August 26, 2014
ON Sunday, as NSW residents took stock of a week of torrential rain, The Sunday Telegraph broke the disturbing news that former NSW premier Bob Carr’s mothballed desalination plant was costing $534,246 a day in service charges.
For once it is hard to disagree with NSW Greens MP John Kaye who called the expensive and unnecessary piece of kit “a white elephant”.
Carr ordered the plant to be built in 2005, a year after the CSIRO had spooked him with a prediction that the state could be up to 6.4C warmer and 40 per cent drier by 2070.
“Frightening,” was Carr’s reaction. “Even small changes in average temperature have got enormous implications.”
Indeed, but even by the inflated forecasts of the time, the CSIRO’s figures seemed ludicrous. In hindsight, Carr would have done well to stick to Dwight D. Eisenhower’s advice, delivered in his final presidential speech in 1962.
“In holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.”
The indifference of the average man and woman in the street to the impending climate calamity remains a source of enormous frustration to the carbon cognoscenti.
On his Facebook page, Kaye does his best to keep up the spirits of Greens supporters. “Are you feeling a bit despondent with the current politics of climate change and lost as to how you can make a difference?” he posted in April.
“Come along to our 100 per cent Renewable NSW workshop in Eastwood this Saturday!”
The workshop featured a session entitled “Why ‘catastrophising’ doesn’t work”. It was a tacit admission that the politics of fear had backfired. Eco-activist giants such as
Greenpeace realised some time ago that the planet-cooking narrative by itself simply wasn’t cutting through. They needed an enemy to point at.
In October 2011, a coalition of eco-crusaders met in the Blue Mountains to try to build a united front against coal. A leaked strategy document, Stopping the Australian Coal Export Boom,
that emerged after the meeting gives an insight into their tactics.
“We urgently need to build the anti-coal movement and mobilise off the back of the community backlash to coal-seam gas,” it reads.
“We are seeking investment to help us build a nationwide coal campaign that functions like an orchestra, with a large number of different voices combining together into a powerful symphony.”
The anti-coal battle would be fought in the courts and boardrooms. Lawyers would be hired to mount challenges designed to frustrate and delay the expansion of the coal industry.
“We are confident that, with the right resourcing for both legal challenges and public campaigning, we can delay most if not all of the port developments by at least a year, if not considerably longer,” the document reads.
They would aim to create investor uncertainty and reputational risk “by symbolically contesting coal industry conferences and annual general meetings, ongoing direct engagement with ratings agencies and key analysts”. Queensland’s
Galilee Basin was singled out for special attention. The activists recognised the proposed mines were at the expensive end of the cost curve and could be made unviable.
In May a group of activists swarmed Deutsche Bank’s annual meeting in Frankfurt and were rewarded with a promise from the bank’s co-CEO, Jurgen Fitschen,
that he would not entertain financial applications for port development at Abbot Point [without an assurance from both UNESCO and the government that it wouldn’t damage the reef.]
HSBC and Royal Bank of Scotland made similar noises.
This sophisticated campaign of “law-fare” and divestment pressure is biting. Earlier this month Peabody Energy chief executive Greg Boyce urged the coal industry to do more to counter the attacks.
Greenpeace’s focus is not just on the big end of town. The anti-coal strategy document proposes the introduction of US-style community organisers to support and direct grassroots campaigns.
The big campaigners have opportunistically latched on to local issues and turned them into national ones. The impact of the protest against Whitehaven Coal’s Maules Creek mine has demonstrated the power of the country-cappuccino alliance.
Like the wilderness movement a generation ago, today’s Australian environmental activists are borrowing the tactics of America’s Sierra Club and adapting them to local conditions.
Having succeeded in shutting down the dam construction industry in the 1980s, they now intend to do the same for coal.
It is against this background that Greenpeace’s contrived and belated campaign to rescue the Great Barrier Reef must be judged.
The reef’s recent deterioration is almost entirely due to the crown of thorns starfish and to storms, but Greenpeace is intent on convincing us that coal is to blame.
It is trying its level best to turn the expansion of the port facilities at Abbot Point to export coal from the Galilee Basin into the next Franklin Dam, despite the paucity of evidence it has to work with.
Dredging three million tonnes of clean sand and depositing it on more sand does not really cut it, particularly since the dumping site is farther from the coral reef than Calais is from Dover.
This is, however, a purely symbolic campaign. The battle for the reef, as the ABC’s Four Corners pitched it last week, is a battle of good and evil between coral and coal.
The recent breakthrough in the eradication of the coral-eating starfish barely rated a mention.
Teams of divers funded by the government have administered needles to hundreds of thousands of these noxious invertebrates. Farmers are being paid to keep rivers free of nutrients in which the starfish blossom.
Rays of hope such as this, however, cannot be allowed to dilute the apocalyptic narrative that is mandatory in ABC documentaries on the environment.
“How much do we really care about our most iconic national treasure?” Kerry O’Brien asked rhetorically. On reflection, that’s not a bad question.