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We must stop burning coal and oil.

Yes we Can ! - Yes we Will !

The Rudd governments policy has been withdrawn, but its policy of giving a license to industry to continue pollution was always suspect. The Copenhagen conference was a failure, it showed most nations as being too concerned with their own economic greed. Australia is now the largest coal exporter in the world and the CO2 level is going up, reaching a higher level than at any time in the last 800,000 years.

The Coal and Oil lobby has addled the brains of our leaders, politicians, industrialists, bankers and preachers, Our media quotes all the arguments unemployment, undercutting export prices, but only rarely gives answers to these problems.

There are a few genuine people who have doubts about the science but most have been misled by those who have shares in coal and oil and have not considered what scientists say. So I, an amateur scientist, find it necessary to put, in the simplest terms, the science involved, before suggesting a reasonable course of action.


The earth is a globe, warmed by the sun, which has a very constant energy output. Variations caused by sunspots, or by the earth's orbit, tilt, and wobble are too small to account for the changes in climate that we experience. The sun's energy is insufficient to keep us warm without help from greenhouse gasses. Without these the temperature would be about 30 degrees lower, fatal for agriculture.

The most powerful greenhouse gas is water vapor, responsible for two-thirds of the heat required but scientists are not concerned because it forms clouds which can reflect heat and they fall out of the sky in one or two weeks. CO2 causes the greatest concern. Sunlight easily penetrates this gas, but the reflected light from the earths surface has a lower frequency which cannot penetrate the C02 and so heat is trapped at low elevations. The more CO2, the more heat is trapped. 50% of the CO2 is absorbed by the oceans making the oceans more acidic, and putting coral reefs at great risk. Trees also take up take up large amounts of CO2 but mankind is busy cutting down forests. The strength of this trapping of heat is quite low but it is sufficient to cause some increased heating, resulting in more evaporation of water and this extra vapor causes still more heat. Thus feedback increases the power of CO2.

There are many other greenhouse gasses. Methane (the gas that cows belch) is 20 times stronger than CO2 but it will only stay in the atmosphere for about 20 years, whereas CO2 will stay for well over 100 even a 1000 years. The danger with methane is the large quantities called clathrates, frozen methane and water, found in the arctic, in Russian steppes and in sea beds, which if rising temperatures melt the clathrates, then large quantities of methane gas will be let loose with disastrous results.


There are those who have difficulty in believing that life can have any influence on climate, but throughout the whole history of earth, life has made immense changes to climate and the world. Very early in earths history, cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae evolved. These microbes use photosynthesis. They feed on CO2 and their waste product is oxygen. The oxygen first oxidized iron rock, then produced sufficient free oxygen (eventually up to 21%) making it possible for animals to develop, and in addition provided the ozone layer to protect them.

Around 1974 it was realized that the ozone layer was developing a hole and was much thinner than it used to be. It was discovered that the cause was fluorocarbons used in Fridges and spray cans. Skin cancer in Australia and America was on the rise but by 1987 the original Montreal Protocol was signed. The world agreed to stop using fluorocarbons. Thus it was shown that the actions of man could put the whole of humanity in danger, but could also take joint action to correct the problem.

Today, we are burning more coal, exporting more coal and little if any recent improvement has been made in filtering out the dust, mercury and other pollutants causing disease, particularly to workers and their families. Sequestration of CO2 is still not a reality.

In the case of oil, we continue to build expensive vehicles without regard to the fact that the majority of the worlds oil wells are in decline by 4% per annum. We should be saving oil so we can continue to make fertilizers. Oil companies claim supplies for 40 years but recent reports say in 4 or 5 years time supplies will be 20% down, the price will be up, bankruptcies will increase causing the biggest financial crash in all time.


These recommendations are based on the idea that everybody, workers, politicians, industry, and bankers agree to cooperate knowing that to continue with business as usual leads to disaster. Cooperation should be on the basis of firms preparing a plan to convert their plants to solar or other sustainable operation within six months and completing the conversion within 12 months.

The government to supply finance to subsidise approved conversions. If such subsidies become excessive then the government could require shares in the business. It should be a condition that once sufficient capacity for greenhouse operation is available then fossil fuel capacity will be closed. No compensation to be available.

It needs to be understood that the first priority is to stop burning coal and oil, efforts to make the changes financially palatable are a minor priority.

It will be realized that to build solar equipment, electric cars etc. will require a lot of steel. Therefore the first step is to require all metal smelters to convert to solar operation as in France.

The government to approach all smelters, discuss their plans, financial position and set deadlines.

Achievements made for the smelting industry to become a blueprint for all other industries. At least 80% to be completed by 2050

In the case of firms that refuses to comply the government should construct a competing plant and then close down the objecting firm again without compensation.

Nothing in these proposals would prevent the government from applying carbon tax or cap and trade systems as might be appropriate.


1 Retrain coal miners as solar engineers.

2 Build solar equipment in exportable quantities.

3 Report these actions to all countries and the U.N.

4 Place a reducing cap on coal exports.

5 Taxes to be placed on imports from countries that undercut prices. Where this is against free trade agreements, such agreements to be corrected.


Coal and oil interests will object.....
1, saying that these proposals will result in unemployment. But the conversions will mean much more employment.
2, will claim that Green Power will be less efficient and wont supply power all the time, But it is the efficiency of coal which drives us to maximum output and the unsustainable use of resources.
3, will claim that closing down fossil fuel plants means a great financial loss which should be compensated. But to continue using this plant will mean more CO2 with a fatal rise in temperature with no compensation for anybody.
4, Will claim that there is insufficient money available to pay for conversion even if spread over 50 years....

They are right, The banks could not do it, nor could we pay the interest. In any case the banks need reform, consider, in 2008 they suffered a financial crash. Today, Greece is bankrupt, Britain has more debt, Spain, Ireland, Italy and others have dangerous debt. 7 countries across the world have more than a trillion dollars in debt each, including the USA. Looks like another crash any day soon. Then when the oil supply is 20% down in 4 years time causing much bankruptcy, the banks will crash for the third time and even the bankers will admit reform is essential. Capitol is too expensive. One possible reform easily amended to suit Australian conditions.

I have met many ordinary people, painters, carpenters, mechanics, office workers as well as some in managerial positions, who understand that we have evolved from more primitive life and are dependent on living in a place which has limited ranges of temperature, atmospheric pressure, clean water, and so on. Live outside these limits and you die. Ordinary people understand this. They also understand the warnings of scientists that too much CO2 will take us outside the acceptable temperature range,

we are shocked and horrified that our leaders, political, business, financial and religious, are so weak, so easily give in to those who put up foolish objections, who pretend its not happening, or are making so much money that they disregard the consequences.

We must put pressure on our leaders and search out those leaders who can say "Yes we Can !" and "Yes we Will !"

Dick Clifford

Vice President, 

Humanist Society of South Australia

May 2010

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