Coal’s Great Bar­rier Reef dam­age dan­ger is alive and kick­ing

Townsville Bulletin - - OPINION - ANNA KRIEN

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

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