Yesterday a friend of mine posted a Facebook message lampooning Joe Hockey’s claim he finds wind farms to be offensive and ruinous of gorgeous landscape around Canberra.
Joining the comments was one of her friends who works for the mining industry.
Below is a summary of the various discussions:
Friend: OMG just awful. Isn’t it? Wind farms are ruining our landscape everywhere. We really need to stop this before our entire landscape looks like this.
Oh wait. I just realized. That’s them in the background.
Mining Supporter: The mining process looks bad but they do extensive environmental rehab and put a lot of resources into environmental issues
Friend: Spoken like a true industry expert. Love you XX
Mining Supporter: Don’t bite the hand that feeds you
Me: The hand of mining doesn’t feed us, it feeds upon us all – like a vampire.
Generous subsidies, environmental destruction on a massive scale, distortion of our dollar adversely affecting other industries like manufacturing, tourism, education and agriculture , diversion of funds away from renewables and other government programmes like health and education, excessive political influence, exacerbation of climate change, manipulation of markets, overt funding of media manipulation, death, injury and numerous health issues, air pollution, widespread tax avoidance and off-shoring of profits, expansion of 457 Visa scheme, damage to public infrastructure, strategic litigation against opponents, despoiling of aquifers, lies, distortions, bribery and overselling their economic importance, displacement of species, housing and workforce dislocation, and increase in social and wage inequality.
As soon as commodity prices fall, the abandon their mines and sack thousands of workers, taking their profits with them and leaving insufficient funds behind for remediation and compensation – anyone remember James Hardy, Bernie Banton or the mine closures of the 1980’s.
Mining Supporter: Are you prepaed to give up the lifestyle we get from mining. It brings you your lifestyle. No renrwable energy can yet match it. Any business ceases to operate in an unfavourable market look at the car industry. Compensation is handled by insurance companies and is met by that company.
Me: What lifestyle and why can’t we have it under a renewable energy regime? The distortion mining has made to the dollar and the economy hasn’t benefited anybody apart from making overseas holidays and imports cheaper – both bad. Critical industries like our exports, manufacturing, agriculture and tourism all lost-out bug time from the high dollar and those industries combined generate far more jobs and way more incomes than mining ever can or will. They are also sustainable – mining on the other hand is finite, once we’ve dug it up, we don’t get any more.
The only reason why renewables aren’t cheaper is because mining has been deliberately sucking oxygen and investment dollars away from renewables, largely thanks to the political manipulation they get from sponsoring politicians and through a programme of media misinformation. Wind is actually cheaper in Oz now that coal over the lifecycle, as outlined in the latest bree.gov.au report (sorry don’t have the link with me now) and solar PV fast approaching parity as manufacturing costs reduce with scale and household uptake increases. If we hadn’t diverted investment into mining we likely would already have cheaper, more efficient renewables already including localised and mass storage, but in our stupidity and lack of foresight, we forwent those opportunities and squandered years we should have been devoting to innovation and development.
Sure mining gives us metals and we can sell it OS for bucks and not all of it is hideous, open-cut wholesale destruction, but what never gets mentioned in all the discussions is the massive subsidies and tax offsets afforded to mining, accelerated write-downs, fuel rebates, and then there are the externalities like the impacts upon health and the environment that mining conveniently overlooks, but that burden is always borne by the taxpayer, while miners scarper with their tidy profits.
Mining Supporter: Where do you think the power for manufacturing came from? This power has transformed our lifes. If we left coal before another source could offer the same power do you think people would accept that? New sources can come in but expecting one industry to go before another is ready is a step back. Money is available for research. The mining companies don’t take it. They bring in or did bring in signifant funds to the state that’s why politicians listen. If we killed that industry where is those funds replaced by? Its the same as saying banks killed manufacturing they should have funded it for no return. Nice idea nut not our present society. It is never as simple as it appears. The mining industry is still a contributor to the state kill it and we are where you started with your abandoned workers. Mining got us to the point where we have the luxury of debate about alternative energy. Baby’s cant walk until they past the roll over stage.
Me: Mining’s impact on our society is undeniable; in particular fossil fuels have transformed our lives immeasurably over the past few centuries and allowed us to expand economically, technologically, scientifically and socially. But that amazing progress has come at a price and that price has largely been to pollute our atmosphere and degrade our environment. In enjoying the conveniences of modern life we have degraded whole ecosystems and destroyed entire species, tainted our water supply and destroyed land we need to grow food to sustain our population. It has generated wars, killed millions and feeds into a corrupting power structure, whose money, wealth and influence undermines the very fabric of our society and our threatens our democracy.
Fossil fuels are, in essence, concentrated sunlight created over geological timeframes and the rate at which we have consumed them is frightening, because once it is gone we can’t just create more, the present push toward non-conventional sources comes at an even greater cost in manpower, water and intrusion onto areas previously untouched by mining, and that is why people are fighting back.
I agree 100%, we can’t simply switch it off because it has become so deeply interwoven into our lifestyle, our societal development and our economy, to go cold turkey risks destroying everything we have built. But our need to keep expanding mining is counter-productive, stupid and wasteful, when we really are smarter than that.
