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Issue #1650      August 6, 2014

Editorial

Coal industry’s greed threatens humanity’s future

Last week the Abbott government again demonstrated its subservience to the coal industry by approving development of the Indian mining company Adani’s Carmichael coal mine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin.

When the Abbott regime repealed the meagre carbon tax on July 17 it became the world’s only government to have removed a price on carbon emissions.

It did so with the support of the opportunistic billionaire, mining magnate and parliamentarian Clive Palmer. He owns two coal reserves in the Basin with a potential annual output of 80 million tonnes of coal, and his party holds the balance of power in the Senate. Such a gargantuan conflict of interest is, apparently, quite acceptable in federal parliament.

Gina Rhinhart has a stake in another Indian company, GVK, whose mines could also produce 80 million tonnes of coal per annum. The Carmichael mine has an estimated annual production of 60 million tonnes. The Carmichael project would involve construction of a new 400 kilometre rail track and a massive new coal loading facility at Abbott Point, where the coal would be loaded before being shipped across the Great Barrier Reef. The project has been hailed by the Abbott government as capable of contributing $300 billion to the Australian economy. However, it has huge potential for environmental damage. Facilitating the passage of ships would necessitate dredging thousands of tonnes of sludge from the sea bed, much of which would undoubtedly end up covering the Great Barrier Reef.

An extra 450 ships would cross the Reef each year, with a proportionate increase in the risk of some running aground and/or accidentally discharging coal onto the pristine coral. The UN may declare the Reef in danger when it reviews the situation next year.

Coal industry analysts have criticised the government’s approval of the Galilee Basin mines, pointing out that the price of coal has actually fallen 50 percent in the last five years, and that boosting supplies could drive prices down another 10 to 20 percent. However, the fall in coal prices is directly related to environmental problems that have dogged the industry since the first large scale use of coal. The biggest problem is climate change, largely generated over the last 200 years by emission of greenhouse gases, most as a result of the combustion of coal and petroleum.

Climate change threatens to decimate entire populations this century because of (among other things) rising sea levels flooding low-lying coastal areas, rainfall changes that would devastate food production, an increase in catastrophic storms and the spread of tropical diseases. The process would be wildly accelerated by the mass emission of methane from thawing permafrost regions.

The Galilee mines, which could double Australia’s production of coal to 560 million tonnes, have been described as a potential “carbon bomb”, capable of producing 705 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per annum at full production, according to Greenpeace. Coal from Palmer’s mines alone could produce 170 million tonnes, almost a third of Australia’s current total greenhouse gas emissions.

Things are changing slowly. Governments and consumers around the world are beginning to turn to renewable energy to generate electricity. Last week economic ratings agency Standard and Poors warned investors that “changes in the coal industry could result in stranded assets – coal reserves with no economic returns.”

The transition to renewable energy power generation must take place as rapidly as possible, to avoid the terrible climate “tipping points”. The federal government should immediately prohibit construction of more coal-fired power stations and begin the difficult process of phasing out fossil fuel production and use. Instead, it has approved massive expansion of the coal and gas industries and attempted (so far unsuccessfully) to shut down the Climate Commission and other agencies that advise on climate change or assist the development of renewable energy.

Meanwhile, the owners of reserves are digging up and flogging as much coal as possible, while exerting maximum pressure on the major parties to prolong and if possible even increase the use of coal and other fossil fuels – and to hell with the environment.

That objective, which the Abbott government wholeheartedly supports, is in direct conflict with the interests of humankind.

Next article – More hot air on gas price debate

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