This morning, the Greenpeace hot-air balloon paid a visit to a major source of Australia’s greenhouse pollution, flying over some of the Hunter Valley’s biggest coal-fired power stations. We came here to deliver a vital message to the government: there is no future in coal.

It was a bleary-eyed start to the morning, as we grumbled our way out of bed at 4 am to make it to our launch site, an hour away in the upper Hunter Valley. As we passed through the morning showers, nobody was ready to talk about the possibility of not being able to fly but I must admit, it was looking pretty grim. However we arrived at our launch site and the weather conditions looked perfect! Our balloon took a spectacular ride, first past the Liddell power station, then Bayswater.

These two power stations combined produce 35 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions – that’s more than the entire emissions of South Australia. If the government thinks we can reduce greenhouse emissions to safe levels in Australia without phasing out coal-fired power, it is tragically misguided.

The government is waiting for the Garnaut Review before it comes out with a short-term target to cut greenhouse emissions. We know that target needs to be at least 40% below 1990 levels by the year 2020 if we are to stand a chance of avoiding dangerous climate change.

Integral to reducing emissions will be the inevitable phase out of coal, as it is the single-biggest source of greenhouse emissions in Australia. The industry itself has admitted that CCS or geosquestration technology won’t be ready until at least 2020, if at all. So whatever comes out of Garnaut and any other plan to deal with Australia’s greenhouse emissions, it needs to point Australia in the direction of replacing coal with emission-free renewable energy.

The sooner the government realises that there is no future in coal, the better. We need a forward thinking government to plan ahead now and make the transition from coal to renewable energy smooth and just. We need to take full advantage of the massive opportunities in job creation and investment that come from rolling out large-scale renewable energy.

We managed to attract more than a little interest from the police, with our crew being delayed by a police presence of more than two to one as the questions flowed about what we were up to. We were slightly more interested in meeting our balloon pilot as he landed up the road!

Greenpeace will be making a formal submission to the Garnaut Review but you can read the executive summary on the front of the hot-air balloon.

Click for photos on Flickr