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The day of the naysayer is over

26 April 2023

The Economist’s front cover recently featured a person clinging to a pylon, with the headline, “Hug pylons not trees.”

The thesis? To stop our planet from cooking, we must massively scale up renewable energy – and accept that the odd tree may get cut down or view altered as we build the infrastructure.

My own view is that we are long past the point of being able to choose between pylons and trees.

If temperatures continue to rise, we will be helpless to protect our landscapes.

No number of national parks will stop climate change from wiping out entire ecosystems and driving already rare species extinct. There’s even a new form of holiday emerging: LCT, or “last chance tourism.”

We need an entirely different mindset. One that grasps the enormity of the threat posed by global warming and quickly, decisively neutralises it – by eliminating fossil fuels and scaling green energy.

There’s no time left to consider the needs of the naysayers, delayers and other self-interested bad actors that have forced us into this mess.

This is why Fortescue, a proud Australian business and the fourth largest iron ore company in the world, has committed to eliminating fossil fuels from our mine sites by 2030 – decades before any other heavy industry actor.

It is also why we are working to generate commercial scale quantities of green hydrogen. Green hydrogen will allow green electrons – electricity – to be fluidly traded globally as green molecules.

Don’t take my word for it. The European Union plans to make and import 20 million tonnes of green hydrogen per year by 2030. By 2050, it is forecast that up to 400 million tonnes of clean hydrogen will be traded globally every year.

Yet the naysayers continue to dismiss green hydrogen as a “fantasy.” I would argue that they are the true fantasists.

Take Nick Cater, Executive Director of Menzies Research Centre, who wrote recently in The Australian, “Green hydrogen is to renewable energy enthusiasts what gold was to ancient alchemists: the universal panacea that frees the human soul from disease and corruptibility and transports it to a perfect and everlasting state.”

The absurdity of this statement speaks for itself.

Nick Cater also dismisses as an “absurdity” that Australia could need 3½ times more electricity than it currently produces to participate in the global green hydrogen trade.

It’s not an absurdity – it’s immensely doable.

Australia has the highest solar radiation per square metre of any continent in the world. Enough sunlight falls on a 50 square kilometre area to satisfy our entire nation’s electricity needs.

According to a 2022 study, Australia would need to allocate just two per cent of its land mass to solar and wind to replace all of the energy it currently exports via LNG and thermal coal with green electrons and green molecules.

That increase in renewables would also enable Australia to export value-added green steel and green metals rather than the current exports of iron ore, bauxite and alumina.

“This isn’t a fight Australia needs to be in,” Nick Cater’s article concludes.

I respectfully disagree. Today, mining, farming and tourism are cornerstones of our economy – but markets are changing as fast as our climate.

Australia’s economy could lose up to US$150 billion over the next decade if we fail to act over climate change – rising to US$1 trillion by 2050.

The day of the naysayer is over.

It is time to draw a line under past debates and calmly, confidently do what we need to do to destroy climate change – before it destroys us.