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Oxygen files – Thatcher, US data, fracking, Ningaloo Reef and blood bricks

Ningaloo Reef by Michael Sale
Ningaloo Reef by Michael Sale

It’s a testament perhaps to how far to the edge of irrational conservatism our own Coalition has shifted when the Iron Lady of British politics, Margaret Thatcher, sounds like she was actually a sensible Australian centrist Greens MP.

Mike Steketee revived her take on climate change for a recent article at Inside Story. 

Back in Thatcher’s day, global warming, as climate change was then known, was still just hitting the radar of the general community. There were few projections around its impacts and little of the data that informs work such as the IPCC reports.

But Thatcher thought the precautionary principle should be applied anyway.

“The danger of global warming is as yet unseen, but real enough for us to make changes and sacrifices, so that we do not live at the expense of future generations…” she said. “Any of the precautionary actions that we need to take would be sensible in any event. It is sensible to improve energy efficiency… and to develop alternative and sustainable sources of supply; it’s sensible to replant the forests which we consume; it’s sensible to re-examine industrial processes; it’s sensible to tackle the problem of waste.”

Ever the economic pragmatist, she concluded that policies around climate change prevention were “a sort of premium on insurance against fire, flood or other disasters.”

“It may be cheaper or more cost-effective to take action now than to wait and find we have to pay much more later.”

US data strengthens renewables business case

Beyond Australia’s stalled federal politics around energy, the business case demonstrating that renewables are now the cheapest and fastest way to add supply capacity to energy grids is still mounting in developed countries.

The latest report on capital cost estimations for utility-scale electricity generating plants from the US Energy Information Administration show that solar and wind are cheaper than any kind of coal-fired plant, and that nuclear [which was raised from the dead by ScoMo recently] is the most expensive.

The data utilised a lifecycle approach that encompassed civil and structural costs; mechanical equipment supply and installation; electrical instrumentation and control; project indirect costs; owners costs including development approval costs, legal fees, environmental studies and insurance; tie-in to nearby electrical transmission systems; and operations and maintenance costs. Labour costs for each item were also included.

Cleaner, cheaper, quicker – isn’t that what we want from any infrastructure development?

Fossil fuels – more voices of dissent

Fracking has been making the news again. Despite data in the latest national greenhouse gas accounts showing fugitive emissions from fracking are part of the juggernaut driving us way off the Paris Target track, it’s full steam ahead in many states regardless.

Traditional Owners are this week taking Origin to task over plans for fracking in the Northern Territory.

Meanwhile, Victoria just celebrated the anniversary of the ban the Andrews government placed on on-shore fracking projects – and the government has promised to extend it if they are retained after the election.

We can probably make a guess at what the other team are either proposing or will simply enact if they gain that coveted mandate to undo most of the Andrews government initiatives at the election.

Other areas where proposed fossil fuel projects are breaking hearts include Western Australia’s Ningaloo Reef. Author and environmental activist Tim Winton just published a beautiful portrait of Ningaloo and its importance to both humans and to species including whales.

It does seem a tragedy that while Australia has been one of the loudest voices in defence of a ban on commercial whaling – one that has seen populations recover and a massive tourism industry spring up around whale watching – a key migration route like Ningaloo is not adequately protected.

Modern slavery in brick making

We are still waiting for the Modern Slavery Act to be passed in federal parliament [sound of crickets], but a recent expose has shown slavery become part of the property development supply chain in Cambodia.

The impacts of climate change have seen many of the nation’s poorest agricultural families forced into debt bondage, which results in men, women and even children being enslaved in the brick-making operations that are supplying some of Phnom Penh’s most prestigious developments.

According to the ABC report, the developers don’t see it is their problem, and the existence of children in the supply chain is hidden by the brick suppliers as the debt bondage contract is generally held between the individual brickworks and the head of the family to which a child belongs.

They call them “blood bricks” because the rate of early death and injury among workers is so high.

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