Jul 24, 2012

‘On shaky ground’: Australians hate coal, so what do we do now?

Research has found coal is Australia's most hated energy source -- yet it's a major export item which also generates three-quarters of our electricity. What's going on?

Cathy Alexander — Freelance journalist and PhD candidate in politics at the University of Melbourne

Cathy Alexander

Freelance journalist and PhD candidate in politics at the University of Melbourne

Talk about biting the hand that feeds you. Research released by The Climate Institute today has found that coal is Australia's most hated energy source. Focus groups and an online poll gauged the views of more than 1000 people in April and May this year on their preferred energy sources, and coal came last. Even nuclear power fared better. Two-thirds of the people surveyed placed coal in their bottom three (that is, least popular) of the nine energy sources listed. There's another way of crunching the numbers by which nuclear is less popular than coal -- looking at which power source was ranked in last place -- but either way, coal is on the nose. It's an interesting result from the world's largest coal exporter (A$46 billion of exports in 2011), and from a country that generates about 75% of its electricity from coal. Australia has derived much of its present prosperity from its abundant black and brown coal reserves, which at current production rates will last for more than a century. So what does this research tell us -- that the public wants out?

Source: the Climate Institute, "Climate of the Nation 2012"

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9 thoughts on “‘On shaky ground’: Australians hate coal, so what do we do now?

  1. Mark Duffett

    What a pity the efficacy of electricity generation technologies is determined by the laws of physics instead of democratically. Our energy mix needs to be determined by what works most effectively, not what’s most popular.

    Without having seen the questions, there appears to be a fundamental dishonesty about this survey in its implicit equation of (say) wind with nuclear, as if the two are approximately equivalent and interchangeable in performance terms.

  2. James K

    Mark: I am sure you must have read reports like Zero carbon emmissions
    by 2020:
    and other such reports and projections.

    It is viable. But people with a vested interest in the exisiting fossil fuel
    system keep telling the rest of us it is not able to work.

    So, can I ask you: do you have any vested interest in the current
    system? Any conflict of interest that makes you suggest that alternative
    energy sources cant work for Australia?

  3. Microseris

    Survey is pretty clear I’d say. People know using coal to generate
    electricity is an old technology developed in the 1880’s when there
    were limited alternatives. Its filthy, finite and leaves a lasting legacy
    for this and future generations to deal with.

    So lets work on the alternatives ASAP and remember anything the
    coal industry says is loaded with self interest.

  4. Mark Duffett

    James K, your first presumption is correct, I have indeed read the ZCA2020 and other reports of similar ilk. Have you read the critiques of them? Try as an example. In a nutshell: the ZCA2020 plan is a trillion-dollar recipe for rolling blackouts and/or carbon leakage with deindustrialisation.

    Your latter presumptions are decidedly incorrect. Quite the opposite, in fact. I’m even more opposed to the current system than ‘100% renewables’ advocates; at least they aren’t illegal under the status quo, as nuclear presently is in Australia. And just about the only direct shares I own are in renewable energy companies. Other than that, my only vested interest is in decarbonisation and a reliable electricity supply capable of supporting a fully functional 21st century economy.

  5. James K

    Thanks Mark. I will read the links you have offered.

    I am still going to admit up front, that I believe technology will
    continue to improve and that solar and wind and tideal and
    geothermal etc, together will be a better future for us and others
    around the globe. Even if there are problems with the technology
    today, right now, such problems will be overcome. They have to be.

    And the way science works, put enough resources into it, and have the
    motivation for it, and have the necessity for it… and people will work it

  6. AR

    This is a perfect example of the pointlessness of opinion polling. Most people like furry kittens but, were one to threaten their way of life or baby or spill their beer their “mind” would change.
    Most preferred solar!! Why then isn’t every roof in Mcmansionville covered in PhV or at least SolarHart?
    Cognitive dissonance, thy name is lumpen. Unfortunately, they are obliged to vote.

  7. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    It’s hardly surprising that people would prefer electricity to be generated from solar rather than burning coal. And critics are right: 100% solar generated mains electricity is in our dreams. But what is the same critic’s view about rising atmospheric CO2? How does the coal miner or the National Party senator think the nation should respond to rising sea levels, increasing ocean acidity and global warming, all of which are directly connected to the burning of fossil fuels? Do they deny it? Do they admit they don’t know what to do. Or do they just keep digging in the hope that someone else will find a way out of this mess?
    Maybe, in the end, it doesn’t matter that Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Rome must have been so primitive back in the day.

  8. Daniel Keogh

    A telling sign for me is that hydro scored well higher than tidal. Why is that?
    Is it because tidal is less commonly known than hydro?
    From what I understand tidal is more efficient and more appropriate to Australia, it’s just that it hasn’t been around as long as hydro has. Am I way off?

  9. Mark Duffett

    James K, thanks for keeping an open mind. But don’t forget that everything you said about science and technological improvement also applies to nuclear, Generation IV reactor technology being a case in point.

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