with increasing urgency to limit its carbon emissions Australia’s bonanza of fossil fuels is starting to lose its lustre, to all but the mining investors and their co-dependent energy companies still grasping at the apron strings of state ownership.
Rather than encouraging cheap and efficient energy production the PM and his ministers have backed only one horse in the race and rail against any opposition to the fossil fuel sector. The Treasurer even has a problem with the aesthetics of wind farms.
But worrying Australia’a fossil fuel producers is the global divestment campaign demonstrating that capital can follow conscience. The Rockerfellers abruptly got out of oil, Stanford divested from coal, even the Anglican Church in the UK have walked away from investing in polluting industries. ANU’s Vice Chancellor explained the need for responsible investors not to cause social harms like that resulting from carbon emissions. The fear is as Australian investment funds find alternatives to contamination the walk out here may become a run. It is clear that the critique is beginning to bite when the PM is trotted out to declare it’s just not Team Australia not to love coal.
The thing with fossils is that they’re not very good at evolving preferring to dig in and buy support. Perhaps Bill McKibben best identifies the failure of the fossil fuel market to respond to scientific imperative of climate change. Scientists and now economists maintain that we can’t survive in anything close to the standard of living and civilisation that we are used to if we stay on our current course towards 4C warming. According to McKibben’s maths, the fossil fuel companies can only dig or drill 20% of what they already have on their books, and according to HSBC this means they are only worth 50% of what the share market currently values them at. It is madness to entomb our energy future with the fossil fuels of the past and to fight off future sources of energy in a zero sum contest. We have benefited enormously from coal but need to evolve with global markets towards cleaner forms of energy – in which we also abound. And whilst the government is reluctant to get out of its way – ultimately it may be the market informed by scientific, economic and social evidence that decides our energy and therefore our climate future.
Tracey Carpenter is President of Bathurst Community Climate Action Network (
BCCAN) BCCAN AGM – 29th October from 6pm Flannery Centre with Craig Memery of the Alternative Technology Association