Environmentalists declare fossil fuel industry makes a mockery of sustainability

February 18, 2004

Friends of the Earth (FoE) is sending a clear message to fossil fuel industry representatives, who are meeting today in Queensland’s ‘Smart State’. FoE activists greeted delegates for the “Zero Emissions Technology: Fossil fuels for sustainable development” conference with a banner declaring that smart investment would be in renewable energy technologies rather than the false hope that fossil fuels can be sustainable.

There are over 200 delegates attending the conference at the Gold Coast that has attracted substantial support from the fossil fuel industry, including conference convenor Rio Tinto.

Friends of the Earth is particularly concerned over the technology referred to as geo-sequestration as a means of removing emissions from fossil fuel power generation. Geo-sequestration is a process entails capturing the carbon dioxide emissions at the source of fossil fuel combustion, compressing and storing the carbon dioxide in underground reservoirs.

International scepticism that geo-sequestration is a viable option for reducing the atmospheric emissions of coal and other fossil fuels, is well documented and demonstrates that it is literally and figuratively a ‘pipe-dream’.

Professor Ian Lowe from Griffith University also warned of the dangers involved in following the geosequestration path:

“Assuming that geo-sequestration will be proven and be cost effective is a bit like going for a drive in a car with no brakes, and hoping that someone will invent brakes before you get to a corner. It’s rather ironic that people who think that we can’t assume that renewable technology will evolve and be more cost effective are quite happy to make a heroic leap of faith that geo-sequestration will be proven in the next five minutes.”1

Geo-sequestration is fraught will some very real barriers, not the least of which being that the technology doesn’t currently exist. Combined with the fifty year time lag between emissions entering the atmosphere and the observed impacts of climate change, the emissions expended in the process of developing this technology will continue to exacerbate climate change for the next fifty years.

“Even if fossil fuel based zero emission technology were able to provide real outcomes within the coming decades, this is well beyond the time that we have to mitigate climate change and stabilise carbon levels in the atmosphere” stated climate justice campaigner Stephanie Long.

Climate change impacts for Australia were well documented by the Australian Greenhouse Office publication “Climate Change: An Australian Guide to the Science and Potential Impacts”. Already we have experienced an average temperature increase of 0.7% in the past decade. These increased temperatures are believed to have exacerbated droughts and bushfires and human induced climatic change is also responsible for the increased number of ‘explosive’ storms in NSW.

Conference delegates will receive a fact sheet outlining FoE’s concerns regarding this conference. Conference organisers politely declined the offer for FoE to prepare a presentation on behalf of environmental non-government organisations and community groups, and the conference will proceed with an agenda dominated by industry and financial institutions.

However our neighbours in the Pacific Islands are identified by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as being of the most vulnerable to climate change. Pacific Islander nations are particularly at risk of salt-water pollution of water supplies and crop gardens as sea-level rise. These graduating impacts of climate change interspersed with extreme weather events, the likes of Cyclone Heta that decimated Niue earlier this summer, is what will force Pacific peoples to leave their island homes.

“Continued reliance upon fossil fuels only increases the severity of impacts for Pacific Islanders. Quite simply, the more we burn the more unliveable these islands become,” said Ms Long. “Renewable energy technologies are the only form of real ‘zero emissions technologies’ available today – as we need to reduce our greenhouse emissions now, investment in renewable energy is the only sustainable answer.”

For more information contact:

Stephanie Long
Friends of the Earth
Mob: 0414 136 461

Notes:

1. Lowe, I. From the Institute for Sustainable Futures website forum Can the coal industry bury its greenhouse problem? Available at http://www.isf.uts.edu.au/whatwedo/ISFwebstoryAug.html