Gaslit future

When the Coalition was removed in the 2022 “Climate Election”, Australians thought they had voted out the gas-led recovery

You might be feeling a sense of déjà vu today as Labor rolls out their Future Gas Strategy, backing gas development to infinity (2050) and beyond, citing “facts and data” as their basis. Australians voted for real climate action in 2022, yet one can’t help noticing the uncanny resemblance of Labor’s “Future Gas Strategy” to the Coalition’s “gas-led recovery” of 2020.

Resource Minister Madeleine King said this morning, “The Future Gas Strategy is a result of extensive consultations… The findings are clear and based on facts and data, not ideology or wishful thinking.” Consultations with whom? Facts and figures from where?

Gas is said to be cleaner than coal because it releases less CO2 when it’s burned. At face value, this sounds good, right? Well, “natural” gas is primarily methane, a greenhouse gas. Methane has a global warming potential 80 times that of CO2 in the first twenty years after its release, when the extraction, transportation and inefficient use of gas in the home leaks huge amounts of methane into the atmosphere. A recent peer reviewed study in Environmental Research Letters notes that even small amounts of methane leakage makes natural gas as harmful as coal, and recent aerial surveys show much higher leakage rates here than in the US. Worse yet, Australia significantly under-reports methane emissions, suggesting the gas industry’s true environmental impact is far greater than publicly admitted.

Labor has also warned of the looming “domestic gas shortage.” Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) reports potential shortfalls in New South Wales and Victoria, claiming we need expanded gas exploration or importation. Yet Western Australia ranks as the world’s third-largest LNG exporter, with 82 per cent of our gas shipped overseas.

Gas proponents insist it’s critical to our economy. But our Petroleum Resource Rent Tax (PRRT) is riddled with loopholes, resulting in fossil fuel giants paying virtually no tax with zero government pushback – it’s likely that you paid more tax last year than some of these gas giants. And given most of our fossil fuel companies are foreign owned, most of those profits flow offshore rather than back into our communities. We’re talking hundreds of billions lost – money that could fund our transition to a fully renewable economy plus support education, health, and infrastructure.

The prime minister today affirmed his government’s commitment to net zero: “We support net zero, and gas and its firming capacity as a part of assisting with that pathway to net zero.” How can they be committed to net zero emissions while proclaiming they want to keep emitting? Well, central to Labor’s plan is Australia’s “storage potential”. Madeleine King stated the government “will release more greenhouse gas acreage for carbon capture, use and storage.” While carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology is often enthusiastically promoted by governments and the fossil fuel industry as a major solution to the climate crisis, it is valued by very few besides. Decades of investment have produced minimal results, with a global CCS capacity far too small to make a meaningful impact on emissions. There are only about 30 operating CCS projects in the entire world, hardly a burgeoning industry.

King also touted figures like “supporting more than 80,000 jobs” to highlight potential job losses in the transition. Studies consistently show that renewable energy offers far greater job creation potential than fossil fuels. The Clean Energy Council estimates the renewable energy sector already employs over 30,000 people in Australia and this number is expected to grow significantly as the sector expands, including a near doubling in the need for electricians by 2030.

Although, there are some good jobs in fossil fuels: as Senator Larissa Waters put to the Climate Integrity Summit recently: “Every single resources minister in Coalition and Labor governments since 2001 has gone on to work in the fossil fuel sector.”

The IPCC, the world’s leading authority on climate science, has repeatedly emphasised the urgency to ditch all fossil fuels, including gas. To maintain a chance of limiting warming to 1.5°C, a goal already slipping from our grasp, science tells us to leave fossil fuels in the ground. A grim revelation reported by The Guardian tells us that 80% of IPCC scientists warn that our current path leads to 2.5°C or more of warming – a future of unimaginable suffering, sweltering heat waves, ferocious natural disasters, crop failures, mass migration, starvation and dehydration, and irreversible planetary change. Continuing to burn fossil fuels for decades to come, as our current government proudly plans to do, all but ensures that future.

It’s little wonder so much of our energy discourse centres around jobs and growth rather than death and destruction given the corporations profiting from our national addiction to gas are also bankrolling and rewarding politicians who maintain the status quo. In the 2022 financial year alone, fossil fuel companies donated a staggering $2 million to Australia’s Labor, Liberal, and Nationals parties – and that’s just the donations we know about, with around a quarter or all donations being deemed as “dark money”.

Considering Australians voted for climate action and integrity, it seems we’re getting very little of either.

Jack Toohey is a writer and filmmaker.

“It’s a library – you can choose to read a book or not ... What a joke, he should trust his own citizens enough to walk into a library and read whatever the hell they want.”

NSW Premier Chris Minns says a decision by a Western Sydney local council to ban same-sex parenting books is “ridiculous”.

“Australia is committed to reaching net zero emissions by 2050, and we will need gas to get there.”

Resources Minister Madeleine King wrongly purports that we can continue burning gas for decades to come and still reach net zero.

0.0086%

The effective tax rate Santos contributed to Australia since 2014.

The Albanese government’s Future Made in Australia policy structured to incentivise investment.

Fleshed out the policy ahead of next week’s budget, Jim Chalmers confirmed tax breaks will be structured to “incentivise the kind of investment we want to see in the future of our economy and in a future made in Australia”.

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