Business and industry and most governments accept the planet will be uninhabitable if we continue our reliance on fossil fuels instead of transitioning to safe, renewable energy sources. Keeping the remaining fossil fuels in the ground to avert a global temperature rise above 2°C offers a more secure, sustainable course.
Food, Water and Health
A report published by the Australian Academy of Science titled Climate change challenges to health: Risks and opportunities says:
The impact of climate change in Australia is likely to vary considerably according to region. Drier conditions are expected to prevail in the southern half of the continent, affecting water supply in cities. Reduced rainfall is also likely to affect Australia's food bowl, the Murray–Darling Basin, which may become more susceptible to pests, crop diseases and reduced water quality and volume. In addition, rising ocean temperatures and acidity will irreversibly damage key marine ecosystems, including coral reefs, and affect fisheries. Regional food security issues will therefore have implications for Australia. Adverse impacts on food production will then lead to higher prices and reduced access to nutrition, particularly in disadvantaged or remote communities.
To green up its credentials while continuing business as usual, the unconventional gas industry has attempted to position itself as a bridging fuel that will ease the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. According to the industry, using frack gas to generate electricity is up to 70 percent cleaner than coal. This is a 'best case scenario' that compares apples and oranges, measuring emissions from gas burnt in a new generation combined-cycle gas-fired power station against emissions from brown coal, the most polluting form of coal, burnt in an old sub-critical power station.
Chained to Fossil Fuels
Continuing to invest large sums of money in fossil fuel-based industries and infrastructure is strengthening our reliance on industries that are harmful to humans, and which risks changing our climate permanently.
The Union of Concerned Scientists USA (UCSUSA) say that an overreliance on unconventional gas is preventing the move towards renewable energy and risking the stability of our planet's climate. The USCUSA warns that if the US continues on its current path toward a natural gas-dominated electricity system, the electricity sector will generate as much as three times more than the National Research Council's recommended amount of carbon emissions.
As well as the human cost of relying on fossil fuels instead of switching to safe, sustainable sources of energy, climate change is having a direct effect on the global economy right now.
Methane is the main component of natural gas. It is much more efficient at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, making it a very potent greenhouse gas. It's been suggested that the impact of fugitive emissions, the unintentional leakage of unconventional methane gas during its extraction, transport and processing, could be far higher than occurs with conventional gas extraction.
In September 2012 the now de-funded Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency (DCCEE) reported that no one knows how much methane leaks from gasfields and related unconventional gas activities in Australia. The industry doesn't fund independent studies, governments don't require them to and the research departments of universities and other research organisations like the CSIRO are suffering from substantial budget cuts.
Mobile air testing conducted by Southern Cross University (SCU) later measured the ambient gas content of the Tara gas field near Condamine in Queensland. SCU researchers found more than three times the level of toxic gases than expected, based on the industry's view that leakage from the wellheads was 'negligible'. Damien Maher, a biochemist who helped conduct the tests, said:
The concentrations here are higher than any measured in gas fields anywhere else that I can think of, including in Russia.
Research carried out in the US by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) monitored gas wells in just one localised area, Weld County in Colorado, and calculated that 4 percent of the methane produced by these wells is escaping into the atmosphere. This seemingly small percentage is equal to the carbon emissions of 1-3 million cars.
The fracking industry worldwide has attempted re-brand its product as cleaner and greener than conventional fossil fuels. It’s no different here. The Australia Pacific Liquefied Natural Gas (APLNG) website says "LNG is a coal seam gas (CSG) to Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) project delivering a cleaner, greener sustainable energy source."
The unconventional gas industry markets itself as up to 70 per cent cleaner than coal and has tried to greenwash itself by embracing the 'natural' part of natural gas. The industry spin doctors must think people can't work out the difference between the gas, which is entirely natural, and the extraction process which is anything but. Despite its substantial PR investment, the fracking industry has earned its toxic reputation.
The science behind the industry's clean credentials is exposed in a review of research funded by the Queensland state government and the industry in a bid to restore public confidence.
There are alternative sources of renewable energy that can provide limitless energy and jobs in perpetuity, not the short term, imported FIFO jobs of unconventional shale and tight gas extraction.
During the economic downturn, the 'clean economy' in the US grew at 8.3%, twice the rate of the economy as a whole. Renewable energy industry jobs in the US surpassed total oil and gas industry jobs (offshore and onshore) in 2011. In addition to providing better investment returns and creating more jobs than the fossil fuel industry, renewable energy is proving itself to be a cheaper form of electricity generation.
The experience is not unique to the US. Renewable energy has become cheaper in Australia than conventional sources of electricity. However, billions of dollars of investment in utility-scale renewable energy projects in Australia fled overseas with the change in government policy.
Danish wind giant Vestas says:
Political uncertainty has stopped Australia reaching (its) potential and this is now threatening Australia's competitiveness as the rest of the world moves ahead with renewables.
Renewable Energy Target
The review of the RET initiated by the current federal government in February 2014 stalled large scale wind and solar development in Australia. Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) reported that investment in renewables in Australia plunged by 88 percent in 2014 as a consequence of the political wrangling over the future of the RET.
APPEA's self-interested contribution to the RET debate – and Australia's fate in the global economy – has been to position the RET as a costly and inefficient means of achieving emissions reductions, and itself as an industry that must not be undermined by setting a renewable energy target that would see a portion of the $310 billion global investment in renewable energy projects return to Australia.