Can’t we have less waste, less pollution and more renewable energy?

I think that companies that are making millions of dollars should be forced to use renewable energy, and/or invest in it; they should be doing their bit for the planet. The government should not be forcing householders to pay a tax or more for living, food, electricity etc., especially when they can’t stop what big business does to the environment, or what the government spends the carbon money on.

You can’t be serious that the burning of fossil fuels doesn’t hurt the environment; even if you don’t believe in climate change, this would be one point that I don’t agree with. Also I don’t agree that the planet needs more emissions to be able to grow food, as plants were growing on this planet long before companies started burning fossil fuels to fuel factories.


The key thing to grasp is that carbon dioxide is not a pollutant, not poisonous and is a beneficial gas in the atmosphere. It is colourless, odourless and non-toxic. It is the holes in your bread and the bubbles in your beer. And it is present in the atmosphere in minute quantities. Over 99.9% of the atmosphere is other gases, but every living creature relies on there being enough CO2 in the air to survive.

People who run greenhouses pump CO2 into them to help the plants grow. More CO2 in the air has allowed us to produce more food, and makes plants stronger and more resistant to heat, cold and drought. People have done careful experiments on this, and warmer temperatures and more CO2 are significant factors in all plant growth.

You are of course correct that plants grew long before we started to burn coal and oil, but food production (and population) were far, far lower then. Aerial fertilisation by man-made CO2 is a significant factor in allowing the growth in world population (as is in-ground fertilisation by nitrogen fertilisers from the same fossil carbon industry). No doubt people will say our population is too large, and in places that may be true, but it is not sustainable without carbon fuels and the food they help to produce and transport. That is the ugly truth, which will be illustrated in several countries soon.

There is also no essential difference between wood, grass, natural gas and coal – all are natural non-toxic hydro-carbon materials with all the elements of life in their structure. Ethanol and whiskey are man-made versions of the same things. Burning any one of them will produce mainly two harmless gases – water vapour (which is what you can see emitting from power stations) and carbon dioxide (which is invisible).

That is not to say that burning these materials in open fires does not cause addition of some gases that are noxious to humans in heavy concentrations (like oxides of sulphur, nitrogen, metals, ash and other particles, or even the poisonous carbon monoxide). The cause of the bad pollution in Asia is not coal fired power stations (modern ones remove almost everything except the beneficial gases of life: water and carbon dioxide). The clouds of pollution choking Asian cities is caused by bushfires in Indonesia, cow dung cooking fires in India, dirty smelters and open fires in China and North Korea and the occasional volcano. Most of these problems have been largely solved in the rich developed world by using clean silent invisible electricity in our cities. Cars are the big polluters in our cities, but even they improve every year.

It always seems attractive to tax the hell out of those rich corporations. But corporations are just people at the end. Our biggest coal company in Queensland is BHP, owned by millions of little people like public servants via pension funds, your parents via savings, and lots of other little people.

And we cannot contain taxes – they keep spreading around – if we tax more heavily every tonne of coal burnt, one of two things will happen (probably a bit of both) – power prices will rise, or some power stations will close down (the huge brown coal stations in Victoria, who supply massive power to the Australian electricity grid will be the first to close). Again, blackouts or increases in power costs will follow (and both are already happening because of carbon hysteria in several countries). And the share prices for coal mines and power stations will fall, making it difficult to raise more money to build wind farms, solar cities or anything else. (Why do you think the government of NSW is desperate to sell their power stations?)

There are direct taxes and sneaky taxes.

If I decide to reduce pollution in the city of Brisbane, I could put a toll gate on every main road, collecting a central city pollution tax from every vehicle. That is a direct tax. Everyone can see what it is for and what it achieves. If you don’t pollute the city with car fumes, you don’t pay it. Honest and open.

Or I could decide to force Energex to get 18% of their power from “renewables”. That costs them money for wind farms and things. There are only two places for them to get the money – from consumers like you via increased electricity charges or from shareholders like your parents via reduced dividends. These are the sneaky taxes which only one person in a hundred will recognise. And the posturing politicians who levy them can blame the increased costs on wicked corporations. (As an aside, the government of Queensland does force Energex and other suppliers to get 18% of electricity from expensive “renewables”.)

But no matter how much we wish for it, wind and solar will never supply the quantity of electricity we are using now for our survival and comfort. There is just not enough sun, wind or geothermal where we need it. Solar is good for hot water systems, but not for powering processing plants, factories and big cities. The carbon cutting goals can only be achieved by either a massive switch to nuclear power, which seems politically unlikely in Australia, or a severe reduction in power use per person.

And what about the cars, trucks, planes and ships that supply us all with daily food, travel and goods? There is no feasible option for replacing carbon fuels in less than decades, and then the only real option yet visible is hydrogen fuel generated by coal or nuclear power!

So, we cannot cut carbon usage significantly, or punish carbon using companies, without punishing ourselves severely and in unexpected ways. Already the costs of food and power are spiralling up, and the major cause is fear of carbon taxes, or subsidies that are diverting food to produce motor fuel or using up other resources to produce renewable energy.

It is a long complicated story, and most people do not go past catchy slogans. Chanting the slogans are people with other agendas, which do not include our prosperity or jobs for our kids.

Lots of people also think, deep down, that “we are a wasteful society and some good may come of all this”. Everyone thinks those other people are wasteful. But waste is a value judgement. I do not drink beer or eat bread, unless there are no polite options. Therefore the massive resources devoted to making bread and beer are “waste” in my eyes. We could turn those fields of wheat and barley to native grasses and “waste” would be reduced.

Other people do not eat meat, and thus believe people like us who breed cattle and sheep should be closed down and the land restored to national parks. What is “waste” and what is “essential” industry is a value judgement and we will never agree on any government enforced measure to “reduce waste”. In fact every law will create more waste, as it will stop some things that some people value and encourage other things that other people consider waste – no one will be completely happy. The total “waste” in society is a reflection of the amount to which government distorts things. Left to ourselves, liable for the full cost of every thing we choose to use, and not taxed for a single thing we do not want, we will minimise the total waste in society.

Viv Forbes

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