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15.6.04

Sustainable Australia

Coal Remains King In Solar Age

A national energy strategy unveiled by the Prime Minister offers $700 million in incentives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but will slash $1.5 billion from fuel tax and continue heavy reliance on coal and other fossil fuels.

Declaring the Federal Government was responding to the threat of global warming "the smart way", John Howard insisted the country was right to exploit its fossil fuels to secure economic prosperity.

... The Greens leader, Bob Brown, said Mr Howard was spending $32 on polluting energy for every dollar spent on renewable energy. "It's absolutely retrograde, it's backward. We're not even paddling water here," he said.

Mr Howard said it was not in the national interest "to lock up and leave undeveloped our natural resources. As an efficient global supplier, we need to be positioned to meet growing demand while also moving to a low-emissions future."


This is a pretty typical center-right environmental package -- a few showy token bits of high-tech sustainability coupled with broad boosts for old "dirty" industries and practices. I kind of like Howard's justification for it, though -- basically "it's there, so we might as well use it up before we move on to the next thing."

If Australia's worried about its international economic standing, a major national push toward sustainable technologies seems to be a good idea. It's a small enough country that it would be able to experiment more readily, having less infrastructural inertia to overcome than a bigger nation like the US. There would be the knock-off effect of helping to stem the country's brain drain by creating incentives for domestic scientific development. And rather than simply running out its resource endowment advantage and waiting to cross the sustainability bridge when it gets there, Australia could position itself to be at the forefront of the inevitable global shift away from fossil fuels, well able to export its model for a tidy profit.

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