Instead we need to scale back and wean ourselves off the stuff. Much like a heroin addict, we need to recognise that while the high may have been fantastic, the ongoing cost and detriment to our health is simply too great to sustain, because that cost is being borne by billions of people in the shape of pollution, accumulation of greenhouse gasses driving climate change and subsequent ocean acidification. We need to look at alternatives that could just as easily support our lifestyle and our development but aren’t going to kill us or place and additional burden onto other people or future generations, who are the ones who will ultimately have to be affected by and clean-up the mess we created.
We need to use our collective intelligence and capacity for innovation to accelerate focused research and investment into alternative energy sources before it is too late. Our world, and Australia in particular, is showered in vast quantities of solar radiation, or buffeted by winds, we have huge areas of geothermal potential and we haven’t even come close to exploring the theoretical limits of fusion. But none of these things are going to happen while so much of our money is being diverted away from RnD and into the ever-growing expansion of non-conventional energy sources. And that money is being sucked away because the cost of accessing non-conventional fossil energy is significantly higher. These sources are often remote, inaccessible, and/or the techniques required to extract and refine them are labour-intensive, requiring greater infrastructure or are technically complex, and this requires greater funding and resources to secure the same amount of energy, money that could be better spent developing alternatives.
Unfortunately, those who have amassed vast wealth off the back of mining are driven to ensure that wealth grows, and the very competitive (sociopathic) nature of these people ensures they will actively seek to oppose any development that threatens their established position. Lobbying or buying of politicians is an incredibly effective way of achieving this outcome, because politicians define policy and can shape the direction of government investment on our behalf. And it is here that the best opportunities exist for mining to exert undue influence, sponsoring campaigns, showering them with bottles of Grange or paying for holidays and bike rides, spruiking for favourable legislation, and corrupting individuals is rife, and it is easy to splash a few dollars around to achieve that when you have enormous wealth at your disposal. The $22 million spent running an advertising campaign against the Super Profits Tax is the perfect example, for miners that sum was a trifling amount when compared to the billions they saved from avoiding the tax. Alas the public were too stupid to see this and they continue to be ignorant thanks largely to a compliant and complicit media. This money and influence also allows mining to stifle opposition, pay people to distort messages and buy or litigate against those who stand in their way. You only have to look at the recent ICAC hearings to see the undue influence mining has upon distorting our politics.
In fact, so great is the influence and power of the mining industry, we now have a federal government prepared to slash public services, sack thousands of workers, openly debase and defund science, demonise the poor, dehumanise the disabled, break promises and increase taxes and levies on ordinary Australians, just so they can eliminate several taxes the miners don’t like because they take a few less dollars out of their multi-billion dollar profits.
Big miners and energy suppliers are happy for prices of essential energy supply to increase because it improves their profit margin, especially if we have no other alternatives. And by deliberately stifling investment into alternatives, the miners are insuring they are the only ones in a position to provide that energy, creating a feedback loop that merely feeds their profits, to our detriment. Considering too that 83% of our mining companies are foreign owned, considerable profits are flowing into overseas tax havens and away from our coffers, and we are the ones who will be left to clean-up the mess, once the party is all over.
I agree, mining certainly contributed us to reaching this point, but the continued cost of maintaining the same trajectory is growing as energy sources become harder and more costly to find and extract. We are also now seeing the end result of this progress in our contribution to more dramatic weather events, pollution and degradation of environment that sustains us all; again these are intangibles that never seem to enter the equation around the total cost of mining. The miners are very good at expounding the virtues of mining, but unwilling to acknowledge the damage it causes.
We need to acknowledge that it’s no longer socially and economically cost-effective to keep pursuing more scare energy resources and that we urgently need to divert those funds into innovation and development of alternatives. We are fast approaching the edge of the cliff where the cost of non-conventional sources will exceed our capacity to pay for them and if we don’t have viable alternatives ready to go; we face a long, harrowing drop that will undoubtedly impact our lifestyle.
Given the right impetus and incentives, we could easily be at the cutting edge of the next major breakthrough that enables a smooth transition to long-term, sustainable renewable energy sources. We are smart, well educated, resourceful, technically savvy and rich. There are plenty of opportunities and much money to be made in the renewables space for development, installation, maintenance, and employment, more than enough to replace the jobs lost in mining. But the only way we are going to achieve that is for the populace to compel change. Setting a price on CO2 was a first step, in discouraging polluters and driving energy efficiency. Simplest solution ever – don’t pollute and become efficient = don’t pay the price. We’ve seen progress already as electricity demand has dropped significantly in the past 6 years and with the introduction of low cost PV, now installed on over 1.3 million homes and wind farms generating income for many rural properties, feeding communities without impacting their current farming business at all, rather than tearing those communities apart with intrusive, visually offensive, gargantuan open-cut coal mines or CSG fracturing that risks despoiling our aquifers.
Moreover, the price of coal is declining as India and China, criticised for the poor quality of their air and being forced the change by their own concerned citizens, invest heavily into renewables and adopting a long-term transitional vision that will see them at the forefront of development, a place we could be occupying.
But we need to do more, we need to demand our government and business be actively encouraging investment, to ensure the transition will be as pain free as possible. We don’t have to sacrifice or impinge upon our lifestyle to achieve this, we just have to be smarter and willing to stand-up to those who want to profit excessively from maintaining the status quo.
The sooner we get started, the better placed we will all be and the less our lifestyle will be affected. The added benefit is we can all then share in a healthier environment with far less pollution and threats to our health and the future well-being of our children, we can start to mitigate the effects of climate change, and we can ensure the security and safety of our valuable land and our precious water. All it will take is vision and commitment.