Clean Coal – The Greatest Moral Challenge of our Time

Bob Brown has said that coal companies should pay the costs of all flood damage because the use of coal is (supposedly) the basic cause of climate change, and is specifically responsible for the violent rains that have hit eastern Australia.

As leader of a major political party, The Greens, Bob should be more responsible in his public statements as, in the 2010 Federal Election, he repeatedly assured voters that the Greens have left the lunatic fringe and joined the mainstream of our political landscape where you have to accept responsibility for your policies and actions.

His latest utterances were probably caused by a delayed inspiration from Kevin Rudd’s infamous declaration that climate change is the greatest moral challenge of our lifetime.

When I was a student of the North State School in Toowoomba in 1942, my teacher gave a lecture on the great flood of 1893 which devastated much of New South Wales and Queensland, describing it as an Act of God that would never occur again. He asked us to write an essay about its impact on the lives of Toowoomba people whose homes and businesses had been almost totally destroyed by it.

I got the cane when I wrote that I did not accept that the flood was an Act of God as I could not believe in a God who killed or punished people. Years later, I found that the floods of 1974 and 2011 were not as severe as 1893.

So, if Bob Brown had been my school teacher and asked me to write a similar essay, I would have asked him the question as to what caused the 1893 flood. The world had a population of only one billion then, compared with six and a half billion now. The world’s consumption of coal at that time was a tiny fraction of current usage, and most Australians did not have electricity connected to their homes.

Would Bob have called on the coal mines of 1893 to pay for the flood damage? What happened in that tumultuous year — when there was a stock exchange crash, some bank failures and an economic depression as well, enough to get Hanrahan really excited — was that Mother Nature, without any direction from God, went out on the town and really let her hair down at the party of her lifetime. She will do it again, any time, any place, even if the world stops using coal totally.

So, coal is still with us and always will be. It will continue to supply 80 per cent of the world’s power no matter how many alternatives we develop, such as nuclear power, which is the only other power source that will ever compete with it. The world’s population will grow from 6.5 billion to 9.5 billion by 2050, and they will all demand more power, bearing in mind that half of the world’s current population don’t have power to their homes now, and more and more of them will rightly demand it.

But, it would be irresponsible for us not to acknowledge that coal residue does affect our health, even if it doesn’t affect our weather. We must create clean coal by capturing or eliminating all of its carbon. This is a massive task as, every year, humanity sends 37 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide up into the atmosphere, not all of which comes from coal.

The massive Gorgon LNG development in Western Australia will incorporate the world’s largest Carbon Capture and Storage project. Thus, I am disturbed that the current Federal Budget cuts remove investment in clean coal research. I am also concerned that the Queensland Government has withdrawn its financial support from the clean coal company that it established — Zero Gen.

Neither of these acts can be justified as it is a simple statement of fact that, if the world suddenly stops buying our coal, Australia will fulfill Paul Keating’s prediction that we will become a banana republic. Even if my readers totally disagree with my assumptions about coal, they should be screaming for increased investment in clean coal, as our future depends on it.

It is also important for us to politely inform environmentalists that it is absolutely ridiculous for them to continue calling for the world to stop using coal. It would be more sane to ask the Sun not to come up tomorrow morning. Our challenge is to create a world in which clean energy is sourced from dirty coal.

So imperative is the issue of clean coal, that I will expand our discussion of it over the next two issues of Everald@ Large. In preparation for this, I have lined up some excellent advisers from all sides of the debate about this fascinating subject.

It is sufficient to say now that China and the United States, who between them provide 45 per cent of the world’s pollution of the atmosphere, are investing massively in carbon capture and storage. Some Australian coal mining companies are heavy investors in those projects in both nations. They are not the bad corporate citizens that Bob Brown says they are.

What is more interesting is that China is making a far greater effort than America, to the extent that many Americans actually work in China on Chinese Clean Coal Projects, because they reckon that the Chinese will be the first to find a solution.

What is even more interesting is that the majority of scientists working on Clean Coal Projects in both nations are female. This gives me great hope for the future as they take up their tasks with greater passion than their male counterparts.