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Claiming Coal Can Be Clean Is Like Saying Smoking Can Be Healthy

The more coal we burn, the more heatwaves and bushfires we'll get.

13/02/2017 11:16 AM AEDT | Updated 13/02/2017 11:33 AM AEDT
Fairfax
Scott Morrison and his chunk of coal.

We've been hearing a lot about coal from the Turnbull Government recently.

The Treasurer, Scott Morrison, is so fond of coal he brandished a chunk of it in Parliament's question time last week like a bizarre talisman. Unfortunately for Scott Morrison, Australians are not all that interested in his question time performances.

They want answers, especially in regional New South Wales where residents suffered through bushfires and unbearable heat following warnings of blackouts on Friday, and in South Australia, where blackouts have recently hit. They want to know why their health and safety has been put on the line.

And the answer was right there in the Treasurer's overly excitable palm.

Burning coal is the leading cause of the carbon pollution that is driving global warming. The more coal we burn, the more heatwaves we'll get and, tragically, the more bushfires.

While we were spared rolling blackouts on the weekend, that risk will only increase as global warming makes extreme heat events more common.

And when a heatwave is bad enough -- like over the weekend when temperatures exceeded 40 degrees across regional New South Wales -- the spike in power use from things such as air conditioners and fridges can overwhelm the grid.

While we were spared rolling blackouts on the weekend, that risk will only increase as global warming makes extreme heat events more common. The good news is we have the ability to deal with both energy security and global warming, while creating tens of thousands of new jobs, through renewable energy and storage.

Moving away from fossil fuels and towards clean renewables such as solar and wind is the best thing we can do to reduce the carbon pollution that accelerates global warming. If we reform our antiquated electricity system, rapidly increasing our use of renewables and storage solutions such as batteries and solar thermal plants, as well as ensuring a prominent role for household rooftop solar, we can have much cheaper power and a more reliable energy grid.

While state governments around the country understand this and are working toward renewable energy targets, the Turnbull Government is so blinded by its apparent love of coal that it wants to head in the other direction -- the past.

The Turnbull Government recently announced it would consider taking money from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, a government program to support renewable energy, and put it into building new coal-fired power generators.

The Prime Minister is talking up thought bubbles dreamed up by the coal industry in its hopeless and half-hearted attempts to deal with its excessive, dangerous emissions. These false solutions such as 'carbon capture' are prohibitively expensive and, in the rare cases that they have been used, they have failed to reduce carbon pollution in any meaningful sense. Even Shell, which has invested in just two carbon-capture coal plants globally, has refused to fund more because of the prohibitive cost.

The jobs of today and the future are in renewable energy and storage, not in propping up the dying coal industry with expensive technology that only deals with a tiny fraction of the climate pollution from coal-fired power stations.

Claiming coal can be clean is like saying cigarettes are good for your health and the Prime Minister needs to come clean on the real reasons for his coal addiction.

The Prime Minister's recent obsession will coal-fired power, which was central to his National Press Club address this month, is a sop to his party's climate deniers and fossil fuel donors.

The Prime Minister's coal obsession has nothing to do with science or economics and everything to do with politics and power.

We learnt this week that the resources industry donated almost $800 000 to the federal Liberal party in the past financial year.

And the Prime Minister became even more beholden to his backbenchers last week, no matter how anti-science their climate views are, with Senator Bernardi quitting the Coalition, leaving the government with one less member in a finely balanced Parliament where every vote can count.

The Prime Minister's coal obsession has nothing to do with science or economics and everything to do with politics and power.

Sadly, it risks literally leaving Australians without power, but only in the electric sense.

As a community we can work together to support renewable energy, move away from coal, and protect future generations from even hotter, more dangerous summers.

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