Coal versus coral: Greed versus ethics?

Mining billionaire Clive Palmer has just been awarded the deal of the century.  Under an arrangement financed by China (from where he borrowed the money), Clive Palmer will export $69 billion worth of thermal coal from new coal mines in central Queensland.  This deal, which still requires government approval, pits coal against coral.

The irony is that Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, just off the coast from where this coal will be dug, is one of the many casualties of the emissions.  The Great Barrier Reef provides $6.5 billion to our economy each year, which are benefits that are ongoing and which will never run out as long as we protect the Reef.  It is also central to our pride as the nation, and is perhaps our most precious environmental icon.

In raw economic terms, the benefits from a $69 billion coal deal are only equivalent to 10 years of the $ benefits from a thriving tourist industry on the Great Barrier Reef.

So what will PM Kevin Rudd and our government do?  On one hand, they face harassment from opposition that can’t even count (e.g. opp. finance spokesman, Barnaby Joyce) and which fails to take the advice of its best scientists on anthropogenic climate change seriously (e.g. senior Nick Minchin).  On the other hand, after playing such a prominent role in pushing for emission cuts at the climate treaty negotiations, it would seem that the Rudd government has no other choice but to knock this is a deal on the head.   After all, anything else would be inconsistent with its position on taking climate change seriously.

Clive Palmer (who seems to be a man with more than enough money) has been pushing the jobs barrow, which is one way to sell this to the Australian public. But what about the damage caused by this coal to this in Australia’s future?  It is not a trivial amount.

Australia currently exports 30% of the coal used worldwide, and expects countries overseas to deal with the resulting dangerous emissions (i.e. it is not even counted in our carbon footprint). The latter represents a huge copout given that there are no known solutions to dealing with these emissions.  Even technologies such as carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) have yet to be demonstrated on a broad scale and are only expected to significantly impact emissions 20 or so years into the future.   And that is will be too late.

Sounds like passing the buck to me.  I believe that we should hold our government accountable and prevent this coal deal from going forward.  This would be a logical and ethical thing to do under any other circumstance.  Just imagine if we had developed a wonderful new chemical technology that would earn Australia lots of money but which had huge environmental impacts and devastating societal consequences.  Would it be ethical to export this technology and hope that our customers would invent something to deal with the impacts?

4 thoughts on “Coal versus coral: Greed versus ethics?

  1. I am spokesperson for the Residents Action Association of Bowen who have been speaking out for about 3 years now about what is happening with the industrialisation of the nationally significant Caley wetlands with the State Development Area at Abbot Point. This is situated on the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Marine Park. Industrial complexes such as an allumina refinery and smelter,nickel refinery and smelter, chlor-alkali plant, vinyl chloride factory, coke and coal fired power plants and other noxious plants are planned along one side of the Caley wetlands, whilst the other side will be encroached on by huge coal stockpiles.
    We are so heartened by your insightful and timely article.

    It is perversely criminal that the Qld Govt is now planning and fast tracking proper environmental and social assessments for what will be the largest coal mines in the world with the Palmer and Hancock mines in the Galilee Basin.

    These mines will destroy acquifers of the Great Artesian Basin, prime grazing country, nature reserves, communities and biodiversity values all the way from the mines to the port on the Great Barrier Reef waters with their 490kms of rail corridors and pipelines each.
    Graziers from around Collinsville have reported just last week in the Townsville Bulletin, about the poisoned acquifers and streams on their properties resulting from the expanding of mining activity in the Bowen Basin region. There are reports of black sludge in creeks and the cattle won’t drink the water and also fish kills where the water smells sulpherous.

    It is absolutely absurd that Anna Bligh is all to ready to blame and prosecute farmers for pollution of the Reef when she is so openly supportive of Clive Palmer and Gina Hancocks’ Big Coal and the like.
    Communities, the environment and our countries’ long term future is not even being considered here as it is all about Govt royalties, jobs and profits for the coal companies.

    Please keep speaking out with your science and the truth about what is going on here.

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