Business

What if environmentalists won?

IN THE end, it wasn't really painful.  Especially for Queenslanders.

Talk about stacking the deck in our favour.  Sunshine to power the economy?  No problem.  We had plenty of it lying around.

Even now, while we're capturing it as fast as we can, my back deck is still drowning in the stuff.

And the notion that energy could be generated from plant waste wasn't news to us.  Our sugar mills had been doing it for years.

Building and operating solar thermal power stations created thousands of jobs in construction, project management, component manufacturing, plant operation, research and development - many of them in regional areas with unparalleled solar resources such as Julia Creek, Miles, Barcaldine (Figure 8).

Electricity prices got pushed up a bit.  They'd been heading North for various reasons for a while anyway.  But once we covered those upfront capital costs - the power stations, new high voltage transmission infrastructure - and we no longer had to pay for fuel to be fed into the State's generators, wholesale prices eased up and we ended up no worse off.

In fact, we ended up better off, because many of us protected our homes and businesses from higher input costs by becoming more energy efficient, insulating, switching to solar hot water, and all of that stuff paid for itself in just a few years.  It didn't supply and install itself, which meant more jobs for Queenslanders.

We even managed to carry on as an energy exporting State, bottling our sunshine as ethanol, methanol and hydrogen for cold and cloudy foreign markets.  More income, more jobs.

Once greenhouse pollution was no longer free, it drove all sorts of niche enterprise and innovation as companies sought to reduce their overheads.  Businesses sprang up that captured methane from municipal tips, charging local councils less to capture the gas than councils would have to pay if they just let it loose into the atmosphere, and supplementing that income by selling the gas as fuel.

Farmers and other landowners found ways to store more carbon in their soils, capture the methane from effluent, and tweak their stock's diet to reduce greenhouse emissions.  They found they could reduce emissions for less than the cost of the carbon price and sell carbon credits to industries in Australia and abroad that had not yet worked out how to reduce their own emissions so cheaply.  Farming is often tough, with tight margins, and this proved to be a handy additional income stream that kept our prime land producing.

The IT sector prospered, as it proved to be the key to significant energy efficiency gains.

We even saved money in unexpected places.  The cost of public health went down as our efforts to reduce our exposure to oil resulted in urban design that encouraged walking and cycling for the vast majority of Queenslanders who live in the cities.  Greater physical activity meant less heart disease, less type 2 diabetes, fewer strokes (p.20), and ultimately fewer patient days in acute hospital care per head of population.

No hair shirts were worn.  No skies fell in upon us.  We thrived and prospered and are as blessed and strong today as we ever were.

I attended the federal Climate Commission's Brisbane session during the week and read their report, which includes a section on the opportunities that arise as we respond to climate change.  Amidst the bitterly polarized and politicised public debate about this issue, we so often focus exclusively on costs, loss and threats.  But this was a timely reminder that with significant economic change also comes new opportunities, and we are already demonstrating that we have the nous to capitalise on them.

Adam Stone is Lead Senate Candidate for the Queensland Greens.

Topics:  economy electricity jobs opinion solar power



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