News & Media Opinion Pieces Coal Madness in Queensland

Coal Madness in Queensland

Home truths must be told.

The rapid development of the coal industry promoted by Queensland Governments (and NSW to a lesser extent) and sanctioned by the federal government, together with a see no evil response from the community, is a form of collective madness.

The nine proposed “mega mines” in the Galilee Basin would, at full capacity, result in 705m tonnes of CO2 being released into the atmosphere each year according to a Greenpeace Australia analysis.  This level of emissions would surpass those of all but six nations in the world.  By comparison, the UK emitted 549.3 million tonnes of CO2 from all sources in 2011.  Australia will double its present coal exports.

Australia’s domestic emissions account for 1.5% of world emissions making us the largest per capita emitter in the world.  Some Australian state governments have tried to reduce these emissions under UN regulations; others appear not to care.  Yet with the projected increase in fossil fuel exports, our total responsibility for world emissions is likely to be over 4% of world emissions.

This is a collective denial similar to the denial of the US Republicans on climate change; it doesn’t fit into their agenda or view of the world.  This denial transgresses all the needs for a 2 degree limit as indicated by the science and by assessments of the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The Greenpeace video summarises Australia’s position and portrays an unconscionable image of Australia to the World.

Australian governments hide behind two arguments:-

1. That if Australia stopped exporting coal, others would fill the gap.  This is the drug dealer’s defence.  It is demolished by studies which show that others could not fill the gap.  Australia’s competitors in this black trade are years away from developing the infrastructure to fill the gap.  Scarcity of coal would drive the development of renewable energy.

2. That under UN agreement we have no responsibility for exported emissions.  This agreement reflected the minimalistic approach by polluters.  In effect Australia is saying that climate change is someone else’s problem.  In a seminal report Fergus Green of Beyond Zero Emissions exposes this view
“When it comes to climate change, no country is an island.  It’s time to move beyond the narrow confines of technical compliance with domestic emissions accounting rules and think about the true scope of our power to influence the global emissions trajectory – for better or for worse”.  We urge all DEA members to read this report, it is summarized here.

The issue is, do we as doctors concerned as we are with individual and collective health accept that we have no more responsibility in addressing this problem than the citizens of a developing county?

Queensland Environment Minister Andrew Powell has said he is not convinced humans are influencing climate change.  Presumably this was his government’s view for it has reduced or abolished assistance for renewable energy projects insisting that their development is the role of the national carbon tax- which it does not support anyway!  This policy will be counterproductive to the state’s future economic competitiveness.

One small consequence of this stance has been detailed by Giles Parkinson.  The Queensland state-owned Ergon Energy relies almost entirely on diesel to service 33 remote communities at a cost of $1.6 over 25 years which could increase to $5 billion with projected increases in diesel costs assessed by the International Energy Authority.  Wind and solar would service these communities.

The Queensland government like its predecessor has ignored the significant pollution inflicted on many communities by coal mining and transport.  It ignores the damage to a sustainable tourism industry and the potential damage to food production by an industry that employs only 4% of workers nationally.
One Minister in the Commonwealth government has tacitly acknowledged the coal elephant by tweaking its tail over its impact on the Barrier Reef but hides from the main stampede with approvals for Galilee projects.  Other Ministers resort to ASIO surveillance of organisations that oppose this madness on the grounds that they are threatening national security.

So yes, home truths must be told.  At best the position of Australian governments is one of ignorance of the implications of its actions, at worst it is flagrant profiteering at the expense of world suffering.  I hope all doctors reading these facts will feel some shame for our collective actions and follow suggestions in DEA newsletters as to how they can help return to sanity.