IN the years before he became prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull was a politician who liked to burnish his environmental credentials, all the while touting the inevitable rise of renewable energy.
But like Labor’s Kevin Rudd before him, Mr Turnbull in power has found that cutting Australia’s reliance on the black gold of coal is not as easy as he might have imagined.
And for valid reasons.
For all of the compelling concerns aboutcoal combustion and its role in the warming of the planet, the political reality is that climate change is no longer –if it ever was –the only political game in town.
Yes, scientists are predicting planetary death and disaster if governments around the world do not get serious about cutting greenhouse gas emissions. But politicians of all persuasions have to balance long-term concerns against immediate needs, which is why Mr Turnbull can so confidently say that coal will be part of Australia’s energy mix for “many, many decades to come”.
If renewable energy sources do have the potential to replace coal as the world’s bedrock fuel for power generation, then they will. In the meantime, there will be a struggle asadvocates oneither side prosecutetheir cases, and not only in the court of public opinion.
Mr Turnbull’s re-entry into the coal debate comes as his government pushes for laws to restrict environmentalchallenges to the federal approval of resource projects. Delays to the Adani Group’s Carmichael mine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin are citedas justification. While the government’s frustration over delays to the Adani mine is understandable, the reality is that modern environmental groups have international links –and international financing –in the same way that resource companies jealously protect their ability to operate across borders.To suggest a litigant should be barred from a court simply because of their identity does not hold water in a democracy, and the government would be far better off letting projects stand or fall on their merits than trying to thwart the efforts of those whose ideas they oppose.
Even so, Mr Turnbull is correct to say that any coal that Australia does not sell will be supplied from elsewhere, and probably at a greater environmental cost than if it was mined here.The more technologically complex our society becomes, the more dependentit is on electricity. And for the time being at least, that means relyingon coal.