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Living Lightly column

The big switch

By Bruce Key, member of Wodonga Albury Toward Climate Health (WATCH)

Saul Griffith is an Australian inventor, entrepreneur, engineer and author of a number of books aimed at reducing emissions so that the earth remains liveable.  His most recent book is The Big Switch which describes the wonderful assets that Australia possesses and how to use those assets to reduce our carbon emissions to zero, whilst saving households money, creating new sources of wealth and millions of jobs.

In Saul’s words, we can win, win, win.

Australia can do that because we have an almost infinite capacity to produce renewable energy, and moreover at a price lower than any other energy source.  Households can reduce their emissions to zero by using renewable electricity for all their energy needs. That means converting from petrol to electric cars, and changing from gas to electricity for heating, hot water and cooking.  Saul estimates that each household would not only reduce its emissions to zero but save an average of $5000 per annum.  That saving would be available to be spent locally instead of the present arrangement where much of the money is paid to multinational companies in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.

Similarly, industries could also convert to electricity with similar savings and benefits.

All the above suggestions are logical and beneficial, but perhaps the most important part of the book is where Saul describes how Australia can convert itself from being an exporter of raw materials that are processed overseas, to one where we export finished products.

He uses iron ore as an example.  We sell the ore at approximately $100 per tonne and then buy it back as steel at roughly $1000 per tonne.  The main difference between iron ore and steel is that steel contains a huge amount of ‘embedded energy’ which Saul is aware of because his career started by working in a BHP steel works.  If our renewable energy is cheaper than anyone else’s then our steel should be cheaper than any other country’s steel.

An even more extreme example is aluminium, which is sometimes called ‘congealed electricity’ because of the huge amount of electricity used in its production.

If Australia follows Saul’s suggestions, we can reduce household expenditures, start new industries, create millions of jobs, and most importantly, reduce our emissions to near zero.