August 8, 2015: Renewable Choice for Oz Voters

Cintia takes in the view of Rio from Pao de Acucar

Cintia takes in the view of Rio from Pao de Acucar

Rio de Janeiro is a fascinating city. Some say it’s the most beautiful city in the world but I think Sydney still wins that one for me. Mind you we were only in Rio for one day and it was a bit cloudy so we didn’t get to see it’s full glory. I did get the feeling that there are a thousand interesting places and things to see around the city and surrounding area. It would be easy to spend a month there and only scratch the surface of the place. We did spend a bit more time with Cintia’s family in Sao Paulo which is not likely to make anyone’s list of most beautiful cities in the world. In fact it is huge, polluted, crowded, and not very pretty. What saves it, of course, is that it is populated by Brazilians who, for me, are living up to their reputation of being friendly, fun-loving, warm and welcoming. On the other hand there is a LOT of crime in Sao Paulo to the extent that most people have to barricade themselves into their homes.

Cintia's Parent's house in Sao Paulo. High crime rates force home owners to barricade themselves with high walls, steel bars and electric fences.

Cintia’s parent’s house in Sao Paulo. High crime rates force home owners to barricade themselves with high walls, steel bars and electric fences.

Cintia’s parent’s house has no view of the surrounding neighbourhood, all you can see out the windows is the inside of the high wall surrounding the property with electrified wires running around the top. If it wasn’t for the warmth of the people inside and the perfectly comfortable and pleasant living arrangements you could easily feel like you were living in a maximum security prison. It was enough to make me quite claustrophobic at first and VERY thankful for the privilege we enjoy of living in the Greeny Flat, in such a safe and peaceful part of Australia where we don’t have to put bars on our windows or build walls around ourselves… where we can look out our windows and see the beautiful place that surrounds us and go for a walk in the park in the evening with no fear of being robbed or mugged. We are so lucky and we should never take that for granted.

This, for me, is one of the great things about travelling… it reminds me of how incredibly privileged I am and of how important it is to appreciate my good fortune. This trip has raised some serious internal conflicts for me. I am finding it very hard to justify the fact that we are consuming so much and emitting so much CO2 for our own personal benefit. The fact that we CAN do this is another reminder of just how very lucky we are in this world… the vast majority of the world’s population do not have the means to go jet-setting around the planet. But this, for me at least, carries a heavy burden of responsibility. Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should. Is our desire to be present at Cintia’s father’s 70th and my son’s 21st birthdays enough to justify the potential damage that we are causing? Clearly not, and yet, here we are… conflicted but determined that, if we’re going to do it we have to make the most of it… appreciate every moment and not spend the whole time feeling guilty about it.

So here’s one more photo from the gorgeous colonial village of Paraty on the coast south of Rio. Founded in 1597 by the Portuguese, the old part of the town has been beautifully preserved and the cobble-stone streets are kept free of cars. It felt very much like a trip back in time and makes me wonder if we’ve really made any advance in town planning or building design in the last 500 years. Paraty will stand out in my memory, not just for its intense beauty but also for the wonderful evening we spent eating, drinking, dancing and listening to music with a room full of happy Brazilians at one of the many charming restaurant/bars in the old village. It was a perfect evening and I felt like I was enjoying the very best of what Brazil has to offer.

The gorgeous, 500-year-old village of Paraty.

The gorgeous, 500-year-old village of Paraty.

News From Oz

Meanwhile I’ve been keeping track of some interesting developments at home. Not only has Tony Abbott come in for some serious international criticism for his policies on renewable energy, but the Labor Party is finally showing some guts and appears to be aiming to make the next election a national referendum on renewable energy policy. This is great news. Personally I think Abbott and his party’s open war on clean and renewable energy development is a national disgrace and a moronic stance for a political party to take. Clearly there is enormous potential for renewable energy to offer a path to a cleaner, healthier future for humanity AND to provide employment and economic development along the way.

According to this recent article from the Sydney Morning Herald, one of Britain’s wealthiest, conservative members of parliament named Richard Benyon has openly attacked Tony Abbott’s climate change policies calling them ‘mystifying’, ‘bewildering’, ‘incomprehensible’ and ‘a distorted vision of what it means to be a conservative’. This raises a very valid point. For a long time I have wondered what it is that so-called ‘conservatives’ like Tony Abbott are actually looking to conserve. It appears to be their own wealth and privilege and certainly not the health of the environment or the future prospects of our children and grandchildren. As Mr Benyon says, ‘true conservative values include… a respect for sound science and economics, a belief in protecting the natural world and a responsibility to do the best for the biggest possible number of one’s citizens’.

Mr Abbott has also been the subject of stinging criticism from within Australia. As reported in this Energy Matters newsletter, South Australian Climate Change Minister Ian Hunter has said that

“…. we will be calling on the Federal Government to end its ideological opposition to renewable energy and commit to supporting these projects that reduce the devastating impacts of climate change… The message being sent to renewable energy investors by our Federal Government is look elsewhere – don’t spend your money in Australia and don’t create jobs here – we think that is grossly irresponsible.”

Meanwhile, as reported by the ABC, Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has announced the Labor Party’s renewable energy policy heading into the next election and it includes very ambitious targets. They are calling for 50 percent of Australia’s electricity to be from renewable sources by 2030. This would be a big step in the right direction from where we are now and is setting the next election up to be a national referendum on renewable energy. ‘There couldn’t be a clearer choice between Abbott’s Liberals and the Labor Party I lead’, Mr Shorten said. ‘You do no favours for the people of Australia, no favours to your own families and successive generations by saying we can’t do anything about climate change.’ 

It’s great to see a major Australian political party actually make a stand FOR something and not just react against whatever the other party has to say. I hope it pays off for them at the next election because I do believe that acting decisively to curb climate change will not only benefit the planet and everyone on it but also has the potential to stimulate a lot of economic activity at home in Australia. Kane Thornton, CEC CEO, is quoted in this ecogeneration article as saying…

‘The Australian Labor Party must be congratulated for taking such strong leadership and recognising the enormous role that renewable energy can play in Australia’s future, both in terms of dealing with the challenge of climate change and creating economic opportunities’.

I just hope that energy conservation is a major component of any future Australian energy policy and that the shift to renewables is applied to all forms of energy consumption and not just to electricity generation. A huge amount of natural gas is used for heating and cooking in Australian homes and most of our transportation is powered by either petrol of diesel engines. So while the Labor policy is a great start, there is still a very long way to go towards a truly renewable energy future.

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