The Stop Adani Alliance, a coalition of thirteen green groups spearheaded by former leader of the Greens Bob Brown, are waging war on new coal and grappling with an age-old revolutionary question: what, exactly, are we fighting for?
For many of these groups, the fight is to stop Indian conglomerate Adani Group from building Australia’s largest coal mine in Carmichael, Queensland – with bipartisan support from the federal and Queensland governments – is a fight for the Great Barrier Reef.
The Australian Conservation Foundation aims to “protect life on our beautiful reef,” GetUp! is trying to “save the reef,” Mackay Conservation Group’s website screams, ‘think of the dugongs!’ This angle is intentionally reductive: the image of bleached coral makes the tragedy of climate change feel tangible.
It is easier to convince an audience to pledge allegiance to smiley dugongs than to convey the sheer magnitude of the threat posed by climate change but, at the Sydney #StopAdani Roadshow last Wednesday night, environmental group 350.org attempted to do just that.
To Vaishali Patil, the People’s Global Climate Ambassador of India, ‘stopping Adani’ is about a global sense of solidarity.
To Danny Kennedy, managing director of the California Clean Energy Fund, it is about economic realism.
To Millie Telford, co-director of Seed Indigenous Youth Climate Network, it is about environmental justice.
The event made it clear that stopping the construction of the Carmichael coal mine is critical in preventing a full-blown climate crisis.
As prominent 350.org member Naomi Klein argues in her 2014 book, the climate crisis is about everything.
In July 2012 Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org, laid out his organisation’s stance on fossil fuels for Rolling Stone.
Based on a report by the Carbon Tracker Initiative, McKibben broke the climate crisis down to three numbers: the maximum increase in temperature the earth can handle before the heat becomes truly hellish; the quantity of carbon dioxide humanity can burn to stay below this threshold; and the amount of carbon fossil fuel companies and petro-states plan to burn.
Last year McKibben updated the numbers. To keep the temperature below the 1.5 degrees Celsius “red line” of the 2015 intergovernmental Paris Agreement on climate change, the global population can emit 353 gigatons of CO2.
The major fossil fuel burners are sitting on 942 gigatons worth of fossil fuels, and salivating.
“So let’s do the math,” McKibben suggests, “942 is greater than 353.”
It’s a simple, sickening calculation.
If the Carmichael coal mine goes ahead “there is no way we can meet the planet’s carbon budget,” McKibben says in a video screened on Wednesday night.
“It will tip the planet over into climate chaos all by itself.”
Like obstinate children who could learn their times tables if they put their minds to it, Australia’s MPs can ‘do the math’ — they just do not want to do their homework.
In an interview on ABC Radio National a fortnight ago, Matt Canavan, the federal Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, chided interviewer Fran Kelly for failing to think big.
“It won’t just be about Adani,” Canavan said. “It’s also about attracting new mines in the area.”
Canavan looks forward to the day when the proposed railway line linking the Galilee Basin to the Abbot Point coal port will “allow new mines to move in” and, crucially, “make lots of money”.
Whereas 350.org have effectively repackaged the data on climate change into a Maths Online video, Adani’s data on job creation could be mistaken for quantum physics.
Models commissioned by Adani indicate that the mine will create roughly 10,000 new jobs — an inflated figure derived using a methodology described as “biased” by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
More sober estimates suggest that the mine will employ 1464 people per annum, over the course of its 50-60 year lifespan.
The Stop Adani Alliance highlights how the mine jeopardises approximately 70,000 jobs that revolve around the reef.
Yet people will settle for — and trade unions will defend — environmentally damaging jobs if they are the only jobs on offer.
The 350.org believe the mass mobilisation of a diverse constituency is key to creating an environment in which workers are not forced to choose between toxicity and scarcity.