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Friday, December 24, 2010

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaargh … it’s the Green Goblin Grinch giving Australia the once over for Xmas-New Year

I noticed this tweet from @drgrist a couple of weeks ago, flew by it at the time, then couldn’t get it out of my mind. On Christmas Eve I had to go back and find it. The busy tweep David Roberts, who lives in Seattle and blogs for Grist, said: ‘I have to say, America's "ignore real problems & freak out over fake sh*t" strategy for the 21st century isn't going so well.’

It rings so true for my country of Australia too. Maybe it will resonate for many people in many countries?

Of course, the main issues I have in mind are climate change, our great energy and water challenges, and the deeply unsustainable nature of our high-consumption, high-waste global society. Christmas always brings out the Green Goblin Grinch in me, and this year hasn’t disappointed.

Actually, fighting off rival desperadoes, the hordes of 11th-hour shoppers, for the last free range organic turkey in the supermarket drove it home more powerfully than ever: this Christmas thing is no time or place for an environmentally-aware, increasingly anti-consumption, Anglo-Celtic atheist with a Jewish wife and family.

But that’s the small stuff. The big stuff is the ‘real problems’ Australia faces, many of which it shares with the world. Yet our news can be dominated by fear-mongering about illegal refugees, the recently constant voyeuristic feed of diplomatic gossip courtesy of Wikileaks, bitching about the government paying for a decent national broadband network, and the exposed penises of footballers. Every country, no doubt, has its own versions of similar ‘fake sh*t’ to freak out over.

So, the real problems as Australians get our teeth into the second decade of the 21st Century are:
  1. Australia is running out of liquid transport fuel as domestic oil field production declines and faces highly-onerous import bills over the next few decades, yet is phaffing around while momentum builds globally for electric vehicle (EV) plug-ins.
  2. If Australia does get with the program and embrace electric cars rapidly, especially instead of relying more on land-destroying first generation bio-fuels, it will only add to the urgency to bring our dumb electricity grids up to smart 21st Century standards that can match variable supply with more renewable and distributed generation with flexible demand on the consumer side.
  3. Of course, instead of getting serious about more clean energy on one hand and much greater energy efficiency on the other – which is obviously the way to get to low-carbon at reasonable cost – the national government is trapped in a seemingly quixotic political struggle to deliver a price on carbon (whether cap-and-trade or tax) while the pragmatic option of ramping up energy efficiency first is either ignored or put off due to lack of bureaucratic headspace in the nation’s capital of Canberra.
  4. Meanwhile, the first real country-wide wet season in a decade or more has miraculously arrived at the worst political time imaginable; just as the rural population is going mass feral over the first real plan to turn back a century-plus of over-allocation of water for irrigation in the nation’s main food bowl and river system, the Murray Darling (which happens to be what my wife calls me when she wants me to do something)
  5. Looking ahead, the flattest, driest, hottest continent on the planet (that’s Australia) is also the most urbanized, with most of the population hugging the eastern coastline and most of the residential and commercial buildings and other vital infrastructure vulnerable to sea-level rises of one or two meters – and we just keep on building right in the zone.
  6. Irony of ironies, the stuff we keep on building includes the coal mining, burning for energy and export facilities that are vulnerable to our long-term water supply crises and inevitable sea-level rises this century so we can go on creating the real problems with the climate that accelerates all of the above.
  7. I could go on, but not much need me thinks.
So, my hope for 2011 and the next decade of the 21st Century is that we get our real problems and our fake sh*t in proper perspective, and that we do it fast. But I am a self-confessed Green Goblin Grinch. What do you hope to get for Christmas and especially the New Year?

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