Coal’s Great Barrier Reef damage danger is alive and kicking
LAST month, deputy editor of this newspaper Damien Tomlinson wrote an opinion piece saying that stopping Adani’s Carmichael mine project would do nothing to help the Great Barrier Reef. “If you believe climate change is killing the Reef,” he wrote, “then it’s arguable that action now is actually decades too late to stop the great wonder’s demise.”
Picture this. There is a creature on the ground, curled up, trying to protect itself from a group of people kicking it. Let’s say with each kick, a dollar comes out of the creature. Not much really if put in perspective but a dollar nevertheless. The creature is hurt and sick. Of the people kicking, one pauses. He looks around, noticing some of the others are stepping back. Still, he observes, many keep kicking. He weighs it up. The creature doesn’t look so good. Might even be dying. He also notes those still laying into it have to kick harder to get a coin out.
This person – let’s call him Australia – is conflicted. Would it matter if he stopped kicking the creature? After all, those still kicking don’t look like they’re going to stop. What is one less foot in the gut? Plus the coins are handy.
As for the creature, well, surely the damage is done now? “Australia” decides to keep kicking. In fact, he goes further and puts his foot on its neck, explaining to those who have stopped kicking that there is a kindness in this – “250 million impoverished Indians,” he says. The creature is the Great Barrier Reef. No doubt many will say this is an overly emotional metaphor to describe what is happening today as an influential cohort continue to push the coal agenda in the face of what we know is happening – not just to our reef, but to reefs all around the world. But it isn’t overly emotional – the struggle the Great Barrier Reef is facing and our culpability is very real – and what Australia decides does matter. If Adani’s Carmichael mine were to go ahead, the rest – Gina Rinehart & Indian billionaire Krishna Reddy’s Alpha & Kevin’s Corner, Clive Palmer’s China First, Chinese- owned MacMines, and so on – will follow. At full production, the Galilee Basin is estimated to double Australia’s coal exports, it will flood the thermal coal market, bring the price of coal down and delay the necessary transition to a global clean energy market. Not only does this override the argument that if “we” don’t dig it up, others will, but it will also mean significant job- shedding from coal mines currently operating in Australia as their profits are further weakened.
In 2015, Adani’s consultant Jerome Fahrer estimated the Carmichael project will cause a loss of 1500 jobs in Queensland. Similarly, Clive Palmer’s China First mine has estimated it would see 2500 jobs displaced. Look closely at the projects proposed in the Galilee Basin and you will see the same kind of estimates. This is not to say jobs won’t be lost and certain regions won’t take a hit as Australia makes a transition from thermal coal to renewables and wind back thermal coal exports. But this transition is inevitable and the longer Australia leaves it, the worse a position our economy, environment and society will be in. Affected miners and communities need to be supported, not given false hope. For even without the urgent issue of climate change, many of these jobs are not coming back. Mines are being rapidly automated and as China makes the shift to renewables, clean energy is too cheap to hold back. Adani has a stranded asset in Queensland as Indian energy policy is following in China’s wake. Guatam Adani knows this and has shifted his business focus accordingly. Last year Adani developed one of the world’s largest solar plants in southern India. But the Adani conglomerate is carrying a lot of debt – and it can’t afford to lose the value of its Carmichael coal deposits. Some economists have observed it’s possible Adani has no intention of building in western Queensland and is stringing along authorities to retain the value of its Carmichael coal asset on its books.
Considering this, the amount of time local, state and federal politicians have, and continue, to put into supporting Adani is irresponsible and ill advised. As for the Reef, we cannot fix it. But we can give it the space it needs to recover. We need to take our foot off its neck and let it breathe. Anna Krien is a Melbourne- based journalist and author