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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 25th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Green versus green

10 May 2019

You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs.

And so it is with energy.

You can't take advantage of clean, green, renewable hydro energy without flooding a few valleys and rivers.

You can't harness tidal power without putting a bunch of turbines at the mouths of harbours, straights or other areas where flow is high.

And in many countries, the only non-fossil energy source that can promise 24/7 delivery is nuclear power.

And all this seems to be an insurmountable hurdle for those hell-bent on saving the planet.

I think most people agree that we are seeing the effects of a changing climate.

Temperature extremes are greater and more frequent than before and, if the figures are correct, there has been an overall warming of the planet in recent decades. I won't go into the issue of just how much of this is man-made and how much may be due to factors beyond our control but suffice to say, it's happening.

In an attempt to reduce the harm caused by fossil-fuel emissions, all sorts of taxes, restrictions and other schemes have been put in place to limit the amount of CO2 and other greenhouse gases that are released into the atmosphere. The theory here is that it doesn't matter what the actual cause is, reducing CO2 emissions can only help in reducing the rate and magnitude of this climate change.

The greenies of the world are extra-zealous when it comes to promoting zero carbon footprints, both at a personal and global level.

But how do we do that -- without damaging other aspects of the planets ecology?

I spied a small but representative example of the conflicts we face in this story.

It seems that one bunch of folk (a commercial operation from Australia) want to explore the potential for mining lithium from brine around the Death Valley area in the USA -- but another bunch of folk (a wildlife group) say that such activity would threaten "a fragile ecosystem".

Now lithium is essential for the production of lithium-based batteries and they are essential for the transition from fossil fueled vehicles to EVs.

So which is more important -- saving the planet or saving "a fragile ecosystem"?

This is just one case where we're really going to have to weigh up the lesser of many evils if we are to survive on the face of this rock.

I expect that in this case, as in so many others, the issue will be dragged through the courts, an action that on its own will result in huge amounts of CO2 being released to light and heat courtrooms, get lawyers and witnesses too and fro, etc.

Perhaps it's time that a streamlined framework for weighing up the environmental value/penalty associated with any environmental issues is designed and implemented. It has already been clearly shown that climate change is progressing at a rate which has exceeded earlier predictions so we can't afford the luxury of having essential changes held up for years in the legal system as factions argue over whether something is good or bad for the environment.

Sadly, I fear that the biggest threat to the planet's ecosphere right now might be: lawyers!

No doubt the issues will be debated in courts and that will be a protracted business that stalls essential reforms and advances. Perhaps, by the time an agreement or decision is reached it will all be pointless -- the tipping point having been long passed and the planet already a toasty rock floating around in the darkness of space.

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