Worlds Collide in “The Land Down Under”

by Val Germann

Al Gore’s recent trip to Australia highlighted the two ever-more-diverging worlds of the energy/climate debate. In one planetary system are those who hold that humanity’s dependence on fossil fuel is leading to gigantic problems with both our economy and climate. In the other are those who say that there is nothing wrong with the climate and today’s energy system will continue to deliver world wide prosperity for the foreseeable future.

Fears over energy security and a rapid rise in energy prices have coupled with recent scientific developments to leave little room for compromise between these two worldviews.

That is, anyone who accepts the implications of the evidence for rapid current climate change must look with alarm at humanity’s patterns of energy use. Yet the fossil fuel industries, taken together, are far and away the dominant economic and political forces on Earth today, and are not going to take challenges to their position lightly. Governments, too, are loath to make any large changes that might cause either economic dislocation and/or discomfort to major industries and contributors.

All these factors were at play in Australia as Al Gore arrived last weekend to promote his film “An Inconvenient Truth.” His comments about Australia’s vulnerabiltiy to climate change reached a wide audience, sensitized to the issue because of continuing large-scale drought across the country, massive coral loss along the Great Barrier Reef, and the recent onslaught of tropical storms packing unprecedented power.

But Australian Prime Minister Howard refused to meet with Mr. Gore, saying, “I don’t make policy from films.” Howard’s energy secretary, Ian McFarlane, attacked Gore, too, as was reported by the Australian Broadcasting Company:

“It’s one man’s interpretation of fact and, I guess, whilst that can be classed as non-fiction, it can also be classed as not correct,” he said.

Never mind that the movie is a lot more than “one man’s interpretation,” the position of the Howard regime is clear: Mr. Gore can go peddle his papers.

Adding even more spice to the mix Down Under was the Asia-Pacific Oil and Gas Conference in Adelaide. Mark Nolan, chairman of ExxonMobil-Australia, assured attendees that supplies of climate-killing petroleum were all but endless and that his industry had only begun to tap into them. The operative quote appeared on the SPACE DAILY website:

Citing figures from the US Geological Survey, Nolan said the earth had more than three trillion barrels of conventional recoverable oil resources, of which only one trillion had been exploited.

This writer certainly was able to rest easy after seeing Mr. Nolan’s statement. However, our readers likely can guess that we have a few quibbles (just a few) with Mr. Nolan and that we will be discussing them soon here at Star Phoenix Base.

This important issue is not going away, to say the least.

About Val

I am a long-time teacher of science and astronomy with a strong interest in resource conservation and the environment.
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