Page 2208 - Week 06 - Friday, 27 June 2008
it—have been repackaged in this budget as carbon sequestration initiatives, without any acknowledgement of the emissions involved in planting and maintaining them. For instance, the arboretum requires massive earthworks, chemical inputs and pumping of water. Will it even offset the emissions that it causes? Carbon capture figures reported in the media only apply to mature trees and many species are, in any case, inappropriate for carbon sequestration purposes.
Recently even Senator Heffernan joined the Greens in the Senate. He is aware that all the plantations that have been planted, supposedly as carbon emission offsets, make no difference at all if they are going to be harvested within 15 to 20 years. It is not just enough to plant a tree. You actually have to make sure that it is the right tree. You have to be careful how you plant it and make sure that it is in the ground for long enough to actually reach credit on emissions. Then you have to make sure that it is not used for some carbon emitting process when it is pulled up, as such a tree used for pulp production is.
When trees die from disease, drought or fires, the carbon contained in their bodies will be released, negating any long-term carbon offsets. In some ways carbon offsets are the modern equivalent of religious indulgences as individuals and governments continue their high ecological and greenhouse footprint lifestyle and practices while doing penance by funding tree planting projects. I am not suggesting that a more effective public transport system, urban tree planting and more efficient watering systems are not desirable responses to climate change—they are—but they should primarily appear on the books as urban services and infrastructure expenditure.
Most greenhouse gas emissions in the ACT come from our heavy and increasing demand for electricity and gas to heat, cool and light buildings and our transport system. There is a big difference between adaptation measures like efficient watering systems, mitigation measures like planting trees and reduction measures like retrofitting existing buildings with better insulation, solar hot water and intelligent urban design which maximises solar access, minimises energy demand and reduces reliance on private vehicles.
This is the low-hanging fruit that the Greens have been urging governments to pick. These initiatives could be funded by long-term bond issues repaid out of savings from reduced energy expenditures. This could be one debt that future generations would actually thank us for. As it is, rising energy demand for air conditioners alone, which compensate for foolish and inefficient urban design and building codes, threatens to swamp the meagre emission reductions we have achieved to date.
Despite British economist Nicolas Stern warning that climate change may be the greatest case of market failure in human history, government superannuation and investment portfolios are still determined solely by risk-return calculations. Coal, oil and uranium investments eclipse holdings in solar, geothermal or wind power, and we still profit from the destruction of native forests and the sale of cigarettes and cluster bombs. The climate change benefits of buying slightly more efficient buses pale to insignificance beside the impact of investing billions of dollars without considering any consequences other than financial returns. The impacts of global warming are accelerating. If governments continue making unprincipled and ultimately irrational