29 June 2022
In Mary Poppins, Uncle Albert’s infectious laughter has first Bert, then the children, float up from the floor to join him near the ceiling, supported by nothing but their mutual merriment, later joined by Mary.
Something of the sort has infected our politicians. To press their claims to climate action virtue, they float ever more ambitious emission reduction targets, their feet entirely off the ground of engineering, economic, and political reality.
I’ve not always agreed with Andrew Wilkie, the independent member for the Hobart-based seat Clark, but I had regarded him as relatively sensible person. Yet after Prime Minister Albanese signed off on his government’s new emissions reduction commitment on June 16, Wilkie tweeted:
‘While the Aus Govt’s target to cut emissions by 43% by 2030 is a step forward, it’s still not good enough. We need a 75% reduction by 2030 & net-zero by 2035. The only way to do this is to quickly phase out coal, gas & oil & fast-track to 100% renewables.’
These are the same targets as the Greens. He’s out-laughed even the unrealistic Teal independents, who mostly fell in line with Zali Steggall’s Climate Bill target of 60 per cent reductions by 2030. Steggall, writing in the Australian on June 23, floated the idea of a renewable energy storage target along the lines of the renewable energy target. Her opinion piece contained not a single fact or figure. How much storage, where, at what cost, when could it be available? And would our electricity remain reliable and (just barely) affordable? She is entirely off the ground, floating on language alone, as if saying ‘storage target’ conjures megawatt-hours out of thin air.
It’s hard to believe it’s necessary to point out how laughable these targets are.
In their private moments, Albanese Labor must despair. We’ll have to more than double our rate of emissions reduction since 2005 even to get to its target of 43 per cent reductions by 2030, let alone more ambitious ones. Part of its plan is to get 82 per cent of our electricity from renewables. Energy Security Board Chief Anna Collyer told the Sydney Morning Herald on June 7 it is a ‘mindboggling’ challenge for a grid that currently relies on coal for two-thirds of electricity. But electricity is only half the story because it accounts for only a third of emissions. Near-to-zero-emissions electricity isn’t nearly enough to make Labor’s target.
Labor has certainly caught the climate giggles, but perhaps as a party of government, its feet have not entirely left the ground. Although they are starting to.
Even as the eastern states are in an electricity supply crisis, Labor’s Climate and Energy Minister Chris Bowen doubled down. The way forward, he says, is more renewables, transmission and storage. He must know these projects will take many years to plan, approve, and build.
The Energy Security Board says coal and gas-fired generators should be part of the proposed capacity mechanism to keep the lights on while all this new infrastructure is built, but Victorian Labor Minister Lily D’Ambrosio will have none of it, laughing away with the best of them. Albanese, even as he’s infected by the gaiety, has glued his feet to the floor, trying to keep a straight face while saying he does not believe allowing coal and gas in the technology-neutral capacity mechanism would hinder the move to renewables. Guffawing at him from high altitude, Greens leader Adam Bandt urged Albanese to float up and join the merrymaking, saying, ‘Paying to keep coal and gas corporations in the system for longer is an appalling idea.’
And while all this focus is on the ‘mindboggling’ challenge of electricity – remember, only one-third of emissions – there are even bigger challenges in transport and industrial processes. ‘Oh, for merriment’s sake, come on up,’ they cackle, ‘electric vehicles, hydrogen, green steel.’
This brings me to another Mary Poppins scene. Bert, now a pavement artist in a London grimy with coal soot, is joined by Mary and the children. Magically, they all step through one of Bert’s pavement drawings to an idyllic, pastoral world where they holiday, ride merry-go-round horses, and head off and join a horse race, which Mary wins, and she feels ‘supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’.
Like Bert, our politicians are painting a picture. The world of dirty fossil fuels will be left behind as we jump through in no time to a green idyll of net zero emissions and 100 per cent renewable energy that will be supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. They expect to be taken seriously, but it’s laugh-out-loud ludicrous.
Dr Michael Green has a PhD in Systems Engineering