Happy New Year to all readers, I hope 2019 brings you good health, good fortune, and happiness.
Severe heat marked the beginning of the year and already our emergency services personnel – paid and voluntary – have been busy helping those in need. I thank them.
Our climate is changing in challenging ways. Our weather is becoming hotter, more erratic and droughts are proving more regular and protracted. These are unfortunate facts and we should not waste any time contesting them. Yes, someone can always point to a hot day or a bad storm in 1939 or on some past date, but the real story is in the averages and the regularity of occurrence.
There are smart things we can do to help avoid further detrimental change. It need not come at a heavy economic cost; new technologies are making the task easier and less expensive. The alternative is to do nothing and risk leaving a more difficult challenge to our grandchildren. I believe that would be a big mistake. If you remain unconvinced action is required, think of it as an insurance policy. We insure our homes against fire, even though we feel confident we will never need to use it. It’s a rational thing to do. On climate change, is there sufficient evidence to conclude an insurance policy is not necessary? I think not.
Of course drier, hotter and more erratic weather brings immediate economic costs. It hurts our farmers and the taxpayers trying to help them. It disrupts ports, airlines and other economic activity. Indeed it costs us all in higher energy bills as we crank the air conditioners up for longer. There can be no doubt that acting on climate change is cheaper than not acting.
In Australia there are people who still want the climate debate to be about coal-fired electricity generation only. But the reality is investors are not interested in building new coal-fired generation because they are expensive and the rate of financial return is not sufficient. Our existing coal-fired generators are coming to the end of their economic lives and investors are putting their money elsewhere: into gas, solar, wind and pumped hydro projects. These are decisions being made not by government, but by investors. This does not pose a threat to our local coal mining industry because more than 90 per cent of the coal we mine is exported rather than used for local power generation.
The other environmental issue which deserves more thought during 2019 is the world’s diminishing water resources. It’s a problem made more challenging by population growth. I encourage those with ready access to the internet to google “NASA GRACE” (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment), which will take you to the stocktake NASA has done on the world’s underground water resources. It is not encouraging reading.
Communities around the world need to get smarter about water use and water efficiency. Water infrastructure including dams, will continue to play a primary role and in some cases, new dams will be part of the answer. But dams are expensive and bring other environmental challenges. They also lose much of their content to evaporation.
Just as governments have encouraged the uptake of roof-top solar energy, governments around the world should be doing more to encourage the installation of home water tanks and other water efficiency measures. Further, Australia is an under-performer in water recycling. Governments need to acknowledge this and plan to do better.