The Guardian 23 April, 2008
is the Minister protecting?
Niney-two percent of our energy in Australia is based on fossil. Only eight percent is based on renewable energy. Of that, seven per cent comes from hydro. So what is the federal government doing to address the urgent need to deal with climate change, in particular to reduce carbon emissions?
According to Federal Energy and Resources Minister Martin Ferguson (the above figures his), it is the government’s job to create the commercial environment for investment in the new technologies to bring in solar and other renewable energy sources.
"It is a huge challenge to Australia, but you’ve got to create the framework to encourage the investment to actually bring these ventures on commercially. It can’t be done by government. The private sector will want to commercialise its energy capacity", Mr Ferguson told Kerry O’Brien on the ABC 7.30 Report, on April 17.
"But it’s up to the government on this to create the environment, or certainly help to create the environment for the market, is it not?", O’Brien asked.
"That’s our national priority. The environment, the market that encourages this commercial investment in Australia. That will be assisted by support for research and development …", Ferguson said in reply.
In regard to priorities in the allocation of funding Ferguson defended the government’s focus on "clean coal" — something that might not come on line for 20 or 40 years, if ever. Ferguson emphasised that "it’s about creating an environment that guarantees that we make progress in terms of clean coal technology…."
He agreed that solar is now capable of, and is actually providing baseload power in the USA, at prices that are commercially viable.
"But we’re not about picking winners" Ferguson reassured viewers.
The government is focusing on an environment, but not the environment that is being damaged by the burning of fossil fuels, that supports life as we know it on earth.
Its priority when addressing climate change, as Ferguson so honestly admitted, is to create an attractive investment environment, one that pleases the markets. In other words trust the markets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and halt climate change. "It can’t be done by government", to repeat what Ferguson said.
Can’t it? Up until the Earth Summit in 1992 and the setting of targets under the Kyoto Protocol, governments had done very little to protect the environment — the natural environment of the planet. Governments have by and large been very slow to recognise the dangers of environmental degradation, leaving it to the markets. And look at the mess they got us into!
The markets have failed dismally to pursue economically and environmentally sustainable development. Left to their own devices they will never succeed, regardless of what cosmetic programs or green-sounding utterances they come up with.
The reason for this is contained within Ferguson’s comments: the "markets are a reference to the sources of investment capital and the trading in energy and energy shares". When Ferguson says "commercially viable" he actually means "able to make big profits". Leaving it to the markets means the prime motive for the development of alternative renewable energy sources becomes profits. The fact it might be of some environmental benefit is secondary to the profit-making objective.
The big corporations look at the climate change crisis through narrow dollar signs. They examine environmental issues as potential profit-generating sources.
Under capitalism, decisions regarding the use of resources, production and the provision of services (including energy), are based on what is profitable, regardless of the social, environmental or economic damage it might do to others or nature or community need. Mining companies, for example, do not think twice when it comes to destroying rivers, relocating communities, poisoning local water supplies, or polluting the atmosphere with toxic fumes. As long as they are making big bucks.
The impact of their actions is not the decisive factor, for them it is the bottom line that counts. While coal companies continue to believe they can milk billions of dollars more out of their existing or new investments in coal mines that is what they will do. That is unless there is strong government intervention.
Ferguson says the government is not about picking winners. That might be more true than he realises. By giving priority to the investment environment and private profits, the government is picking losers. The losers are the people, the animals and plants of this rich and diverse planet. They will lose badly if climate change is not brought under control, and for that to happen, governments must take responsibility and act decisively to quickly develop alternative renewable energy sources.