You might think coal has gone the way of the dodo, but in Australia, it seems like it’s just getting started. Alarmingly, nine major mining projects proposed for the development in the Galilee Basin of Western Australia would make what’s currently happening down under look like child’s play. Many of these massive mines are bigger than any existing Australian mines and in total, the development would produce more coal than the nation is currently exporting. The emissions generated by just two of them would dwarf those of 52 countries.
Mining companies and investors argue that coal resources in Australia represent a tremendous point of untapped energy, and income. By developing these coal seams, the country could export coal to neighbors like China for burning in power plants to generate electricity, even though the environmental cost of doing so would be extremely high. Looking at “all the mining operations, releases of methane from the ground, use of explosives, transport, shipping and the eventual burning of the coal in power plants,” these two mines would produce 125 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent every year.
Remember, that’s just two of the nine total, making it clear that the Galilee Basin development could be an ecological disaster not just for Australia, but for the world. While some emissions would remain domestic, others would be exported to nations that persist in using coal-fired power plants, and the resulting emissions would contribute to the growing accretion of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Most scientific study of the role of GHGs in the environment indicates that they are playing a direct role in the global climate change trend, which is precisely why many nations are trying to reduce such emissions, not commit to massive coal developments.
Australia’s government, however, seems to feel differently. With Tony Abbot’s Conservatives at the helm, the nation has made a series of consistently environmentally-unfriendly decisions, and it’s even giving a global climate conference the cold shoulder. The nation is rich in natural resources and has a very active mining industry and community, which plays a dominating role in politics. Despite evidence suggesting that the Galilee Basin development may be a terminally bad idea, the government supports it, although activists have managed to hold up development in court as they attempt to derail the project.
The decision to prioritize profits over environmental welfare is an ancient one, but it’s one that could cost Australia dearly. Already, the nation is struggling with the effects of climate change, including droughts, devastating wildfires and other climate disruptions that may be linked with larger shifts in global climate patterns. The Great Barrier Reef, one of the country’s natural jewels, is experiencing rapid degradation because of changing ocean temperatures and damages to the ozone layer, and many Australians are beginning to speak out against the reckless use of natural resources.
In order to truly put a stop to this and other coal developments, it may be necessary to have an economic incentive in the form of a decrease in demand for coal. That means that nations currently heavily relying on coal-fired power plants need to develop alternatives, and quickly, to get cleaner energy sources online. Such development could be a spur for job creation as well as technological innovation, and it would put coal back where it belongs: buried, not releasing tons of carbon into the atmosphere.
Photo credit: Oatsy40.