Kicking Gas Habit – Shane Rattenbury Op-ed

Australian Greens

By Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, Shane Rattenbury

Australia’s so-called “gas led recovery” is shaping up to be even more hazardous than we thought.

The Climate Council has today released a report Kicking the Gas Habit on the harmful health effects of gas, ranging from the hazardous substances used in unconventional gas extraction to the health consequences – particularly for kids – of using gas in our homes.

New research estimates that living in a home with gas appliances is responsible for 12 percent of childhood asthma, a comparable risk to that of living with a smoker. When ventilation is poor, levels of harmful contaminants can reach concentrations that significantly exceed safe or legal limits.

Gas extraction, whether done by fracking or other techniques, affects the health of entire communities located near these wells and mines. And if you’ve ever seen aerial photographs of coal seam gas wells, you won’t need convincing on the localised ecosystem damage caused by those sprawling webs of roads and wellheads. The damage to our precious water catchments is less visible but even more devastating.

As for the potent greenhouse gases released into the air at every stage from drilling and transport to heating your saucepans, no rational person remains unconvinced. Gas is not the ‘clean’ fuel it was once claimed to be. In today’s age of renewables, it is just another fossil fuel that must be phased out to address climate change.

Unsurprisingly, the Federal government has firmed up its threat to use our taxes to build a new white elephant…I mean a new gas-fired power station in the Hunter Valley.

This is despite every responsible stakeholder in the power generation space, including Australia’s Energy Security Board, saying that the numbers don’t stack up and that the entire concept of a “gas led recovery” is economically unrealistic.

It also flies in the face of what the vast majority of Australians want, which is more renewables – 96 percent of us according to the Australia Institute’s report. A much more recent poll by Guardian Essential showed that only 12 percent of us support the “gas led recovery” that the Morrison government is dragging us into.

As Federal taxpayers, Canberrans won’t be able to escape the consequences of these policy catastrophes entirely, but we can protect our physical, financial and ecosystem health at the local level.

Here, the ACT Government is listening to the overwhelming number of Australians who want less gas not more. Our policy is to responsibly phase out gas in the coming decades, on a journey to zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2045.

New suburbs in Canberra will no longer be connected to gas. We’re working on a project to stop new gas connections for infill developments by 2023. We’re pioneering an all-electric commercial centre in the Molonglo Valley. We have incentives to help households – especially those on a low income – replace expensive, inefficient, and, as we now know, hazardous gas heaters with better and cheaper electric ones. This is good for the environment, good for people’s health, and it saves them money.

Powered by renewables as electric appliances are in the ACT, we’re spreading the zero emissions benefits far beyond our own borders. As the air in our homes and neighbourhoods gets cleaner, hopefully we’ll see fewer young asthma sufferers and their parents making those frightening emergency trips to the hospital.

There’s a long way to go before we’ve phased out polluting fossil-fuel gas entirely, but at least we’re swimming with the global tide, not against it, and that has to be better for our health.

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