Cable car supporters argue that the cable car is Green and those who oppose it are anti-Green. Have the Greens lost the plot?

The cable car will be driven, the MWCC tells us, by 4 gigawatts of electricity. Out of this motive power MWCC generates three environmental benefits that culminate in its claim that the scheme would “improve the environment beyond carbon neutral.”

How is this so? The cable car would, it is claimed, simultaneously:

  • “Swap carbon for clean, green Hydro energy”,

  • “Cut road traffic by up to 60%” (reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 1000 tonnes p/a), and

  • “Improve the environment beyond carbon neutral.”

All three benefits are really one: the cable car eliminates carbon emissions. More specifically, the MWCC quotes up to 1,100 tonnes of emissions savings per annum. Skeptics may consider the figure exaggerated, and the claim has not been independently verified,* but let us take them at their word, and agree also that carbon reduction strategies should be applauded.

So what’s wrong?

Greens argue that the cable car cannot be guaranteed to run on “clean green Hydro”. Between 2012–15 Tasmanian imported power. Its capacity was fully committed to domestic customers for 2015-16 and in 2017 with Basslink broken, diesel generators worked around the clock to fill the gap. In 2018 Hydro was 100% back in the Green, but its capacity is currently fully committed to domestic customers. In the future the cable car’s power could come via Basslink at any time and that power, most likely, would be produced in Victoria’s coal-fired generators. Then the cable car would be running on coal and would be increasing carbon emissions. Moreover, for every extra kilowatt consumed in Tasmania, it is another kilowatt that will have to be generated in Victoria to replace it. The cable car can not be what it claims: “a Carbon-Zero Journey”.

But say the cable car could be entirely powered by a green energy source? Greens point out that the environmental impact cannot be restricted to the last two kilometres of the journey. All users would arrive at the cable car base station in transport (mini-buses, taxis, cars) that emit carbon dioxide. To claim a benefit for the last few kilometres to the summit is like claiming a carbon credit for the steps you walk after you park your Lear jet. The reduction gained during a cable car ride is an infinitesimal fraction of the users’ total emissions for the trip. In fact, the MWCC states that most of the users would be tourists and tourism generates a very heavy carbon toll.

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Cruise ships burn bunker oil, a grossly polluting fuel. The 20 domestic flights landing in Hobart produce over 500 tonnes of CO2 every day—80 kilograms per passenger. International flights incur a carbon debt averaging 5 tonnes per person. The cable car “saving” equates to two kilograms of CO2 per person. The average tourist is emitting more than a ton of carbon to get to the mountain to save that two kilograms.

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How significant, in the Big Picture, is the 1000 ton saving? The MWCC illustrates the saving with an infographic of a person, a bus and a one tonne bubble of CO2. This one thousand tons saved is an utterly inconsequential fraction of a fraction of Tasmania’s total emissions—which amount to 20 million tons per annum. The good news on carbon emissions in Tasmania will never be a cable car.

The good news is that since Forestry Tasmania ceased mowing down Tasmania’s forests and burning their sticks and stumps to cinders—the total equation has flipped. Tasmania has entered that rare territory of being a carbon sink. Tasmania is carbon positive now—and there is no cable car in sight.

The ultimate claim of the MWCC is to being “beyond carbon neutral”. This (we presume) means carbon positive. That would require a carbon capture strategy. None is described. Either the MWCC doesn’t understand what it is claiming and is mistaken or it is misleading the public. (By the by, the cable car is not itself a carbon reduction strategy. Its purpose is to make money. Environmental benefits are side-effects. The environmental claims may fall more into the realm of “greenwash”.)

As for the simultaneous grander claim to being carbon positive, that is false.

What other green credentials does the cable car have?

Does it have any adverse environmental impacts? Yes. Here they are.

  • Others ask if the figure includes the substantial carbon emissions debt embedded in the manufacture of all the concrete and steel required to build the cable car and the Pinnacle Centre. Traffic numbers are rising, but car emissions are falling. Electric cars are coming. Is all the transport of goods to the Pinnacle Centre included, and what of all the gewgaw souvenir manufacturing emissions?