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Taking Australia Beyond Zero Emissions

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View David Lawlor's blog posts
11 January 2011, 5:29 PM
New university study is a how-to guide for achieving a clean energy future
The Challicum Hills Wind Farm near Victoria, Australia.

By now, we all know the refrain. Sure, politicians and pundits tell us, it would be swell to make the switch to clean energy, but such a move is infeasible at any time in the near future. No, they say, we must not stray from our well-hewn path of environmental destruction paved by fossil fuels. Maybe one day solar, wind or geothermal energy will make sense, but when it comes to power generation—unless you’re a misguided hippie or you live in Reykjavic—we’re sticking with coal and natural gas.

Well, apparently a contingent of patchouli-scented Icelandic expatriates at Australia’s University of Melbourne isn’t going along with the fossil fuel industry’s talking points. As JP Siegel reports on the TriplePundit blog, a group affiliated with the university, Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE), has developed a comprehensive plan to meet the nation’s energy needs with 100 percent renewable sources by 2020.

Before the collective scoff-a-thon begins, it’s worth noting that the group’s plan has been vetted by a third-party engineering firm and it passes muster. The technology proposed in the BZE study exists and is economically viable. The approach the study espouses is reasoned and balanced. The plan can be implemented now.

This is exactly the type of forward-looking research required to push the world toward a clean energy future. By developing a plan to switch to renewable sources that is realistic and shovel-ready, BZE is empowering Australian lawmakers by offering a sensible alternative to the status quo. It is one thing to insist that the world’s love affair with fossil fuels must continue as no affordable, reliable options are known, but the argument starts to unravel when such options are illuminated.

BZE’s study puts the onus on the Australian government to make a choice of either remaining addicted to fossil fuels like dirty coal for decades to come or transitioning to a clean energy future now. Here’s to hoping the Australian government adopts BZE’s plan and positions itself as a pioneer in sustainable infrastructure development.

Aah Gypsy boots - the old "realist" perspective.

You know, if coal use continues to grow for the next 20 to 30 years, then most poor people will not survive due to climate impacts. Your "realist" perspective means runaway climate change.

The best way for third world people to stay alive is by shifting out of coal to renewable energy sources - never mind their standard of living.

It's not either-or, David, it's both-and.

According to James Fallows' excellent article in the November Atlantic (, coal use will grow even if all sources of alternative energy are developed to their currently possible maximum extent--mainly because of skyrocketing demand in Asia and other developing economies. Unless you've come up with a way to tell Third World people they can't raise their standard of living any more, and make it stick, we're stuck with coal for the next 20 to 30 years at least. (Of course, we use much more carbon per capita than third world people, but our aggregate demand is growing more slowly).

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