Renfrey Clarke

In the land of desperate excuses, coal seam gas is king. The new boom industry of the Queensland and New South Wales hinterlands contaminates ground and surface waters, while taking rich farmland out of food production.

But at least, its promoters argue, coal seam gas (CSG) is a weak hitter among sources of greenhouse pollution. When burnt in modern power plants, the story goes, CSG can be as much as 70% “cleaner” than coal.

Love Andrew Bolt or loathe him, you’ve got to admit the right-wing Herald Sun columnist and radio shock jock is a master of the ambush interview.

Add in Liberal Party leader Tony Abbott’s slipperiness with any kind of truth — scientific, political or otherwise — and you have a media product so toxic it deserves to be trucked off for incineration by people in respirator suits.

Unfortunately, that’s the product that was all over the talkback airwaves and parliamentary reports for several days at the end of March.

If there were an Olympics for climate amorality, Australia’s capitalists would be hauling in the medals.

Just consider this quote from Queensland coal baron Clive Palmer in the December 15 Australian: “The Galilee Basin overall has got 100 billion tonnes of thermal coal, so it’s a great reservoir for Queensland in the future, so you’d be crazy not to develop it.”

And it’s not just coal, but any greenhouse-polluting fuel that can be can be dug or drilled from the landscape or seabed. Take Australia’s natural gas industry, poised now for a vast expansion.

Under heavy public pressure, the South Australian government of Labor Premier Mike Rann appears to be wavering in its support for mining uranium in the Arkaroola wilderness in the state’s north.

On February 18, the Adelaide Advertiser gave front-page headlines to reports that Arkaroola, a privately-held nature sanctuary and ecotourism site in the Flinders Ranges about 600 kilometres north of the state capital, could be declared a national park.

If a city drowns beneath a once-in-a-hundred-years flood, that's weather. Such things have happened in the past.

But when hundred-year floods start happening every few decades, that's no longer just weather. The dice have become loaded for different outcomes. Climate — that is, the average of weather — is changing.

So let's get down to the question everyone's asking. Were this summer's floods the result of climate change?

Dismayed by the Labor government’s inaction on climate change and looking for an alternative? Don’t look to the Liberals.

If the ALP has been dodgy on the issue, Tony Abbott’s party has been dodgier.

Sincere commitment on the issue is hard for Abbott. At a public meeting last September, he said global warming was “absolute crap”.

But the Liberal leader is remarkably consistent on one thing — the “need” to funnel large amounts of public money to big business.

Say what you will about coal, but at least it stays where it’s put. On its way to the user, coal doesn’t gush from the rail trucks, spreading itself through the atmosphere and warming it at about 70 times the rate of carbon dioxide.

Natural gas is different. A new draft study provides evidence that, in the US, enough natural gas leaks into the air to give gas-fired electricity, megawatt-hour for megawatt-hour, a bigger greenhouse impact than electricity from good-quality steaming coal.

As towns go, Orroroo in South Australia might seem small, but with 850 people it is one of the larger stops on the road between Broken Hill and Port Augusta. The countryside around it is marginal farmland.

Only in the occasional year is there enough rain for a good crop of wheat, and in a process with well-researched links to global warming, the wet years have been getting fewer.

It is ironic, therefore, that this district 250 kilometres north of Adelaide now seems destined to hurry climate change along.

Journalists at the ABC have come under strong pressure from the organisation’s chairperson to give more weight to the views of climate change deniers.

When a respected scientific journal carries a peer-reviewed article branding the key technology behind “clean coal” as “profoundly non-feasible”, you’d think governments and coal corporations would react in some fashion.

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