Opinion: A life and death election

Dailan Pugh

This federal election will decide the quality of life for future generations, and irrespective of who wins it is looking pretty bleak.

The Nationals are hell bent on a path to runaway climate change without a care for the future, while the ALP (Australian Labor Party) are only marginally better, paying lip service to the problem while they backflip through the election campaign.

With both we get more coal and Coal Seam Gas mining, as well as the burgeoning new industry of pelletising native trees and burning them to replace coal and displace genuine renewables.

As the world cooks

We need to stop our forests and their creatures being flogged while the world cooks. With climate change gathering momentum, wildlife populations crashing, and ecosystems collapsing the earth is on the brink of an environmental disaster, its sixth mass extinction event.

Through the IPCC, the world’s leading scientists have warned us that if we want to meet the global ambition of limiting global warming to 1.5°C we need to reduce our carbon-dioxide emissions by 45 per cent by 2030, and to reach net zero by around 2050. In tandem we need to restore and expand our forests to take-up more of our carbon emissions. Forests currently absorb around a third of our emissions, and the IPCC identify we need to increase the area of forests by 9.5 million km² by 2050 to take up more carbon.

The world is currently on trend for a 3–5°C warming this century. We have run out of time to stuff around, if we are to have any chance of leaving a habitable world for the future we need to start turning things around now.

When the ALP announced their climate change action plan in April it committed to the IPCCs 1.5°C targets, with 50 per cent of electricity to be sourced from renewable energy by 2030. Though something was rotten, they had removed their prohibition on burning native forests for electricity and were spruiking ‘huge opportunities’ for an export bioenergy industry. After NEFA (North East Forest Alliance) raised our concerns in the media, local ALP candidates and the shadow energy spokesperson Mark Butler, denied there was any intent to burn native forests for electricity.

We asked for written commitments from Justine Elliot in Tweed, Patrick Deegan in Page, Andrew Woodward in Cowper and from Mark Butler.
After three weeks their only response was that the ALP would support the timber industry’s request to remove the Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI) water rule to enable subsidies for commercial plantations of pulpwood rather than just long-term environmental plantings.

Australia already has a million hectares of hardwood plantations, more than enough to provide all our hardwood sawnwood needs, except that 98 per cent of the timber harvested is used for pulplogs, and most is exported. We do not need to change the rules to provide subsidies for short rotation export timber crops at the expense of long-term carbon sequestration.

ALP support CSG and renege on forest reserves

Strangely at the same time the ALP directed us to their intent to construct gas pipelines to facilitate CSG (Coal Seam Gas) in the Northern Territory and central Queensland, where fracking the gas out of the Beetaloo basin alone is equivalent to building 50 new coal-fired power stations. Hardly reassuring.

Then on May 1 the ALP stated that at the industry’s behest they intended to renege on their policy to support the 2012 Tasmanian Forestry Agreement, a peace deal which included placing 356,000ha of forest in permanent reserves. Joel Fitzgibbon stated, ‘we do not support a Tarkine national park nor the transfer of any other timber production forests into reserves.’ The next day the ALP did a double backflip with Bill Shorten recommitting to the peace deal.

Joel Fitzgibbon wasn’t finished, later that day he released an ALP forest plan to give loggers another $20 million in subsidies, subsidise another 400,000ha of plantations, accept Regional Forest Agreements without review, and to change their policy to allow native forests to be burnt as renewable energy.

Forests needed for carbon capture

The ALP had been lying to us and are changing policy on the run to try to hold onto three marginal Tasmanian seats and appease the CFMEU.
Burning trees for electricity generates 1.5 times more carbon dioxide than coal. When we are in a climate emergency, pretending that replacing coal with trees is renewable energy that results in no carbon emissions is frighteningly dangerous stuff.

Rather than burning them, we need to restore the carbon-carrying capacity of our native forests, while establishing the new native forests needed to sequester and store more of our carbon emissions for the long term.

If we are to turn this climate emergency around we need a government that hastens our transition to genuine renewable energy while increasing the ability of our forests to take up carbon. The ALPs election backflips to appease the CFMEU are jeopardising our future, so we need at least one more.

If you live in the marginal seats of Richmond and Page you can demand of the ALP candidates Justine Elliot and Patrick Deegan that the ALP re-commit to no-burning of native forests for electricity, so we can head this threat off before it is too late. You will need to shout loudly to make the ALP listen.

To appreciate the global dimensions of the biomass threat watch the 30 minute version of Burned-Are Trees the New Coal?

♦ Dailan Pugh is from North East Forest Alliance.

10 responses to “Opinion: A life and death election”

  1. m gardner says:

    Beyond opinions
    The Climate Council’s report, ‘Climate Cuts, Cover-Ups and Censorship’ provides a detailed overview of the Australian government’s approach to climate change since the election of the Liberal-National Coalition government in 2013. The period is characterised by slashing climate science funding, cutting effective climate change programs, rejecting the expert advice of national and international bodies, senior ministers making publicly misleading claims, a lack of credible climate policy, and consistently covering up poor performance.
    This is the defining policy and leadership failure of the last decade…..

