Withersfield Station has been held by the Graham family since the 1950s, but persistent drought conditions have made it much harder to run cattle.
Fifth-generation grazier Will Graham and his wife Dorothy run beef cattle on the 50,000-hectare property near Emerald in Queensland’s Western Downs region.
Graham grew up there, and said he was in no doubt the state was on the frontline of a changing climate.
“We had good seasons, we had droughts as well, but the last 10 years has been very dry and certainly very hot too,” he said.
“There’s less grass and more erosion [and] over the last four or five years we’ve reduced the stocking rate by about half.
“We’re not running as many cattle, and that’s how we’ve adapted to the lower rainfall.”
The Grahams want policymakers to embrace clean energy, but the transition away from fossil fuels is one of Queensland’s great challenges.
Average temperatures across the state are 1 degree Celsius higher than a century ago, though most of that warming has taken place over the past 50 to 60 years.
According to modelling based on CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology data, by 2050 the median temperature is projected to rise by 1.4 degrees Celsius under a low carbon emissions scenario and 1.9 degrees Celsius with high emissions.
More than 400km north of Withersfield Station lies the Galilee Basin, one of the world’s largest untouched coal reserves.
This is where mining company Adani plans to build its controversial Carmichael thermal coal mine.
But growing international pressure to reduce carbon emissions means coal is no longer the sure bet it once was.
“Even if you don’t take the climate into account, the price of coal is going down,” Graham said.
Economist Professor John Quiggin agreed, saying the problem was the “dogmatic unwillingness of governments to act”.
Quiggin said pushing ahead with coal was taking a bet that “other countries will fail to deliver on what needs to be done if the climate’s going to be stabilised”.
Rising tally of natural disasters
The Great Barrier Reef is under serious threat from repeated coral bleaching events due to rising ocean temperatures.
Drought and high temperatures have also fuelled catastrophic bushfires, while cyclones and flooding have impacted communities up and down the coast.
Damage from the 2018 summer of disasters alone is estimated to have cost Queensland $1.5 billion.
Mining is the largest single contributor to the Queensland economy and coal is the state’s biggest export.
Even so, Quiggin argued Queensland could transition out of thermal coal — used for power generation — over the next decade.
“It’s a tiny fraction of what’s being done in response to the pandemic. We could easily generate a comparable number of jobs through renewable energy,” he said.
Renewable energy super power?
Queensland has been slower than most other Australian states in expanding its renewables sector, mainly because of its heavy reliance on coal.
The Climate Council’s 2019 report card showed Queensland ahead of the pack on solar panel uptake, but lagging behind South Australia, the ACT, Tasmania and Victoria in its renewable energy capacity.
But change is on the horizon.
A recent report commissioned by the Australian Conservation Foundation found renewable energy projects could deliver more than a third of Queensland’s electricity by 2025, which puts the state on track to reach its 50 per cent renewable energy target by 2030.
State Government-owned electricity company CleanCo began trading on the National Energy Market late last year, with a target to support 1000 megawatts of new renewable energy generation by 2025.
Its projects include the MacIntyre Wind Farm near Warwick and Western Downs Green Power Hub, which will include Australia’s largest solar farm, at Chinchilla in the Western Downs.
An analysis of Australia’s proposed renewable energy projects indicated that if all of these projects go ahead, they would produce more power than Queensland’s gas and coal industries combined.
Energy analyst Tristan Edis said they would also employ more people than currently work in Queensland’s coal-fired power stations.
He said this equated to “5000 jobs for the next 15 years constructing those projects, and then an ongoing 4,000 jobs operating those plants”.
Edis said Queensland’s open spaces and abundant sunlight meant the state was well-placed to become a renewable energy “super power” that helped the rest of the world reduce carbon emissions by exporting renewable energy.
“It requires new transmission to be built [and doing] more around encouraging energy storage … pumped hydro, batteries, electric vehicles. Those are the next steps we need to make,” he said.
The transport sector is Queensland’s second-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, with cars the major contributor.
Electric vehicle uptake is low in Australia, but Brisbane is home to one of the world’s leading makers of electric vehicle charging stations.
Tritium specialises in fast DC chargers and has exported more than 4,500 of them since 2014.
Company CEO Jane Hunter said the way to improve electric vehicle (EV) uptake was to drive down prices.
She pointed to Norway, where half of all vehicles on the road are electric.
“In 2001 they said no 25 per cent sales tax on EVs and they gave benefits like free public parking and removed tolls,” she said.
“But they’ve been thinking about this for a long time — and it’s paid off.”
On Withersfield Station, the Grahams are doing what they can to plan for a warmer future.
“If the temperature rises we will adapt, but it won’t be much fun on a 45-50C day, I can tell you,” Graham said.
– ABC / Dea ClarkJump to next article