All things environmental

Musings about the environment and all it touches, from education to city planning

Random Australia

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floating forest on coal ship, Sydney

Floating forest on coal ship, Sydney (from Treehugger)

Australia is really quite intriguing.  After all, it is a country where wild cockatoos can swear at you in proper English (they learn it from escaped parrots), unless they stagger and fall down in drunken stupor; where sharks groove on heavy metal (a particular fondness for AC/DC was reported) in the world’s largest marine reserve; and where lady snails sport penises on their heads (okay, I’m not exactly sure what that latter fact says about Australia, but I find the idea somehow unsettling).  Even their natural catastrophes can be pretty unique: combine a tornado with a forest fire, and you get a fire devil (check the video!).

Australia took me completely by surprise.  I wasn’t sure about taking holidays there.  My concept of Sydney was as a kind of Toronto with kangaroos.  As it turns out, there is lots happening in Australia right now.

Sydney itself has a few marvels that I only learned about too late (a tip: check out the wonderful treehugger website before you go traveling, not afterwards, as I did).  There is a wreck of an old coal ship that has turned into a lush floating mangrove island, in Homebush Bay.  Whether it is an apt omen for the future of the coal industry, in Australia and elsewhere, it sure attests to the power of nature to assert herself.

Sydney also has a number of interesting installations of environmental art: an auditory recreation of native bird songs once common but now rare or extinct, in a downtown alley; the world’s largest interactive light display in the Darlington area, all solar powered; and the world’s largest pallet garden.

But it is where energy and climate change issues interact that things get really interesting.  Australia may lead the world, or may tip backwards in the next few months.   Elections are coming and with them, a potential whole new set of policies.

On the plus side, Australia could completely power itself with renewable energy in a couple of decades.  The potential for solar and wind energy is staggering, and after a slow start the country is making great strides, shaving off peak power, and outcompeting coal.  And in the process, demonstrating that the carbon tax that set all of this in motion is actually generating wealth (and, of course, green jobs).  And, of course, a whole new renewable energy industry ready to assert itself.

On the minus side, Australia is cursed with an abundance of coal, and miners who insist on shipping it through the Great Barrier Reef, threatening not only the climate but the most amazing cathedral of marine life for good measure.  And Australia has its own home-grown billionaires who buy news media to convince the public that taxes are bad (especially for rich people) and that there is no such thing as global warming.  Their rise on the political scene is causing uncertainty in the energy sector, chilling the market and killing some promising projects.

Move over Koch brothers; meet Gina Rinehart, Australia’s very own evil queen.  Ms Rinehart, a coal mining heiress and the richest Australian, scoffs at global warming, funds deniers like Ian Plimer and Chris Monckton, and buys newspapers to spread the word.  Oh, and she thinks the Australian government should not look at the mining industry as if it were an ATM.  Instead of creating local jobs, she favours importing cheap Asian labour (sounds familiar, BC?). And, of course, a strong supporter of the conservative contender Tony Abbott, no friend of the solar energy industry.  As in BC, it’s all steam ahead for fossil fuel exports, even while the Chinese are reducing their importation of coal and gas.

Australia is showing us what climate change looks like (aside from experiencing extremes of floods and fires, the country has been so hot that the weather office has had to create a new colour for its temperature map).  It may hold a roadmap to a renewable energy future world.  Or it could simply just bake and burn.


Written by enviropaul

May 28, 2013 at 8:35 pm

2 Responses

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  1. A perceptive snapshot of key Aussie issues. Love the embedded links.


    May 30, 2013 at 10:35 pm

  2. […] was lucky enough to return to Cuba and travel to Sweden for work; Dinah and I also spent some holiday time in Australia – while looking at environmental […]

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