OPINION | Money in coalition pockets holding back climate change action


Crispin Hull


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As Hyundai demonstrated its latest pollution-reversing hydrogen car in London this week, it is worth looking at how the policy impasse on climate-change – caused by the actions of the troglodyte right of the Coalition – threatens Australia’s economic well-being.

We first have to understand the troglodytes’ beliefs by following the money trail.

It is wrong to assume that they believe that the climate is not changing or if it is that humans are not causing it and therefore coal is okay to use. Rather it is the other way around. Their financial backers in the coal industry want to be able to continue to profit from coal, therefore the troglodytes must either deny climate change is happening or that coal has anything to do with it.

Of course, proselytising and propaganda have caused a lot of people to believe that there is no human-made climate change, in the same way that people have been convinced of a religious belief that, say, God made the earth in a week a few thousand years ago. But it is not science.

It is difficult to shift belief. It is also difficult to change the selfish view that Australia can do little on its own. We should therefore look at economics and how much these beliefs will cost Australia in the near future.

The Coalition troglodytes should contemplate over this yet-again record-breaking hot summer how their dogged determination to stick with coal and other fossil fuels is denying Australia a leading role in new industries and billions in savings by using new technology.

Climate change aside, we should be embracing renewable energy from solar and wind with battery and hydro storage because they will make our lives materially better.

Hyundai’s hydrogen car is a good example. It splits hydrogen into two positively charged protons and two negatively charged electrons. The electrons are drawn off to run the car’s electric motor. Then they and the protons are combined with oxygen from the air to form harmless water.

The oxygen has to be free of pollutants, so the incoming air is filtered. The net result is that the hydrogen car removes as much pollutant from the air per kilometre as petrol and diesel cars emit.

Hydrogen-powered cars are driven by electric engines, just like ordinary electric cars, but their energy source is stored in hydrogen fuel cells. Other electric cars use batteries, usually lithium. Both need electric power, usually from the grid, to charge them.

These cars are already here, but in the next few years, sales will boom. We do not make any cars in Australia so we will be forced to follow international trends as petrol and diesel cars are phased out. They will go the way of the film camera with the onslaught of vastly cheaper and instantly satisfying digital cameras. It took about eight years for almost the whole of the world’s camera inventory to be replaced.

Electric cars have very few moving parts, not even a gearbox. They do not emit poisonous gases into the atmosphere. And even with Australia’s inexplicably high electricity prices are far cheaper to run than petrol or diesel cars.

A battery car uses about 18kWh of electricity for 100km, say $4. A hydrogen car uses about double that, and, incidentally, unless that improves it may mean that hydrogen cars do not take off, though hydrogen trucks and buses will still make sense. A petrol or diesel car, on the other hand, costs about $10 per 100km and requires much more servicing and lubricants than electric cars do.

But if the federal government is so scared of the coal lobby that it will not develop an innovative energy and transport policy Australians will not get these benefits, or get them later and at a greater cost.

Our national government should not be contemplating subsiding or owning new coal power plants but be leading the charge. It should not be passively waiting for industry, the states and individuals to take up the technology in a haphazard way. Our government should be promoting nationwide charging stations for electric cars.

At present Australia imports about 90 per cent of its liquid fuel for transport, at a cost of about $50 billion a year.

If the Coalition is really interested in jobs and growth and running the economy it would be helping Australian industry innovate with more renewables and better battery and other storage technologies.

We should be replacing the $50 billion worth of polluting fuel with electricity from our abundant sun and wind.

This brings us to transport policy. Roads are funded directly or indirectly through registration fees and the fuel tax.

This has got to change. We should be intelligently planning for that change. In the inevitable transition to electric vehicles the $11 billion-a-year fuel tax will dry up.

As it does so, there will be obvious unfairness. A 10-year-old petrol car costs almost 5 cents a kilometre in tax. An electric car costs nothing. Also, registration is a flat fee irrespective of how far you travel or where or when you travel or how much you contribute to costly congestion and pollution in cities.

Trucks are already using telematics to work out how far they travelled and where and when they travelled so a road-use charge can be levied.

We should phase in the same technology for cars and do away with registration fees and fuel tax. In doing so, the road-use charge would be higher for higher-polluting or heavier cars.

We should also recognise that for every person who walks or cycles to work or other journey it is one less car on the road, saving governments lots of taxpayers’ money. Investment in cycleways and footpaths should not be seen as pandering to cyclists and pedestrians but as helping motorists have freer roads.

However, the Coalition troglodytes not think about these things because they are so hung up about coal that all principles about state ownership, user pays, innovation, good economic management and smart industry policy go out the window and too bad for the well-being of a majority of Australians.

And that is irrespective of anything to do with climate change. Bad climate-change policy is just collateral damage in what will become a major self-inflicted economic injury on Australia just so that the troglodytes’ mates and funders in the coal industry can be looked after.

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