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Newsletter 358

Published September 29, 2020
Australian government unveils visionary new energy policy

Having watched the new David Attenborough film twice this week in preparation for a review, I need no further convincing that the planet is well and truly buggered. Attenborough looks at all the diabolical things we’ve done to the natural world, gives a very clear account of exactly what will happen if we carry on with our destructive ways, and then offers clear and simple solutions. It’s the nature of those solutions that makes me feel we’re all doomed. They are so very sensible, so obviously to the benefit of everyone – and indeed, the future – that I can’t imagine any of our political leaders taking them on board.

It may be telling that Attenborough’s environmental success stories are Costa Rica and Palau – hardly among the world’s superpowers. The former has restored its forests, the latter has revived its seas and fish population. Could bigger nations learn from their example? Yes, most certainly. Will they do so? Well, you’ll have to ask the CEOs of the big corporations that see no immediate profit in adopting such measures. In Australia you’ll have to check with both the Coalition and the Labor Party to see if anyone has grown a conscience or a spine when it comes to combatting climate change.

As of this week we know where Scummo’s mob stands: they’ve just announced an energy policy that diverts funds from existing renewables in order to pursue fields such as gas, hydrogen and carbon capture. Coal, at least, seems to be slipping off the table, perhaps because businesses and banks won’t have anything to do with it, despite the government’s best attempts to spruik an industry that capitalism’s ineffable laws of the jungle had long ago consigned to oblivion. There are no targets in this new policy, which means the government need feel no pressure to do anything at all.

It’s completely perverse not to concentrate on things that are actually working – ie. solar and wind – while pouring money into uncertain fields such as soil carbon capture. Is Scummo’s gang simply too stubborn to admit they’ve been wrong all along? It’s the same story with the NBN. After derailing Labor’s policy of hi-speed connections because it was too expensive, they’ve just announced a multi-billion dollar investment to do the same thing – at a far greater cost.

As for the Opposition, they have their own issues with coal and gas, which are supposed to provide employment for the workers they once represented. This obsession with preserving jobs in dying industries is preventing the growth of jobs in viable ones, retarding longterm economic growth while propping up a declining status quo. It’s easy to say, but hard to get anyone to break the cycle. Would they be impressed to learn from David Attenborough that every day the earth’s vegetation absorbs 3 trillion kilowatt hours worth of energy from the sun, which is more than three times what we need to run the world? Me, I was impressed.

The art column this week, in the run-up to the annual Archibald Prize extravaganza, remains in Canberra. I’ve written about Endeavour Voyage, easily the best of a scrappy group of Captain Cook exhibitions being held by Australian museums in the year that marks the 250th anniversary of that momentous journey up the east coast. As Cook is a political hot potato nowadays, hardly anyone has dared to do a really comprehensive show. Hardly anyone except the National Museum of Australia, which has put togther an excellent exhibition that breaks new ground in our understanding of the voyage, and of Cook’s interactions with the local inhabitants.

In terms of sheer professionalism, the NMA is the quiet but steady improver among Australian cultural institutions. The art galleries are superficially more glamorous places but compared to the grass roots research the NMA undertakes, they are just skimming the surface. It’s an endemic problem in a world that believes appearances are more important than actual achievements. Rather than do anything – whether it be dealing with global warming or initiating an exhibition – just send out a press release blowing your own trumpet. There’ll always be enough gullible people and lazy journalists to swallow the bait. Donald Trump, for instance, has just awarded himself an A+ for his handling of the coronavirus crisis. I dread to imagine an F.