Anyone who has visited a large coal mine will be familiar with the eerie silence that such a massive hole in the Earth visits upon their ears, that silent protest, submissive before humankind’s ability to dominate and transform nature. That same silence often creeps into the halls of politics and media during the introduction of large corporate developments even as they threaten environmental destruction. And so it has been for the proposed expansion of coal mines in the Galilee Basin in central Queensland by the mining conglomerates Adani Enterprises, Hancock/GKV (of Gina Rinehardt ascendancy), and Waratah Coal.
The scale of this development is truly enormous. Of the nine proposed mines, five would be larger than any existing coal mines in Australia. They would be accompanied by a series of ports which would also require dredging in the Great Barrier Reef to the extent that UNESCO has warned Australia that any such expansion would risk the Reef’s world heritage status. These proposals await approval from Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke, who has already approved most of the port developments. One could be forgiven for having high expectations of a man who, at a World Heritage Symposium last year, stated that “it is not enough to have the best reef system in the world…there is also an obligation…in looking after areas for future generations”. Nevertheless, the conglomerates seem to be proceeding with their plans as if all were business as usual.
It seems that our public consciousness is somewhat deaf to the broader environmental dimension of such developments, as well as the extent to which this represents a political issue that we can all affect. Even the recent shelving of Woodside Petroleum’s LNG project was largely the result of investors’ economic decisions. The little negative coverage regarding this development has almost entirely been about localized effects, rather than the devastating long-term effects of carbon emissions. If the mines’ combined coal production were burnt by a single nation, it would slot into the world’s top seven highest CO2 polluters. Yet by an unfortunate quirk of carbon accounting standards, our corresponding exports would not be counted as part of our national emissions. As a corollary, any exports from the mine would not be subject to any carbon pricing mechanism in Australia.
Yet it affects us all. Unsurprisingly, activists from the upstart Australian Youth Climate Coalition are among the most vocal on this issue. According to AYCC NSW Co-ordinator, Emma Horsburgh, “Australia’s got massive potential to build renewable energy, but instead Tony Burke is considering approving these new coal ports that will destroy huge sections of the reef and bring us closer to irreversible climate change.”
“We’ve launched a campaign called Climate Game Change to tackle this, and so far we’ve signed up young people around Australia to pledge over 150,000 hours to protect our reef and climate”, Emma said. “We’re also holding a National Day of Action on May the 11th at Hyde Park to ask Tony Burke to make the right decision”. It’s high time for these voices to prevail.