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‘For too long, we have failed to give a value to our climate. We have failed to put a price on pollution. We have overlooked the Earth’s atmosphere with regard to greenhouse gases with no accountability for what happens next.’

Senator Penny Wong, Minister for Climate Change, 2008

Ten years ago, who thought that energy and how we produce it would become one of the most important issues we face? Ten years ago we didn’t even know where electricity came from. How many of us ever gave a thought to the relationship between our energy use and our environment?

Australia has one of the highest rates of greenhouse gas emissions per capita in the world. It’s official we are the world champions of – making pollution. We are the worst when we’d like to be the best. How did this happen?

How did we become world champs? Blame our coal: we are cursed (or blessed, depending on who you talk to) with an abundance of cheap coal in Australia.

Burning coal for energy is one of the most polluting activities you can do. On top of that, the burning of coal in power stations around the country is responsible for around 60% of Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

The problem is that we are cursed with an abundance of easily found cheap coal. Successive government ministers at federal and state levels reckon that this is abundance is a blessing. And it was once. But, now that we understand the impacts of the pollution it causes, we are rethinking its benefits. Therein lies the problem – our governments insist on promoting and funding this ‘blessing’.

It’s like saying we are blessed with the world’s largest deposit of asbestos.

In 2005, the Victorian government signed off approval for an extension of the license Hazelwood, the world’s-worst-polluting power station to run until 2035. They did this with full knowledge of the global warming implications. This was disappointing to say the least.

We are the worst when most of us want to be the best – at least we are coming off a low base! We have huge scope for improvement.

Our embarrassing worlds’-worst-practice situation can be fixed, but we will need everyone to help with this one. It is time to help our governments stand up to Big Coal and demand clean renewable energy.

On the other hand, Australians are making the switch to GreenPower (electricity from clean sources) with more than 1.3 million connections and 14% of households making the switch.

Australia has massive potential to lead the world in clean energy production through wind, solar and geothermal. We can export this technology to the world and dominate a smart value added industry. Who would have thought?

‘Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on, or by imbeciles who really mean it.’

Mark Twain