    The Climate Council has established a ‘Charter of Integrity’ for the Federal Government to use as a benchmark to track and monitor climate performance, specifically around issues of accountability, transparency, timeliness and accuracy.

  2. Most of the above was known to me & the ALP is not
    looking pretty or reliable. Labor’s answer to Climate
    Change is no answer at all.

    The ALP will burn Native Forests only & allow the
    plantation of pulpwood for the export trade:

    Support Forest Reserves fracking of the Beetaloo Basin:

    Who knows if/when/& how it will commit to NO BURNING
    can all this get?] Indeed, “TREES ARE NOT COAL”.

  3. Wendy Williams says:

    Please recommit to no burning of native forests for electricity. They are needed to sequester carbon from the air.

  4. Dot Moller says:

    The major parties are letting us down regarding Climate action. Bill Shorten has a picket fence up his derriere as he tries to please everyone. Likewise, we seem doomed if we continue on the dangerous path the LNP is taking.

    Voting for independents and minor parties who have a slightly better vision for our future seems the only option. I have lost faith in the big parties and their double speak. Thank you Dailan, for your wise words.

  5. robot says:

    So the minor parties and independants get their way in the end, which has been happening since the liberal split into the Democrats, a few with the same power of the many. Environmentalist science is always proved wrong ten years later because it isn’t science, it’s a faith or wish thinking. The real danger is we are losing the credibility of actual science, which can take time but based on hypothesis and evidence can work. We don’t want science that works, lacking art as some may say, but facts are facts, they at least form premises. Of course our human activities affect the weather, they have since the Neanderthals. Predicting ten, twenty, a hundred years in the future tho goes against the grain. And the alternatives so far are not tested over time. How often do the bearings have to be replaced in wind turbines, their most expensive component? How long before pv cells degrade? Or batteries? Then the energy cost of their recycling, as must be done. And they all have to be made from something. Huxley’s brave new world has taken a sidestep but the idea was right, we’re being lead down an unknown path and fed the soma of instant knowledge, without any real argument.

  6. robot says:

    My yearly household electricity bill is about $1000, on the lower scale, just me. I know households pay that a quarter. Say the average is $2000. 10 million households. That’s 20 trillion. That’s before industry, cities. Renewables barely make up 5%. To reach just 50%, it means multiplying by ten, that’s given a parity between renewable and fossil fuel. But is there a parity. SA leads the way in renewables tho its big battery was built in conjuction with Hornesdale, a gas plant. And its cost of electricity is the highest in the country. The hidden cost of renewables is in its subsidies. True also for fossil fuels, infrastructure for instance, but that’s also true for renewables. The lithium, nickel, cobalt, silica et cetera have to come from somewhere, not the back garden.
    The subsidies for renewables are basically there to make it affordable, to pay the energy companies their profits, or they wouldn’t do it.
    And then the recycling, we’ve hardly begun. Will we send our used batteries to China? Like we have them make our solar panels for cheap, and go on about the reduced cost.
    True, a whole lot of employment involved. Creating an inferior product, as yet. We will have a better product, have it already, it’s on the space station. So soon you will have to update that array, and pay another $30,000. Or more. Elon Musk is laughing all the way to Mars.

  7. robot says:

    We were in the same circumstances 200 years ago with the advent of that industrial revolution, which is why we now have a thousand different types of fluffy toys and plastic up to our necks.

  8. robot says:

    A credit to our tradies and crafties we’ve held onto some skills, and created some new ones. But what’s the use of something that can’t be fixed, to prolong its life, or use its parts, without having an electron microscope in the shed. That’s the only environmentalism I recognise, that practical side. The world of fauna and flora is another question, I I think we can be sentimental about it, essentially as people we’re no different, we’re born, learn, muck up, retrieve and release. The human world is yet an animal world and justly so. Even with a soul, that’s how we see beauty. The politics is about differences, how we vote. Why not just vote for the best civic leader on the card, and trust in that. Leave the ideals to poets, and the future tsoothsayers.

  9. robot says:

    Apparently the Greens would still allow for the mining of coking coal for the manufacture of steel, without which we we would all be collecting sticks, they’re allowed occasional common sense. But what company is going to do just that, without government subsidy or, indeed, a nationalised effort. In fact, why is the whole renewable sector dependant on government at all, if, indeed, it can pay for itself. There’s no law against it. Because it can’t pay for itself, silly, ask a stupid question.

  10. Dear Robot, there are ways & means that don’t cost the earth
    or bugger it up. I’m all for logic & balance & you could say that
    a dill like me just so happens to have a belief in my fellow-man
    & woman-kind & students who more often than not know &
    understand more than their elders. Cheer up! Change is
    needed – accept it. World population plays a large part in all
    of this as well as governments who hide the Fact of Climate
    Change. Science – these days – is not stupid. It’s as
    necessary as the air we breathe & the water we drink & how
    we treat one another. Naysayers are the real danger we
    face. Lets help the Governments grow up – if they’re up to
    the task. Hopefully they’ll stop lying & get on with what we
    pay them to do.

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