A climate of denial: Do coal barons own Australia?

By Oct 17, 2014 7:54AM UTC

Despite the nearly universal shift towards neoliberalism in Western countries and specifically the Anglosphere (The US, British Isles, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc.), there are still important differences between political parties. Yes, the “center-left” and “center-right” parties in all these countries are fixated on economic growth and place it above old Left principles such as income equality and new Left concerns like global climate justice. However, there is still a difference between the pragmatism and compromise on the one hand, and the bald faced lies (climate change denial, clean coal) on the other.

Take Australia where several by-elections loom on the horizon and a climate deal is being threshed out in the Senate. Funding to an already largely ignored state body, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), has been cut, forcing significant staff losses and basically leaving the fate of the world’s largest coral reef in the hands of an extremely pro-fossil fuel, Liberal-lead government that places capital-über-alles.

Anglesea coal mine, Victoria. Pic: Takver (Flickr CC)

For a country that used to have a relatively progressive stance on environmental issues and particularly climate change, it seems that Australia is now firmly in the thrall of the coal industry. The country’s own premier climate body, the state-funded Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization’s (CSIRO), is warning that Australia must not only act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but adapt its agricultural production methods to adapt to a changing climate. Wine, tuna and peanut industries have already moved according to shifting climactic conditions. CSIRO is working on adaptation strategies, even as the government falls ever more deeply in love with coal.

The average global temperature has warmed by more than 0.7 degrees Celsius over the past century, and the present warming rate is 0.2 degrees Celsius per decade, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Australia is heating up even faster – a joint Bureau of Meteorology-CSIRO State of the Climate 2014 report found current temperatures are, on average, almost one degree Celsius warmer than they were in 1910. Most of this increase has occurred since the 1950s, suggesting an accelerated warming trend.

(source: Reuters)

So what’s going on in Australia?

  • Five different research groups recently determined that last year’s extreme heat waves in Australia were influenced by climate change.
  • In July, Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s government repealed laws requiring large companies to pay for carbon emissions.
  • While opening a coal mine earlier this week, Abbot said that, “Coal is good for humanity, good for prosperity”.
  • In an interview with the BBC, Treasurer Joe Hockey dismissed the fact that Australia tops the list of greenhouse gas emitting countries in the OECD (on a per capita basis) as “ridiculous”. He also stated that Australia produces “some of the cleanest coal in the world.” This comes after news that due to new pollution regulations which deem some coal too dirty, China may drastically cut Australian coal imports.
  • Late last year, Environment Minister Greg Hunt approved a dredging project to expand coal ports in the Great Barrier Reef, an act deemed by the GBRMPA (though the reports were never sent to Department of the Environment) “environmentally and socially unacceptable”.

Has Australia elected a government that is fully in the pocket of the coal companies? What will be the cost of this folly?

Caricature of Tony Abbott by DonkeyHotey (Flickr CC)

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