Friday, 27 June 2008

Life beyond coal forum

Many thanks to Bob Phillips who provided these comments for the Life beyond coal forum held in Newcastle City Hall.
It was quite cold last Friday 27th at 7.30 pm, but the weather did not deter a large number of people from turning up at Newcastle City Hall to hear six speakers’ views on the transition Australia must make from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

Questions and discussion following the six presentations revealed that the audience agreed with Ian Dunlop, the first speaker’s argument, that the unprecedented speed of climate change demanded radical changes in our use of the earth’s resources, and that we can no longer stick to our “business as usual” approach to these problems.

Ian Dunlop’s former career as a senior executive in the gas and oil industry gave weight to his warnings on climate change. His presentation emphasised that the concurrence of the three looming crises involving water, food, and peak oil would intensify the growing impacts of climate change. Moreover, the cautious predictions of the last report of the UN Inter- Governmental Panel on Climate Change, were now being superseded. The present rate of melting of northern hemisphere glaciers and Arctic sea ice are phenomena that the IGPCC had predicted to occur near the end of the century.

Ian Murray also has an interest in the coal industry as he is Northern District President of the CFMEU, Mining and Energy Division. He stated that his union’s policy was to support the change to renewable energy but maintained that carbon capture and storage should also be researched. However, he was adamant that the coal industry, that is making huge profits, should bear the full financial burden of this research, and that the Federal Government’s $500 million grant for “clean coal” should be withdrawn.

He was also very critical of the subsidies and tax breaks presently enjoyed by the mining, transport, and fossil fuel industries amounting to about $9 billion every year. In particular, the coal industry was allowed $1.9 billion in diesel fuel tax rebates during the years of John Howard’s government, and this concession has still not been withdrawn even though the industry is now making record profits.

Professor Dlugogorski, director of the Priority Research Centre for Energy at Newcastle University, explained the process of pumping water into hot rocks below the earth’s surface to produce steam that generates electricity. However the geological formations where these rocks are located are limited, and for the next decade or so this Geo-Thermal contribution to our energy requirements would be very small.

A dose of youthful enthusiasm was injected into the forum discussions by Jarra Hicks, who is National Convenor of the Australian Student Environment Network. Jarra’s grassroots campaigning at Newcastle University persuaded the University authorities to change to green energy and to set a 2020 target to become carbon neutral. She urged everyone to practise energy conservation in their own homes and workplaces.

ALP Councillor Marilyn Eade did not canvas ALP policy on climate change, but outlined what the City Council has achieved. By carefully auditing its operations over several years it has reduced its energy consumption by 40% and its water use by 25% compared with 1995 levels. She stated that Council will continue to advocate and lead by example, using its Together Today program to show business, schools, and the community how they can monitor and reduce their use of energy and water. She said that while people might be interested in the reasons for climate change, they will be convinced when they are shown how they can take effective action.

Greens Senator Christine Milne deplored the myopic approaches of the major parties to the problems of climate change. She maintained that Australia is uniquely positioned to exploit the economic and environmental benefits of renewable energy. Governments should be working to rapidly phase out fossil fuels in our transport and power industries and promote employment in new green industries. No other country has a greater potential for solar and other renewable energy because of its exposure to sunlight, its industrial potential, and its high levels of education. Yet our governments stand aside while other countries such as China and the USA commercialise the leading edge technology our researchers have developed, and they lavish money on dubious and unproven technology to maintain the profits of fossil fuel industries that have no future.

The forum ended after 10.00 pm, but there were still people who wanted to ask questions and many continued informal discussions over coffee.

Instead of futile point scoring over petrol prices, why can’t our Federal ministers promote policies such as demand management, solar thermal power, water recycling, and solar hot water that would have an immediate effect on our carbon emissions?

Grassroots democracy

Just north of the Equator below Japan, Guam was populated 4000 years ago by a matrilineal people, the Chamoru. In the 1500s it was colonised by Spain. After Spain’s defeat in the 1898 Spanish-American war, it was claimed by the US.

It became important as a military base after World War II. Guam is only about 50 kilometres long, and US bases occupy about a third of its length.

On Monday 23rd June 2008 I had the pleasure in facilitating a public meeting with Lisa Natividad and Julian Aguon, two representatives from the Chamoru people of Guam.

They presented a simple message:
We the citizens for peace and justice on Guam voice our concern over the scheduled transfer of 8000 US Marines and the increased military buildup on Guam and the Asia/Pacific region post-September 11, 2001.

We believe that increased militarization will put our families, friends, and relatives who are living on Guam in harm’s way rather than provide safety and stability.

We voice our concern about the recent US policy and actions that would make our island home more of a target. These actions include the following: the planned expansion of runways on Guam, the presence of B-2 bombers, joint military exercises taking place on aircraft carriers near Guam, and the greater naval presence including the planned expansion of naval military facilities with more nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers.

We the citizens for peace and justice acknowledge that the US military policy is related to US economic policy, in which the valuation of the Chinese currency not being tied to the US dollar, the huge trade imbalance that the US has with China, and the Chinese owning a significant portion of the US debt through purchase of US treasury bonds in order to support the US insatiable appetite for Chinese products, has put the US economically vulnerable.

We the citizens for peace and justice on Guam know first hand the impacts of war on our families, and we believe that conflicts should, first and foremost, be resolved peacefully.

We acknowledge that the US, as the administering power, has both the moral and legal responsibility to protect the human rights to self-determination of the Chamorros, the indigenous people of Guam. As determined by the UN, increased militarization and lack of consent by the Chamorro people, infringes upon the right to self-determination.

The Australian
reported on 14 June 2008 that “by 2014 Guam will receive about 8000 US marines who will transfer from their present base in Okinawa, the Japanese Government helping pay the $10 billion-plus relocation costs. With a population of about 170,000, Guam is already home to 12,000 US military personnel and the heavy build-up promises to put further strain on local communities.”

More information can be found at the Chamoru Blog.

The public meeting was convened by the Hunter Valley Quakers and Newcastle NoWar collective.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Life beyond coal forum

Newcastle Greens
17 June 2008

Newcastle Greens Councillor Michael Osborne today announced a public forum on renewable energy development, titled ‘Life beyond Coal’, to be held at Newcastle City Hall on Friday 27th June 2008 at 7.30 pm.

“Newcastle and the Hunter can lead the way to a life beyond coal,” Newcastle Greens Councillor Michael Osborne said today.

“This forum will give people of the Hunter threatened by the expansion of the coal industry, and Newcastle, the world's largest coal port, an opportunity to openly discuss aspects of alternative energy resource development that can reduce our fossil fuel consumption without costing us our jobs or the earth.”

The Forum will be facilitated by Michael Osborne and guest speakers include:

  • Mr Ian Dunlop, former International Senior oil, gas and industry executive
  • Prof Bogdan Dlugogorski, Director, Research Centre for Energy from University of Newcastle
  • Mr Ian Murray, District President of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union
  • Jarra Hicks, National Convenor of the Australian Students Environmental Network
  • Senator Christine Milne, Greens Senator and Spokesperson for Climate Change and Renewable Energy
  • Marilyn Eade, ALP councillor on Newcastle City Council

Members of the public, industry, unions, educational and community organisations and political representatives are most welcome to attend.