A harsh title for a harsh reality. Our continued fetish for exporting and using coal is killing us and many other species on Earth. Let me explain.
We all know that coal is a fossil fuel that when burnt, releases additional carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which in turn increases the amount of solar radiation trapped in the Earth’s biosphere. These additional greenhouse gasses throw out the delicate balance of the natural carbon cycle.
This creates an enhanced greenhouse effect, which is causing climate change, and this additional heat fuels the extreme weather events that we are experiencing more frequently. A 1-in-100 year event are now 1-in-10 year events, or even shorter. Welcome to the Anthropocene.
Australia exports black and brown coal, and lots of it. In 2011, coal was our second biggest export behind Iron Ore, and was worth A$46.8b in export revenue. We also use a lot of it to generate electricity for the national grid.
It is had to imagine that figure so this is what it looks like, A$46,800,000,000. That is a lot of coal, and it makes a lot of money for some of the richest people in this country.
Money also means power. Political power in the form of lobbying, to entice governments to change policies in favour of exporting more coal, building more coal infrastructure with taxpayers funds, and making more money without looking at the long term damage it is causing future generations. Shareholder returns for death and destruction. Cash before the welfare of Earth.
Even though Australia has a price on carbon pollution, this price per tonne of CO2-e is only calculated on the extraction and transportation of the coal within our borders. It does not extend to the coal we export which when burnt overseas is adding to the global levels of atmospheric greenhouse gasses. With governments approving new coal mines in this country, they are damaging any good effects achieved by the carbon price.
Ironically, as other countries burn this exported coal, it affects the global climate, which causes extreme weather events all over the planet including the originating country.
We all know that these extreme weather events cause death and destruction, not only here in Australia, but throughout the world. I won’t dwell on the tragic loss of life, suffice it to say that it is happening, and it is sad that we are the makers of our own destruction.
Even more ironic is that the main states affected by the increasingly frequent extreme weather events here in Australia are Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria, which are the biggest exporters and users of coal in the country.
Even though our coal exports may contribute greatly to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), they are causing more harm than it is worth.
Domestically, it was estimated that the 2010-2011 Queensland floods caused over A$3b in damage, with an estimated reduction in Australias GDP of about A$30b. This was quickly followed by the Victorian floods, which caused over A$2b in damage. This years floods in Qld and NSW have caused over A$2.4b in estimated damage to date, with an unknown impact to GDP, so one would expect a similar reduction to the 2010-2011 floods. All events are currently being attributed to warming oceans and a hotter planet. Last financial years flood levy was not to pay for flood damage, it was to pay for our own stupidity.
I hope the shareholders who benefit from these short term export profits think that it is worth it all of the current suffering and future heartache for their descendants. In the end everyone suffers.
Now, dear reader, the irony continues, as Australia has one of the highest per capita ecological footprints (7th of all countries) on the planet. This is driven by our own consumer culture that is one of the main causes of coal demand from China. We buy stuff made in China and across Asia, who makes the stuff with electricity generated by burning coal that we export. Our own coal exports harm us directly.
Simple logic would determine that if we demanded less stuff, we would import less stuff, and they would need less coal to burn to make the stuff, therefore lowering atmospheric pollution. However it is not that simple anymore. It may have been the case a decade ago, however increasing affluence in Asia makes domestic demand rise, and therefore increasing domestic resource utilisation. It is a very ‘Catch 22’ situation.
Australia and China are not alone. All countries that export and consume fossil fuels expedited by a consumer culture are at fault to some extent, which really makes it a global issue.
The only solution I can think of is to divest from fossil fuel companies, via either a reduction in consumer spending or ethical investment and switching to renewable energy sources reduces the political power held by these conglomerates, and transfers it to the greater good (in theory, anyway).
I believe that every single dollar that we spend or invest makes a difference in our current economic system. So to stop or at least slow the death and destruction, spend wisely. Invest in renewable energy sources, or consume less. The future is everyone’s hands, not just governments.
We are the people we have been waiting for, so lets work on the solution to biggest challenge that has ever faced humanity.
P.S. All I ask in return for you reading this post it to share it via you favourite social network if you agree. Lets get the conversation started.