There are no magic wands when it comes to a) dealing with the causes of climate changes and b) responding to the consequences of a changed climate.
A majority of people in Australia and the world at large now would appear to accept that the scientific evidence of a warming world is factual and not speculative.
The reality of climate generated extremes over the past decade or so has provided on-the-ground empirical reasons for believing that “something is going on”.
The unhappy confluence of ideology, expert warnings, catastrophic events, and wishful thinking has meant that it has generally been the case that those who control the political and administrative levers have prevailed in most countries.
The result: dismissal/denial and inaction.
Recent realities and growing public awareness have, however, meant that the political mood in Australia has shifted and governments, particularly the Federal Government, have begun to heed expert opinion and we are seeing the first signs of a roll-out of policy and funding decisions which should have been introduced years ago.
Last week the Morrison government and the NSW government released details of an agreement that indicates a step towards the evolution of renewable energy sources.
The complex deal will cost around $3 billion in total and will involve a range of initiatives such as emission reduction programs, carbon farming projects, and more investment in alternative energy generation.
However, the emphasis on a higher dependence of gas as a key transitional measure has not won the plaudits of green groups, particularly the prospect of gas from the Narrabri fields contributing to the mix.
The political reality for governments, however, is that although there is now recognition of the need for a transition to a clean energy future the requirement for consistent and regular base-load power generation – at lower prices for consumers – is an inescapable political fact.
Methane – the core ingredient of natural gas -remains the fly in the energy ointment for a great many people.
Methane (CH4) is a wonderful energy source.
It generates seven times the energy of coal.
When totally consumed by combustion it produces carbon dioxide and water but, as a greenhouse gas, it is 30 times more of a warming problem than CO2.
On the plus side methane breaks down to CO2 in the upper atmosphere after about 10 years.
But carbon dioxide persists for up to 200 years before breaking down.
In short, we have greenhouse gas issues with both carbon dioxide and methane.
Further information from the Australian Academy of Science: Methane is flowing into the atmosphere all the time – both naturally and because of man-made reasons.
It may surprise many to learn that our livestock flocks around the world produce about 30 per cent of total CH4 emissions.
Rice production generates 10 per cent of global emissions.
Emissions also come from human landfill sites, the oceans and swamps. Termites produce about 5 per cent.
There are vast deposits of methane currently locked up by oceans and ice – but these could be released in a warming world.
Of course, industrial mankind – cars, mines, factories, and machinery – produces about as much methane as that being generated naturally.
Millions of Australian households and many industries depend on natural gas for cooking, heating and manufacturing.
No immediate miracles there.
The variety and scale of methane sources, natural and man-made is daunting.
However, there are natural processes at work which reduce the volume of methane entering the atmosphere but more can be done.
There are actually many practical and science-based solutions which mankind could employ to wind back ‘fugitive’ emissions.
Some are: developing less-flatulence prone livestock, agricultural innovation, capping waste dumps, utilising anaerobic decomposition of rubbish, and more effective burning of methane as a fuel stock, and methane capture and reuse as a fuel stock.
These things and more could be more widely used as part of the transition we all desire to reach a clean energy future.
That transition phase, however, will not be an overnight affair.
We will continue to need carbon-based energy sources during the process.
It may take a decade. It will also take world-wide co-operation. There are no magical, overnight solutions.
We must continue to use the energy-mix cards we’ve been dealt while we work with our scientists, technologists, industry and government to come to terms with the world we have created and the better world we want.
At least, now, governments appear to be responding … slowly, but it’s a start.To order photos from this page click here