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When it comes to climate change, our governments are letting us down

Commentary: At the cutting edge of green energy tech, there's a common thread: Governments aren't doing enough to secure our future.

A newspaper poster outside Tyalgum's General Store shows the political climate in Australia. 
Ian Knighton/CNET

This is part of "Fight The Power," a series about the people, organizations and countries transforming the way we think about energy for the better.    

For the past few months, the CNET team has been working on a series of stories about green energy and the role technology and innovation play in pushing renewable energy to the forefront.

We called the series "Fight the Power" because there was a clear common thread. Almost everyone we interviewed in green energy projects cited a lack of government support. It was a constant theme: Change was occurring, but it was occurring in spite of Australia's federal government. The support wasn't there. These people were literally fighting the power.

With Fight the Power, we wanted to shine a spotlight on those trying to rescue the environment from the people who govern it.

In Australia, we have a long, complicated history with green energy and fossil fuels.

And right now, we're in the midst of an energy crisis. The cost of electricity is at an all-time high. We have an economy running on the fumes of a mining boom, and a national treasurer who once literally brought a lump of coal to Parliament and said, "This is coal, don't be afraid! Don't be scared!"

We're a country diverting public funds to mining projects with the potential to destroy the Great Barrier Reef. With a prime minister who reportedly pressured AGL, one Australia's largest energy providers, to keep its coal-fired power plant running for an extra five years instead of investing in green energy alternatives. To date, Australia is the only developed country to establish, and subsequently repeal, its own carbon tax. Roger Jones, a research fellow at the Victoria Institute of Strategic Economic Studies, called it a "perfect storm of stupidity."

It was a decision that tells you everything you need to know about the discourse surrounding environmental issues in Australia. We're in a strange place.

But this isn't just an Australian problem.

Across the Pacific Ocean, the US is wrestling with similar issues. The Trump administration isn't ramping up legislation to help protect the environment, legislation is being rolled back.

In May, the White House cut a $10 million NASA project that funded pilot programs to help monitor carbon emissions. In April, the Environmental Protection Agency announced plans to roll back fuel-efficiency standards for cars.

Ian Knighton/CNET

In March, the US Federal Emergency Management Agency removed the term "climate change" from strategic plans. The phrase has also been removed from multiple agency websites.  The Department of Energy's Clean Energy Investment Center is now called the Energy Investor Center.

We're not moving forward, we're moving backward.

In 2018, innovation, technology and sheer force of will are driving positive change on environmental issues. In Australia, remote towns are working toward going 100 percent renewable. In Singapore, companies are finding new ways to take advantage of natural resources. Many entire countries, like Iceland, subsist purely on green energy.

People are helping themselves. That's worth celebrating -- you could argue that private enterprise should carry that weight -- but we shouldn't have to swim against the tide either.

Now playing: Watch this: The Australian town ditching the power companies and...

It's the job of those in power to help facilitate the growth of long-term, sustainable projects that can have a positive impact not just on the economy, but the planet as a whole.

But more often than not it feels like we have to fight the power, and that's hardly ideal.

Just over a year after bringing a lump of coal to Parliament, Scott Morrison delivered his first federal budget for Australia. His budget is expected to cut investment in climate change from from AU$3 billion in this year to AU$1.6 billion by 2018-19.

That's a cut of AU$1.4 billion. Tim Baxter, a research associate at Melbourne University's Climate and Energy College, described the decision as "really, really distressing."

Based on current data, Australia is expected to miss the targets set out by the Paris climate accord -- a UN agreement designed to help curb global greenhouse emissions  -- by 26 percent to 28 percent. In July 2017, Donald Trump withdrew the US from the Paris Agreement completely to "save jobs."

We're heading in the wrong direction. We're ignoring the possibilities. A future powered entirely by renewable energy is not only within reach, it's already possible. Countries like Iceland, Costa Rica, Albania, Ethiopia, Paraguay, Zambia and Norway are already at 99 percent or 100 percent.

It's difficult, and it requires a complete rethinking of infrastructure, but it can be done.

And in all likelihood it will be done. Eventually, you'd hope. Surely. 20 years from now? 50 years? But if we get there, if we finally reach that goal, we won't have our elected officials to thank.

The ones who fight the power will save us in the end.

Rebooting the Reef: CNET dives deep into how tech can help save Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

CNET Magazine: Check out a sample of the stories in CNET's newsstand edition.