My father, a scientist and engineer, often talked about environmental pollution, the need to end our reliance on finite fossil fuels, the role of solar and other forms of power.
This is not unusual, except my memories of this go back to when I was quite a young child – 1949 and the early fifties. Of course that was the time he started to work on the Snowy Mountains Scheme and I wanted to know exactly what he was doing.
In the early sixties he explained his disappointment with an experiment in which he was involved, which was to set up a property in the far west of NSW which was to be totally powered by solar. He was pleased with the amount of power generated, but disappointed in the ability to store it, just as we are now. At that stage he, with fellow scientists, were crying out for more research into batteries. I well remember my father once explaining to me that refining the then current battery science would not be enough – there needed to be some completely new ideas.
In the late sixties and early seventies he supported Professor Phillip Baxter in his view that we should work on nuclear power too.
My memories of life with my father was that he was always, sometimes surprisingly, right in areas relating to science or mechanics. For example as a schoolgirl I was taken by him to see the first mainframe computer in Australia, “CSIRAC”. We stood around, amazed, as it played “Happy Birthday To You”. That computer filled a very large room. This visit, too, was in the early fifties. I was impressed at that but very sceptical at my father’s prediction that smaller versions would become common in ordinary households in the future. After a visit to Switzerland in 1970 he told me they would soon be on everyone’s desktops.
I was sad for him in 1984 when my son got his first Commodore 64 – he had died the previous year.
In November 1957, as I was in the throes of completing the “Leaving Certificate”, I was having a sleepless night. He suggested we go out for a walk. I thought I saw a shooting star. He looked at it, very interested, and claimed that it was an object actually in orbit. He predicted it may have been a second Russian Sputnik. The next morning the successful launching of a second Sputnik was announced by Russia. Dad was right again.
So now, when I hear those in politics making important decisions, still not accepting what scientists like my father accepted as factual over 60 years ago, I am very saddened.
Like children, we sometimes cannot bear to hear, as truth, frightening information. But scientists are also prepared to have a go at giving us acceptable alternatives and will continue to work on them. Fossil fuel providers, too, have a right to be told that their dream run has come to an end. Good businessmen, like scientists, are not stupid but they need certainty if they have to move to expensive alternatives – which may ultimately bring them financial success.
We people are not stupid either. We may have to pay a bit more for world survival. We may have to make some sacrifices such as turning off rather indulgent air conditioning sometimes and just put up with a larger range of temperatures if we are healthy people.
We may have blackouts from time to time. We can manage if prepared.
After all we have known about the problem of power generation facing us for more than 60 years. We kid ourselves by electing political parties who do not frighten us but instead downgrade the problem. We allow media to give us an out by still giving airtime to climate change deniers on the grounds of allowing two sides to be expressed to all questions. But we do not always give two sides to all questions. Have you heard a two sided debate that includes the pros of murder or on simple things like the value of eating vegetables? There is wide condemnation and no support for the overuse of antibiotics – something only of news to us through the voice of scientists.
We must be clear to politicians that we have known for for 60 years too many, that we have been supporting more and more climate damaging fossil fuels being used in the environment. We want this to stop. Spend our money on the support of other forms.