Tracey Anton’s report (below) on John Hewson’s proposal for a coal to oil project in the Latrobe Valley has changed things in this column. As recently as 2 weeks ago I was nominating him as one of the very few leaders recognising the need for action on climate change on the conservative side of politics in Australia. About 2 years ago Hewson impressed me when he spoke at a Breakthrough conference on Climate Change. As I have been continuously searching for politicians on the right of centre to smooth the approach to bipartisanship he was one of very few rays of hope. Because he recognises that Climate Change is the most important issue and that action is necessary this is a step in the right direction and still puts him a country mile in front of his fellow conservatives.
On the downside some of his proposals for acting on climate change are dubious. For instance he appears to have been promoting a particular form of concentrated thermal energy in which he possibly has an interest whilst denigrating other, very similar, working technologies. The technology for coal to oil production has been around for a long time and has failed to take off. It is not the answer to reducing our greenhouse gases for a number of reasons. When it is burnt it still produces carbon dioxide. To these greenhouse gas emissions must be added those that are produced in the mining, manufacturing and distribution of this product. Only when all emissions are counted can we consider whether it will help us in our struggle to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to zero as quickly as possible. I have not seen anything to suggest coal to oil is even part of the answer. John Hewson appears to be ‘flogging a dead horse’ and his attempt to flog it in the Latrobe Valley is a retrograde step.
I recommend that John (and all of us) watch some of the ‘disruption’ Youtube videos by Tony Seba. The disruptions that Seba is talking about are in the crucial energy and public transport areas – solar energy, battery storage, electric vehicles. According to Seba these things will be adopted in an incredibly fast rate hence the terms ‘disruptive’ and ‘disruptions’. Seba gives disruptive technology examples such as the change from film to digital cameras and from landline to mobile phones. In each case of disruption there are stranded assets eg. Kodak. With the energy and transport disruptions which Seba claims will be inevitable the list of possible stranded assets included coal, big oil and the internal combustion industry is large.
With that clearly in mind residents of the Latrobe Valley and Gippsland, their politicians, and governments at all levels should be planning for a just and smooth transition from coal powered energy to renewables as quickly as possible. The time frame for action is narrowing rapidly when the ‘disruption’ will come to the Valley with its mines and power plants becoming ‘obsolete’ and ‘stranded assets’. Whether we plan and prepare or not it will be all over by 2030. We need the Just Transition to begin now.