A Plan For The Future – Or Not

Diagram of planning cycle steps

By Compo [CC-BY-SA-3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

If you’re planning for the future, what do you do?

I’m guessing that you would think about what life might be like in that future, what sort of problems you might need to deal with, and how you might get from where you are now to where you want to be.

It wouldn’t be good planning if you just looked to the past and assumed nothing would be changing around you.

And yet that’s what some people do.

The current Australian government is a case in hand.

Over the last year it’s been working on a White Paper on energy. The terms of reference say that the:

Energy White Paper will outline a coherent, integrated and efficient regulatory and policy framework, stimulating sustainable growth, building community confidence in environmental safeguards and growing investment in the energy sector.

Like any country, Australia’s energy policy in the 21st century must reflect the issues and opportunities that we face in the 21st century.  The Energy White Paper needs to take a strategic approach to meeting the needs of the 21st century.  It needs to guide transformations where they are needed, rather than perpetuating systems and mindsets from past centuries.

And the primary issue for the 21st century is mitigating climate change and ocean acidification.  Climate change, with its twin ocean acidification, is the greatest problem that has ever faced humanity.   It is a systemic crisis that requires concerted action locally and globally.

Tackling this problem will require everyone – including the energy sector – to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases to zero.

And then there’s the other small problem of whether we run out of ‘cheap’ oil before we’ve developed – and implemented – alternatives (because we’ve reached ‘Peak Oil’).

And yet neither the Issues Paper nor the recently issued Green Paper (released as part of the process of developing the White Paper) adequately tackle these issues.

The Green Paper (like the Issues Paper before it) is still largely predicated on continuing to extract and use fossil fuels like coal, oil and fossil gas.  These are the same substances that are the main cause of climate change that is already affecting life on Earth as we know it.

We know that the best way to mitigate against catastrophic climate change is to stop what is causing it, that is, stop extracting and using fossil fuels.  As the IPCC Fifth Assessment Synthesis report puts it:

Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems. Limiting climate change would require substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions which, together with adaptation, can limit climate change risks…

Without additional mitigation efforts beyond those in place today, and even with adaptation, warming by the end of the 21st century will lead to high to very high risk of severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts globally… Mitigation involves some level of co-benefits and of risks due to adverse side-effects, but these risks do not involve the same possibility of severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts as risks from climate change, increasing the benefits from near-term mitigation efforts.

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki Moon, has emphasised the three key messages of the report:

  1. Human influence on the climate system is clear – and clearly growing.
  2.  [W]e must act quickly and decisively if we want to avoid increasingly destructive outcomes.
  3. We have the means to limit climate change and build a better future.

He pointed out that:

Even if emissions stopped tomorrow, we will be living with climate change for some time to come.

The good news is that if we act now, immediately and decisively, we have the means to build a better and more sustainable world…[including] economic prosperity.

It is now crystal clear, for these and a variety of other reasons, that Australia must rapidly move away from coal, gas and other fossil fuels – and this must be reflected in the White Paper and the Australian Government’s Energy Policy Goals. To do otherwise would be to put the human race on a course to suicide, stranding fossil-fuel-focussed assets (particularly in Australia) and causing great suffering and disruption along the way.

The White Paper needs to steer a clear path for Australia’s energy policy to move away from fossil fuels and continue the community-lead path to renewable energy and energy efficiency. Unless it does so, Australia’s economy will become fossilised and Australians (like people all over the world) will be doomed to a very uncertain and uncomfortable future.

The rest of the world is making the move and Australia should not be left behind.

It may be that the Australian government (or at least those that control it) doesn’t want to deal with such a big issue as transforming the energy systems on which the Australian economy and energy sector is based from ones that are destroying our planet’s resilience and ability to support us (fossil fuels) to ones that enable the Earth to continue to sustain life as we know it (renewable energy).

Luckily, there are huge opportunities in making such a transformation.

Australia has the best renewable energy resources in the world. (That, and good forward-looking planning, is why so many Australian households have been installing their own solar power generators on their roofs.)

The White Paper must ensure that Australia take up that competitive advantage – and responsibility – before it is too late.

That’s because we can only win a race if we’re running in the right direction.  And this is the human species’ race of our life.

What would be your goals for your nation’s energy policy? Just leave a comment in the box below…or send me a voice message by clicking on the tab on the right.

Till next time…be gentle to yourself and our world!

This post draws on my comments on the Australian Government’s Energy Green Paper 2014. Read more of my related submissions and articles here.