Ian Lowe was a baker's son in the tiny NSW town of Caragabal ("West of Sydney, east of Wyalong, south of Forbes, in the middle of bloody nowhere"). When he was 10 the family moved to Tahmoor, south of Picton, on the old Hume Highway. All his primary schooling went on in two-room schools.
Half a century later, Ian Lowe is emeritus professor in science and technology at Brisbane's Griffith University. He is one of Australia's foremost authorities on climate and the environment. Five years ago he was named winner of the Prime Minister's "environment award for outstanding individual achievement". He is someone, you'd have to think, who knows what he is talking about.
On Wednesday, as president of the Australian Conservation Foundation, Lowe spoke to a lunchtime audience at the National Press Club. The ABC televised his 4000-word speech live at 1pm. It repeated it at 3.25am. The Herald reported a segment of the speech in its Thursday issue. No other paper that I saw reported it. No TV or radio current affairs programs picked it up, either. The speech just died. The media wasn't interested.
And Lowe's core message?
First: "There is no serious doubt that climate change is real. It is happening now and its effects are accelerating." He detailed those effects and their growing economic and social cost. Second: "The science is very clear. We need to reduce global greenhouse pollution by about 60 per cent by the middle of this century." He detailed how we should do this and what will happen if we don't. Third: "Like most young physicists [in the 1960s], I saw nuclear power as the clean energy source of the future. I want to tell you today why [35 years of] professional experience has led me to reject that view."
And Ian Lowe had this to say about Australia's uranium industry: "I suspect the real motive of [renewed calls] for debate about nuclear power is to soften up the Australian people to accept a possible expansion of uranium mining. This is a modern version of an old debating trick. When we were debating the report [on the Ranger mine in the Northern Territory] 30 years ago, then prime minister Malcolm Fraser claimed that an 'energy-starved world' needed our uranium, conjuring up the picture of small children freezing in the dark if we didn't sell it. This was a transparent attempt to portray a crass commercial operation as a moral virtue, based on the untrue claim the world needed nuclear power.
"I wonder how much the current debate about nuclear power has to do with BHP Billiton's planned expansion of the Roxby Downs uranium mine in South Australia? The company has applied to the Commonwealth and South Australian governments to take from the Great Artesian Basin five times more water than it currently does. Plan B is for the company to build a desalination plant, costing around $160 million more than extracting the extra water from the Basin, [which, in turn] could threaten the fragile Mound Springs ecosystem in the desert.
"The Big Australian should be warned it will not get away with making a big mess in the South Australian outback."
One of the more startling bits of evidence Lowe offered of the appalling waste of energy by Australians was this: "Reducing waste is by far the cheapest way to reduce greenhouse pollution [by coal-fired electricity]. Did you know that more than 10 per cent of household electricity in this country is used keeping appliances like TVs and video players on standby?"
None of this was thought newsworthy. If you didn't see the ABC's lunchtime telecast or the repeat at 3.25am on Thursday - neither of which advertised who was speaking and about what - then you stayed ignorant of the views of one of our leading scientific minds on the paramount issue of the new century: the very survival of life on our planet. Your mass media thinks it doesn't rate. Neither do the politicians.
Get hold of Lowe's speech. It is utterly compelling.
Alan Ramsay, SMH 22/10/05
As a former member of People for Nuclear Disarmament (my radical youth days before I became an armchair anarchist), I found that people who were opposed to nuclear war were virtually of a mind with those who opposed the uranium industry. You would expect that there might be those who favour the peaceful use of nuclear energy but I never encountered any.
I am not one for censorship, and certainly not in favour of the government's cowardly attempt to dodge criticism by enshrining their cowardice in "anti-terrorism" legislation so, in the best tradition of impartiality, I give you the reaction of the other side to this article. Go, go, go Tim, you ol' tree-loppin' gas-guzzlin' envirobasher you.
It occurs to me that if this group turned their attention to alternative energy instead of wasting it on greenie-bashing, we'd all be a lot better off. Or, if Bob Hawke's plan to dump the world's nuclear waste in Australia is taken seriously, I'll expect them to front up and provide the address to send it. Then we'll see who the hypocrites are.