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Issue #1761      December 14, 2016

Dumping coal first step

An open letter to Malcolm Turnbull

Dear Prime Minister,

Australia has a major role to play in meeting the challenge of climate change, which is threatening life on earth. As you are aware, the generation of electrical energy in Australia and around the world still depends largely on combustion of coal or natural gas, which results in the emission of carbon dioxide and other carbon gases that are prime contributors to climate change.

Our consumption of energy is disproportionately large compared to our population size. Australia is one of the world’s biggest producers of coal and natural gas, and we emit more carbon into the atmosphere per capita than any other nation.

The Australian government should have a policy of taking control of power generation, moving as quickly as possible from the use of fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, and phasing out the mining of coal and other fossil fuels.

But instead, successive coalition governments have backed new coal mining ventures and introduced a rag-bag series of climate change “direct action” initiatives. Most of them fail to tackle the real problems, and any one of them will be dropped like a hot cake if it meets opposition from the coal or gas mining industries, or from the coalition’s ultra-conservative faction, which supports those industries at any cost.

High carbon-emitting industries should be penalised and the revenue used to fund the development of renewable power generation.

To achieve this, the government’s chief scientist, the Energy Market Commission and the Climate Change Authority have all recommended implementation of a carbon intensity scheme, under which corporations with high emissions would be penalised, and would have to buy credits from low-emission firms in the same industry in Australia in order to stay in business.

Under such schemes the high-emitters often make no attempt to reduce their emissions; they evade the penalties or they just shrug their corporate shoulders, pay the price and keep on polluting.

But that wasn’t the reason for your decision. You rejected the emissions intensity scheme because the dominant faction in your party won’t accept any initiative that has the slightest chance of reducing the profits of firms that produce or use fossil fuels.

Because of your subservience to this faction your government’s policy is actually contributing to the impact of climate change, by delaying the introduction of effective measures to mitigate its effects.

The black-clad white elephant

One of the worst decisions of your government relates to the proposed Adani coal mining project in Queensland’s Carmichael Basin.

The developing climate change crisis requires Australia to immediately begin phasing out coal mining. However, your government has not only endorsed the Adani mine, the world’s biggest coal-mining operation, but it also intends to give the company $1 billion of taxpayers’ money to build a railway line to carry the coal across Queensland to the company’s Abbot Point coal loading facility.

Your government’s decision supports an industry which is not only harmful to the environment but is also becoming uneconomical. Coal will soon be outdated as an energy source and will be replaced by renewable sources which don’t damage the environment and which produce power more economically because mining is not required.

The global demand for coal is falling, because other governments, unlike your own, are properly funding and encouraging the transition of their countries to renewable energy generation.

China, one of Australia’s biggest customers for coal, has now placed a three-year ban on construction of new coal-fired power stations, and the ban will probably be extended indefinitely.

The proposed Adani rail link only supports one industry with a short-term lifespan. If the mine is built, by the time it reaches full production (and probably before), it will almost certainly have become uneconomic.

Adani is a company with a troubled industrial and economic past, and a reputation for unethical behaviour. It’s also one of 670 major corporations that paid no tax at all in Australia in the 2014-2015 financial year.

Your claim that the economy needs jobs and growth to ensure Australia’s future prosperity is valid. But when the Carmichael mine closes prematurely, as it certainly will, the public will be left with a $1 billion industrial white elephant. Its workers will be unemployed and Adani will have undoubtedly contributed no tax, because of its capital outlay on the mine.

Moreover, government funding for the Adani project, or for any other new fossil fuel enterprise for that matter, will divert funding from the crucial development of renewable energy power generation, which has the greatest potential for economic growth and employment of any industry this century.

The Adani mine also threatens the future of the Great Barrier Reef, some areas of which are already struggling to survive. Much of the northern half of the Reef is now a bleached biological wreck because of the global rise in ocean temperatures resulting from climate change.

Where the buck stops

It’s no use trotting out the excuse that you must respect the views of your party members regarding climate change. The government’s policies are being driven by a small clique of ultra-conservative MPs with a fanatical loyalty to the fossil fuel industries.

Previous statements indicate you and other coalition MPs don’t agree with the ultra-conservative’s approach. You’re undoubtedly bowing to their demands in the hope of preserving party unity, but that’s a fallacy.

Many businesses are calling for the government to produce a clear plan for the transition to renewable energy generation. Moreover, the recent very angry resignation of Liberal Party faithful Kristina Photios is a clear indication of smouldering impatience within the Party. Sooner or later coalition MPs who don’t agree with the diktat of the ultra-conservatives will rise in revolt.

But they need leadership. Will you go down in history as the prime minister who stared down the fossil fuel bully-boys in his own party and helped save the world from the worst effects of climate change?

Or will you be remembered as a moral coward who caved in and helped to maintain the power and boost the profit levels of the world’s most dangerous corporate polluters?

Only you can answer those questions.

Rachel Attenborough and David Carson

Next article – Les Purkis: 1925 – 2016

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