The Mont Pelerin Society – an elite international group of theorists that has been the main proponents of free market faith since 1947 – is in Sydney for a major meeting this week. They will be joined by former Australian prime minister John Howard. The agenda will undoubtedly include discussion on the ‘competitiveness’ and ‘comparative advantages’ of nations over one another – with the Pelerin Society deciding on the allegedly positive attributes.
The lack of consensus at Copenhagen over the targets for the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions was a disaster. It’s quite evident that many nations are not taking the looming worldwide catastrophe seriously and are seeing the costs associated with greenhouse gas reduction as something that is ‘optional’. It’s not optional – nations must forget about borders and realise that they have a part to play. Many nations will have to go against that sadly widespread competitive mindset fostered by Capitalism and support other nation’s efforts financially. Nothing less than full international co-operation is needed.
One positive in this situation is that the technological options for cleaning up our energy supplies are plentiful. Some options pose risks to the environment, notably nuclear power generation, which should rationally be consigned to the ‘too dangerous to play with’ basket, given the alternative uses for Uranium, like making bombs. In the future, certainly the controlled use of Uranium will be an option, but not in this era of crisis.
Technology is, to a degree, minimising these risks, with fossil fuel power stations equipped with carbon ‘scrubbers’ and advances in nuclear power engineering leading to safer facilities, but the fact remains there are other entirely risk-free sources of power available, and they are the ones that logically, we should develop.
Using the free energy available from the sun, the wind and the thermal nature of the Earth’s geology, large-scale power stations that pose no risk to people or the environment are technically possible. Many are in existence now with Australia having at least one large solar array heating water for steam production. Wind farms are becoming increasingly common across Europe. Wave motion generators are being experimented with. The technical and engineering options are plentiful.
We could at least halve man-made CO2 emissions in a short 10 years if engineering and construction timeframes were the only limitations. It is the lack of International co-operation is all that is stopping this.
An interesting feature of this ‘energy revolution’ is the emergence of technologies that are simple, modular and that lend themselves to small-scale power generation. Direct solar electricity generation through the use of the photovoltaic cell is not new, but the large scale production of these cells leading to affordable solar panels is.
A network system exists already, at least partially, in New South Wales, Australia, where homeowners producing electricity excess to their requirements are paid to supply the power grid. This is brilliant in a number of ways – it’s reliable due to the lack of centralisation of supply; it’s supporting the photovoltaic cell industry in Australia and abroad and it’s democratic – everyone can do their bit. Or, should it be said, those can who find the Au$10,000 or thereabouts for an effective system. Disregarding the setup cost, the scheme has been a success partially due to the NSW government paying household producers of clean energy at 3 times the market rate. This can only be applauded.
Conversely, and in a fine example of how capitalism is interfering with the rollout of clean energy, Australian Federal opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt wrote to counterpart Peter Garrett after it emerged that China’s leading solar cell producer, Suntech, had admitted selling in the US at below cost to establish market share. “Australia may be or become subject to the dumping of solar panels at below the normal cost of production in our marketplace,” Mr Hunt said in a letter to the Environment Minister.
One of the few things that most Capitalist countries agree on is the implementation of some sort of taxation on Carbon emissions. Australia has failed in this regard, with the Labor Party’s last effort to establish a ‘carbon credits’ scheme a local disaster. Even the Greens knocked it back.
It met resistance from the more obvious current players, the coal fired power station owners and the energy supply corps. The Greens didn’t like it because it was in their opinion too soft, and once entrenched in law, would be irreversible. The issue certainly hasn’t been abandoned, with representatives from all corners of Australian governance due to meet this month for a resolution, or at least progress. Let’s hope for some co-operation.
We are all residents of this Planet Earth. The ‘global warming’ issue is one of the first global challenges that we have faced that we can prevent. It’s very much a case of co-operate or perish and it’s certainly not the only issue where greater co-operation between governments and people is necessary for the survival and progress of humanity.
Lets consider this crisis an opportunity to develop a never before seen level of co-operation between all nations and may the skills learned be applied to all other pending issues.