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Special Report: "Pickens urges action on energy crisis" July 22, 2008 (CNN)
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"Forget carbon trading - we must go straight to renewable energy" July 22, 2008
 
Peter Droege Faculty of Engineering, University of Newcastle

The confusion around emissions trading has served to disguise for too long that Australia needs a crash program to replace its national energy system and exchange coal and oil for renewable power. The longer this is postponed, the more difficult the ultimate effort will be, yet it is necessary for our survival and to help other countries make this revolutionary change.

Roughly three-quarters of greenhouse gas emissions that are produced by human activities result from burning fossil fuels for power generation and transport, almost one-quarter from industrial agricultural practices, and (this includes) another significant portion from cement production.

Yet instead of focusing on these practices and finding ways to replace and change them, the emissions trading scheme distributes the onus for fixing the problem across the entire economy - from large companies to, ultimately, every owner, operator and consumer.

The stated aim is to drive efficiency and reduce demand, and to make alternative energy production more competitive. Yet primary polluters are granted relief and exemptions from this scheme, and motorists are buffered from price rises.

Equally paradoxical is the reliance on a national and global system of fossil fuel and agricultural subsidies. None of this will help in stabilising the global climate, nor shield Australia's economy from the terminal oil shock that is upon us.

Instead, this myopic fixation on an incomprehensible carbon trading regime will mean the old combustion systems stay in place, and efficiency measures are slow to commence.

By focusing all the attention on pollution trading, the core emitters - coal and oil producers, refiners, electricity generators from coal, diesel and gas - shift the focus onto the consumers of dirty energy, which is all of us. The entire economy is hence held hostage: do something about climate change and everyone will suffer.

Let's call this bluff. Instead of wasting time with an impossibly complex and ultimately hopeless carbon trade regime, let us swiftly implement a 100 per cent renewable energy system, replace coal and oil with the country's abundant solar, bio-energy, wind and geothermal sources.

We can do this by using feed-in tariffs, production tariffs, structural adjustment support to retrain and re-employ workers in the outmoded high-carbon energy industries, direct investment in intelligent grids, efficiency standards and regulation - and negative-carbon soil and land cover management methods. We would make enormous savings and we just may have a chance to turn the corner in time.

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