Australia's coal addiction set in train 30 years ago  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

The ABC has a report on how the energy crisis of the 1970's set in train Australia's modern day coal dependency - Australia's coal addiction set in train 30 years ago.

As the world battles to secure a low-carbon future, secret cabinet documents from 1979 show that before global warming was on the radar, Canberra acted to lock in Australia's coal-based energy future.

It was the year of the second oil shock, when Iranian oil supplies slumped and crude prices skyrocketed on the back of Iran's Islamic revolution and nations scrambled for policies to reduce their dependence on foreign oil.

Global politics were volatile in 1979 and included the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan on Christmas Eve of that year, which was also seen in significant part through the lens of energy security.

US president Jimmy Carter made his view clear in a speech in January the following year. "Let our position be absolutely clear. An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force," he said to deafening and repeated applause.

But the fallout from Iran's political upheaval was the more direct threat to energy security.

In January 1979, the Shah of Iran had fled his country, followed in February by the tumultuous return from exile of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who embarked on the Islamic revolution.

The chaos of the transition saw Iran's oil industry grind to a virtual halt, and even when supplies resumed, they were at much lower levels to which the world was accustomed. Global oil prices soared with the supply constraint. OPEC countries reaped the financial windfall and in turn restricted output, further cashing in.

In the West, there was panic and stockpiling. Crude prices rose by about 250 per cent. The talk was of reducing reliance on foreign oil.

For the Fraser government in Australia, that set in train policy considerations which in some areas echo responses to the imperative of climate change. But other considerations stand in contrast to energy-policy thinking in the current context, according to 1979 cabinet documents released by the National Archives of Australia.

"In June, cabinet approved a range of measures to reduce dependence on imported oil," Dr Jim Stokes, historical consultant to the National Archives of Australia, told Radio Australia.

"These included a reduction in fuel octane ratings, suspension of tougher standards on lead additives and vehicle emissions and encouragement of the use of LPG."

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