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 was quite interested in knowing exactly what that scheme was doing.
Again, in the early sixties, he explained his disappointment with an experiment he was conducting, 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 generation and the issues surrounding it.
My memories of life with my father was that he always seemed to prove correct, sometimes quite surprisingly to me, 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 by that viewing but very sceptical at my father’s prediction that smaller versions would become common and would eventually appear in ordinary households of 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.
A very clear memory was of him standing in the kitchen of our house in Cooma with the Sydney Morning Herald in his hand. The winner of the Opera House design competition had just been announced. My father was praising the concept and extolling the virtues of awarding the prize to Utzon for such a beautiful building. But he was also saying it should be redesigned, with the assistance of other engineers and architects, before a sod was turned in order to make the wonderful concept work properly. He spelt out what eventually did happen from the attempt to build it exactly as the plans printed on that day suggested.
So now, when I hear those in politics making important decisions, still not accepting what quite learned scientists like my father taught as factual about climate over 60 years ago, I am very saddened.
Like young children, we sometimes cannot bear to hear, as truth, frightening information. Scientists and others are prepared to have a go at giving us acceptable alternatives to fossil fuels and will continue to work on them. But the earlier we act the easier and more acceptable it will be, as I witnessed from my father regarding the Opera House. 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 equal 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 if we are healthy people, turning off rather indulgent air conditioning and just putting up with a larger range of temperatures, for example.
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 deliberately killing people? There is wide condemnation and no support for the overuse of antibiotics – something only of news to us through the voice of science.
We must make it 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 of power.