One backyard at a time: how Perth gardeners can lead the planet back to health
As a young man, I spent a lot of time engrossed in nature.
Exploring the Canning River, growing up on a Mundijong dairy farm and enjoying produce from my grandfather’s Subiaco vegie patch had me thinking about nature and our impact on it from a young age.
I hear so many friends and colleagues voicing resignation to the inevitable fact that we are killing our planet as we know it. They worry any changes made in Australia will have a negligible impact on world emissions. So what’s the point, right?
Certainly federal politicians would have you believe that any move towards significant carbon emission reductions, especially in an election cycle, is a cost on society and pointless, unless others on the world stage act.
But, let’s face it – politics these days relies on campaigns that are loud enough to drown out the others’ message. This takes considerable funding, often provided by big business that sets conditions for the recipients. There’s no bigger business than the energy business, so it’s easy to see why recent prime ministers have lacked the backbone to take real leadership.
The messages we hear are confusing. ‘Clean coal is the future’; ‘green energy causes grid crashes in high demand’ and ‘homeowners installing solar are causing greater costs to the grid system, forcing energy prices up’. But it’s all spin designed to clutter and confuse your mind, to delay change and ultimately support the old systems and old thinking.
Energy from coal, oil and gas is no longer sustainable as green energy options become more efficient and economical. Technology will be our planet’s saviour; technological advances are tripling each decade. Green energy will take the black coal and oil clouds out of the pollution cycle.
The key currently is energy storage, and this is where it gets exciting. Battery systems are making a difference and, as they advance the storage technology and capacity, we will rely on them increasingly.
We need leadership
That's more than one million homes nationally over the next five years if we acted today and legislated this requirement. This takes a level of political leadership not evident in Australia currently, though with a federal election months away you’d be hoping one party would be leading the way on such an important issue.
Just 16 semi-mature trees can absorb the greenhouse gas emissions of a family of four
The revolution isn’t just in solar and wind. In the USA, electric vehicle sales continue to grow strongly with Tesla reporting enormous growth in 2018 over 2017 sales. Yet of 73.5 million cars made worldwide last year, only 250,000 were electric.
There are 4.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases being produced by cars alone on this planet. So why are we continuing to produce fossil fuel engines? It is partly due to luxury taxes being applied against most electric vehicles. We have to drive change, with more demand for electric vehicles.
China is in the middle of an air quality crisis and their reaction was to tax polluting vehicles but remove all taxes on electric vehicles. The effect in cities such as Quindao is quiet streets full of electric vehicles and very few petrol or diesel vehicles on the road. Maybe we too need to drop tariffs to drive demand.
The green energy revolution requires resources: lithium, and minerals such as nickel and copper are vital. WA is well placed to be the world’s largest supplier of lithium. It’s believed to be worth $100 billion to the WA economy unprocessed. Imagine a state that also processed the lithium – the value that would add to our economy.
But like all things, there’s a catch – lithium batteries require other minerals to work, such as graphite. It’s not common, and China, India and Brazil are the largest suppliers currently with limited deposits. Forty per cent of the world’s remaining graphite is found in deposits in Mozambique, a country recovering from a tumultuous civil war. It may be nations such as Mozambique that determine the future of our planet and our species.
Our ability to supply graphite to meet the massive growth in demand for lithium battery storage may be the biggest obstacle to slowing global warming. While large volumes of lithium are available and production can meet demand, graphite production cannot, according to current research, and its growth in mining is behind predictions for demand for battery storage.
This means there will be a stalling in the transformation of our energy networks, unless politicians start talking realistically about the challenges we face in the next two to five decades.
Companies are gearing up; there is a way and we will probably find it. Hopefully, the carbon-neutral energy market will pick up a quicker pace. We need an energy revolution. The clock is ticking and many believe we are too close to midnight.
Change needs to be rapid
Scientists agree change needs to be rapid. Completely stopping fossil fuel emissions now will only slow the change momentum; what concerns scientists most is that it may take decades to fully realise the momentum of change global warming is causing for life on Earth.
If we stopped greenhouse gas emissions now, the planet will continue to heat to almost 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Many scientists believe that's already enough to catalyse a mass extinction, which will include humans.
You probably hope something happens soon, but think you personally can’t make a real difference. This feeling of disempowerment is possibly our greatest challenge.
I believe in humankind and our ability to shape our environment; that as we caused the change, we have equal ability to reverse it.
We all have the ability to grow plants. They cleanse the environment we live in, cleaning water of pollution and air of carbon. Anyone with a community garden or a backyard can have a positive effect.
Just 16 semi-mature trees can absorb the greenhouse gas emissions of a family of four, taking carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in the soil. That's four trees per person.
Lawn absorbs more carbon per square metre than a mature rainforest. After converting atmospheric carbon dioxide to oxygen, six square metres of lawn can supply one person’s oxygen needs per day.
One important fact not often discussed in the greenhouse gas emission debate is that we have removed 65 per cent of the world’s trees. We’ve lost the balance between plant and animal.
But we can replant the planet. The balance will start swinging back and radical climate and environmental change will slow.
With green energy generation, battery storage and the will to act now – politically and personally – one backyard at a time – we can be the world leaders, the country that lead the way and shows the world how to do it. The end of carbonisation of our atmosphere is nigh: a new, healthier future is ahead.