Coal is King at the moment but it is time for Old King Coal to bite the dust. Why would you even consider such a radical move, dear leader, when coal brings in so much black gold? The answer is in the damage that Old King Coal is doing to us all. That really is all of us, all over Australia and all over the world, but particularly in Queensland. And in the end you can’t eat money.
First and foremost is the impact that burning all the coal that is to be dug out of the Galilee Basin in Queensland will have on climate change. Single handed Australia can destroy all the gains that have been and will be made under the Kyoto protocol. If the proposed developments in the Galilee Basin all go ahead and the coal is burnt, this one area in Queensland will be responsible for aggregated total CO2 emissions that are equivalent to those of the seventh largest emissions of any country.
We are now in a critical decade and the choices we make will determine whether our children and grandchildren will inherit a world where cities like New York or Brisbane or Melbourne can even exist. We are getting better at managing the climate disasters that are already starting to occur but if we have to protect these low lying areas from serious climate impacts the costs will be enormous.
The world is now on a path to 4 degrees C or more and what this will mean is still unclear but a report examining the impact of potential coal exports from the Galilee Basin quotes professor Ross Garnaut’s climate change review 2011 update which found that such a temperature rise “would give an 85% probability of initiating large scale melt of the Greenland ice sheet, put 48% of species at risk of extinction and put 90% of coral reefs above critical limits for bleaching”
All well and good you might say but what does that really mean?
At one level, in the medium term, it means that the kind of storm surge that hit New York will become more common, erosion of beaches, flooded infra structure and major and minor disasters will try our resilience. It means that the massive fires and extreme droughts that have ravaged the countryside recently will become a natural and recurrent part of our lives. This of course will put pressure on food supply causing price volatility in wealthy countries and starvation in poor ones.
But the immediate danger is that the development of the massive coal fields and the export of the coal through the proposed new coal ports will destroy the Great Barrier Reef and start the decimation of the marine environment. An environment already threatened by acidification because the sea water has been absorbing a lot of the carbon dioxide we have been pumping into the air. And threatened by rising temperatures and the industrial and agricultural run off that we pour into the sea.
Dear Leader I could go on for another several pages, covering the impact of mining and burning coal on human health and well being, the consequences of the loss of the ocean food bowl, the need for us to find a better way to live and to manage the waste that is choking the environment, a sea of plastic in the ocean gyre, fish that carry heavy metals in their flesh, the chemicals that we carry in our bodies…
instead of that I will just ask one thing. That you stop the development of the Galilee Basin coal fields and give our world a chance to survive and recover from the insults that we have thrown at it.