After last week's blackouts, record heat and bizarre coal worshipping rituals in parliament, Ross Gittins has sarcastically concluded it as just as well we don't need to worry about global warming - Don't worry, climate change is just imaginary.
Malcolm Turnbull, the man who lost his job as party leader because was so keen to see action he supported the Labor government's emissions trading scheme, is now keen to ensure it never happens again. The squeakiest wheels in the party want him to demonise renewable energy, blaming it for all the blackouts and price rises? Introduce new government subsidies for coal while making the future for power generation so uncertain no one's game to invest in anything?
Sure. Whatever it takes. (Don't worry, Malcolm, I'm sure all the people inside and outside the Liberal fold who were so pleased when you became Prime Minister – me included – will learn to accept your need to abandon everything we know you believe and start doing Tony Abbott impressions.)
It's the easiest thing in the world for people to imagine that whatever's been happening lately is much bigger and more terrible than ever before.
Trouble is, the scientists keep confirming our casual impressions. A report this month prepared by top climate scientists for the independent Climate Council, is all bad news. They say all extreme weather events in Australia are now occurring in an atmosphere that's warmer and wetter than it was in the 1950s. "Heatwaves are becoming hotter, lasting longer and occurring more often," they say. "Extreme fire weather and the length of the fire season is increasing, leading to an increase in bushfire risk." ...
Of course, none of this is having any effect on agriculture. It must be a great comfort to our farmers to know that, by order of Barnaby Joyce and the National Party, climate change is a figment of the climate scientists' imagination. This is good news, since I read that reliable rainfall and predictable temperature ranges are critical to agricultural production, and these are the very factors affected by a changing climate – if it was changing, which it isn't.
A new CSIRO study, led by Dr Zvi Hochman, has found that Australia's average yields from wheat-growing more than tripled between 1900 and 1990 thanks to advances in technology, but have stalled in the years since then. The study found that, since 1990, our wheat-growing zone had experienced an average rainfall decline of 2.8 millimetres, or 28 per cent per cropping season, and a maximum daily temperature increase of about 1 degree.
Australia's "yield potential" – determined by climate and soil type – which is always much higher than farmers' actual yields, has fallen by 27 per cent since 1990. So all the efforts farmers have made to improve their yields with better technology and methods have served only to offset the effects of climate change, leaving them no better off. "Assuming the climate trends we have observed over the past 26 years continue at the same rate, even if farmers continue to improve their practices, it is likely that the national wheat yield will fall," Hochman says.
Meanwhile the local press is full of stories like "Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and ministers were told wind not to blame for South Australia blackout" (explaining the government deliberately lied when they tried to blame wind power for SA grid outages), EnergyAustralia boss says shift to renewables “a reality”, need for plan “urgent” and this excellent article from Ian Verrender, concluding "carbon pricing is inevitable" - The simple truth: Coal-fired generators have no future in Australia.
As the finger-pointing over higher prices nationally, blackouts in South Australia and threatened disruptions across the eastern states escalates, any notion over rational debate on how best to address the nation's long-term energy challenges has evaporated.
Put aside the irony that the recent run of misfortune on the national electricity grid is the direct result of a savage uptick in extreme weather conditions, a trend the vast bulk of climate scientists have been warning of for decades.
The simple truth is that, despite the entertaining theatre of insults in the national capital, Australia's future power needs overwhelmingly will be provided by renewables and gas. Coal-fired generators have no future in Australia. That is a trend driven by energy generators and consumers, both of which have abandoned hope of policy leadership from Parliament.
Generators jettisoned the idea of coal years ago, at least when it comes to building new power stations, because they carry too much risk. You're looking at upwards of $1 billion for a large-scale coal-fired generator that would be expected to last around 50 years.
No rational businessperson is willing to commit that kind of funding over that period, in an electoral cycle that lasts just three years. And that's just the equity side. An investment of that magnitude also requires huge amounts of project debt and, faced with the prospect of stranded assets and non-performing loans, financiers have wiped their hands of the idea of coal-fired electricity.
Consumers, meanwhile, have plunged into renewables, with Australians among the world's fastest adopters of rooftop solar.
Big business now seems to be abandoning the conservatives to their collective delusion, with the country's largest utility, Energy Australia, declaring we need a national plan for shifting to renewable energy - EnergyAustralia boss says shift to renewables “a reality”, need for plan “urgent”.
One of Australia’s largest operators of coal-fired power plants has weighed into the national energy debate, calling for a non-partisan push to clean energy and reminding policy makers that the shift to renewables is “a reality” that must be addressed.
In a full page advertisement published in major national newspapers on Tuesday, Energy Australia managing director Catherine Tanna (pictured below) said the way the country generated energy “had to change”, and that her company – owner of the Yallourn coal power plant, among others – was prepared to do its bit to make this happen.
“We believe all Australians should have reliable, affordable energy,” Tanna said in the letter, mirroring one of Malcolm Turnbull’s favourite energy sound-bites. “However, the way we generate, deliver and use energy has to change and I’m determined EnergyAustralia will live up to its responsibility.”