By Howard Dewhirst
ONCE upon a time in the West, anxious Greenies tied themselves to trees in the path of bulldozers to prevent the building of a new road, or dam, or anything that might improve the lot of human residents at the expense of nature.
By the 1970s, Tasmania’s industrial and residential development had spawned the construction of 40 or so dams to provide water and power, but by 1978 more were needed, and the Tasmanian Hydro Electric Commission announced its intention to build a new dam on the Gordon River below the existing Gordon dam. Two years later, 10,000 people marched in the capital Hobart to protest, and in 1981 Aboriginal cave art was discovered within the lake catchment area, further justifying the protest. Nevertheless, in the state election of 1981, not a single ‘No Dams’ candidate was elected. On December 14, 1982, UNESCO declared the South West Wilderness area of Tasmania a world heritage site, but the Tasmanian government ignored this, and strong Federal Government pressure, and continued with planning the new Franklin Dam.
The Tasmanian economy was fading, which the dam would help counteract, but Wilderness Society protesters disagreed, and 1,200 were arrested for blocking construction. On July 1, 1983, the High Court in Brisbane gave the Federal Government the power to legislate on any issue in favour of an international treaty obligation, the newly elected Hawke government sprang into Greenie mode and 2,000 future jobs for the Franklin area went up in the smoke of victory, or defeat. The dam was not to be and the protesters went back to their city jobs, well pleased with themselves.
The proposed dam was small by fossil fuel standards, with a capacity of just 172 MW, compared to 2,000 MW (or 2 GW) from a conventional coal-fired plant; likewise, the planned reservoir behind the dam was much smaller than the footprint of the high-tension cables and towers needed to bring wind power from the crest of mountain tops, where so many are installed, to where it is needed in the cities.
The Australian Green Party can be said to have emerged as a political force during the Franklin Dam protests, and was up and running when the next environmental challenge emerged, this time in Queensland. In 1983 a campaign was mounted to prevent the building of a coastal road through some of the last remaining lowland tropical rainforest in Australia. The road was to link the Daintree and Cape Tribulation areas with the village of Bloomfield, completing a road link to Cooktown further north. The forest had been logged since the 1870s and the bigger trees close to the coast were long gone, but much remained inland and today the Daintree Forest reserve covers 1200 sq km with significant amounts of pristine forest habitat. Blocking the construction of a 60 km long and perhaps 6 m wide road would have negligible impact on the already logged forest, and would encourage tourism as a replacement for logging. Nevertheless the struggle went on and protesters chained themselves to trees or half buried themselves in the ground to prevent construction.
The protest did not stop the road, but it demonstrated the passion of the green warriors to preserve any plant or animal in the ‘pristine wilderness’, regardless of any benefits to the humans who lived there. The driver for these protests was, and still is, an emotional one: to protect Mother Nature from the wickedness of the modern world. So it is even more surprising that these feelings seem to have vanished, with Greens supporting the construction of massive solar and wind factories covering hundreds of thousands of acres of agricultural and pastoral land and often pristine wilderness. Their aim of saving the environments they particularly love has morphed into saving the planet as a whole by insisting on Net Zero emissions of CO2.
However, as usual, they have not looked at the data. Australia’s emissions of CO2 from fossil fuels in 2022, were some 376 million tons, which may sounds a lot but is just 1 per cent of the global total of 34,374 million tons; even if these emissions were cut to zero, which cannot happen, what significant difference would it make? And if they would but look at the amount of CO2 sequestrated naturally by Australia’s truly enormous landmass, they would realise that we are already well past the Net Zero target.
To achieve their goal, they have mandated the closure of all Australia’s coal mines and coal-fired power stations, but again pay no attention to the data. In mid-February, one coal fired power station in Victoria was shut down by a spring storm, which also took out some high-tension power lines, which closed down another power station – and half a million homes and businesses lost power. Where was the mandated 20 per cent redundancy power back up? And could the renewables not do anything to help? Ah yes, batteries, I hear you say. When South Australia had a blackout in 2017 due to a power station shut down, the then biggest battery in the world was drained in less than five minutes.
The progressive closure of more and more of Australia’s manufacturing ability may be salve to the collective Greenies’ conscience, but they are kidding themselves if they think this helps the planet. All it has done is send the CO2 emissions overseas, mainly to Asia. The only way to cut Australia’s CO2 footprint is to immediately stop buying anything made in Asia, or anywhere else out of the country. So, no more iPhones, laptops, refrigerators, washing machines and tumble driers, TVs, clothing, gym equipment, X-ray, MRI and other medical equipment, motor vehicles, e-scooters and e-bicycles, ride on mowers and golf buggies, sports equipment, water and sewage pumps, windows and the thousand and one ‘everyday’ items that make the modern world function as it does, most of which can only be manufactured with or from crude oil, or coal.
The Greenies would have us go back to the pre-industrial age of poverty and a short life span. Shouldn’t we try to stop them?
Howard Dewhirst has a BA Hons, Geology & Eng Lit, MA, Ancient History and a long career in international exploration for energy and mineral resources, using sedimentary and stratigraphic concepts based on real climate change.