July 2003 #3

When Vanuatu Meets the Latrobe Valley

Our local council produces, at rate payer's expense, a quarterly news sheet that is fairly bland and full of "puff pieces" so I was not overly amazed to see another industry puff piece come out in the last edition. It was headlined "Brown Coal will Meet the Challenge of Global Warming" and it caught my eye. This lovingly crafted bit of wordsmithing must have come from one of the spinmeisters employed by the local privatised power companies, yet there was no disclaimer attached to it, so at least I have had confirmed my understanding that this news sheet is not real journalism.

The article implored us to take a "big picture" view of the brown coal generation process and that 72% of the greenhouse emissions in Victoria were from "stationary energy". What that means wasn't explained. Of course the industry argues that that term includes things like bush fires, cows and other "natural" emissions. But what the writer didn't tell us was what the proportion of that 72% of pollution came from power stations fired by brown coal.

Another "big picture" issue the writer implores us to grasp is energy reduction strategies. He or she begs us to consider using renewable energy or consuming less energy. While this is what we should be doing the incentives to do so are very few. The government does sponsor some energy saving initiatives, but shouldn't that be their focus. If they diverted the subsidies and tax breaks they gave to the coal and power industry, the extra investment that could be made in renewable energy technologies would be considerable.

The third big picture issue is that we all have to "understand that we have a part to play" and that we will "all pay the price of not getting it right". The interesting thing is that the writer is spot on, but then goes on to reveal the real intention of the article - or should I say propaganda piece. The writer goes on to say "the reality is that we live in an eco (nomic) sphere". They proceed to then tell us that the reality is that in the market driven privately owned energy world we now live in, the bottom line is what counts. "There must be a cost if we are to buy goods and services while expecting them to be produced in more environmentally acceptable ways". True. But who is being asked to bear the burden of that cost? Not the shareholders! Not the corporate floozies on $200,000 a year, but the community in general. While it can be argued that the rich pay the same for goods and services as the rest of us, many of them have elaborate schemes to avoid paying out of their own pocket for anything. The writer goes on to explain that "provided change [to sustainable energy sources] occurs at an appropriate pace . the adaptation process should not be painful". Decoded that means "the industry" will tell you what is right, appropriate and timely and if there is pain to be borne, the community will bear it, not us.

So who is driving this drivel and propaganda program? An interesting revelation is made in the article. The writer reports that "in June 2003 Australian and Victorian (???, there is a difference?) politicians, bureaucrats and industry representatives met in Washington to discuss international cooperation in developing [sustainable] technologies". Of course the writer is assuming that most people won't put two and two together. 

The US and Australia are the two most stubborn resisters to signing the Kyoto protocol. The Australian coal and power industry is rife with US capital that is finding it hard to make a buck. The US and Australian governments, ably guided by their business lobby groups are just about to sign off on the latest so called "Free Trade Agreement" and, finally, the US energy lobby was probably giving our blokes some helpful tips on how to convince us that brown coal is good for us. This ties in with the fourth big picture issue we need to focus on, so the writer tells us, evolution and we need to work with it "not against it".

The article concludes with a dire warning. It says "Ultimately the vast resources of Latrobe Valley brown coal can underpin a secure, competitive, very low emission hydrogen economy in Victoria; and there are people with vision and drive who want to see Victoria at the leading edge of such developments and are actively planning for it now".

Notice that. "THEY are actively planning for it now". Who are these nameless, faceless people? What do they have planned? Why are they so secretive? Who will benefit from their plans? And who will lose? Why, if they are going to change the way my community exists, doesn't this industry propagandist expose these people so we can question them?

On TV last night I saw a story that looked at the sinking Pacific Islands and how one Island nation, Vanuatu, wants Australia to open up for the flood (excuse he pun) of people from their island state as the sea level rises and overtakes their homes. Of course the government says that to try and look after a people we will help destroy is not on. "To create a special visa class would be discriminatory" said a government spokesperson. Once more we have the nexus between government and business exposed via a half page piece in a rural news-sheet, funded by the rate payers of my community.

Democracy is not flourishing in my state. People without names are "planning" the future of my community without ever having presented their plans to us. They certainly haven't presented their plans to the good people of Vanuatu and they have never stood for election as representatives who could represent my community's interests. The politician's role in this is just as culpable. They enact legislation to allow developments that harm us while they allow tax breaks and "revenue relief" for businesses who, at the same time, scream free market economics.

One of the chief concerns of ecologists is to find ways of keeping the ecological environment balanced. They study the way ecosystems evolve and how species adapt to that environment and how the whole becomes balanced and sustainable. If our writer is going to produce propaganda like the article mentioned above, it would best serve them to not attempt specious comparisons with the natural environment. After all, if homo-econimus is to rule, the environment will become even more unbalanced and unsustainable. I guess what the writer was getting at when they mentioned "adaptation" was that the people in the highly polluted Latrobe Valley (like me) will evolve and develop dust filters for noses and the people of the Pacific islands will develop gills. Evolution will play its part in sorting out the fittest of the species, but like the rest of us, homo-econimus needs to stay warm, dry and healthy. Oh, and breath the same air as the rest of us.