10 July 2011, declared Greens Senator Christine Milne, was the day “Australia turn[ed] its back on the fossil fuel age”. But the reports of the industry’s death were greatly exaggerated. On Monday night ABC’s Lateline Business reported that Santos and BHP Billiton are buying up natural gas assets in expectation of an enormous coming boom. This is empirical evidence of what I have been saying for months: the proposed carbon tax is not enough.
This is not unexpected, of course. Globally the fossil fuel industry has been campaigning hard for a transition to gas. In Australia the incumbent Labor Government have consistently taken the same line (at least, when they haven’t been rhapsodizing about the bright future of coal). The only reason why the policy announced on 10 July contains any support for renewables at all is because Labor had to negotiate with the Greens and independents.
The fashionable view of gas is as a transitional fuel on the world’s journey to a low-carbon or zero-carbon economy. But this is folly: the only realistic way to achieve the required rapid transition to a zero-carbon economy is to phase out fossil fuels as quickly as possible. As a fossil fuel, gas is part of the problem, not the solution. A two-staged transition, from coal to gas then to renewables, would waste precious time. Continue reading