Have we gone coal crazy?

02/15/2017 04:23 pm ET Updated Feb 16, 2017

Whist temperatures climbed above 47 degrees last week, our Treasurer brandished a lump of coal in Parliament, singing its praises before the chamber. As hundreds of bats dropped dead from their trees in the extreme heat, our Attorney General moved to amend the Native Title Act so that Traditional Owners can’t defend their land from monstrous mining projects like Adani’s mega coal mine. Whilst the NSW Fire Commissioner warned that weather conditions were worse than those that preceded the Black Saturday Fires, our Government suggested that Australia’s largest public pot of clean energy funding could be made available to fund coal. And as climate experts warn that global warming could reach catastrophic levels by the end of the century, Australia successfully bullied the $100 billion Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank to keep investing in coal.

This is just a snapshot of our Government’s regressive stance on climate change over the past fortnight alone. How on earth did we get where 90% of Australians expect our Government to take action on the greatest moral challenge of our time yet our politicians are instead doubling down on coal and backing away from climate action like their life depends on it?

One can’t help but think it might have something to do with the cosy relationship between our politicians and the big polluters. As Naomi Klein famously said: “it’s hard to tell where the Australian Government ends and the coal industry begins.” Indeed, the revolving door between Canberra and the mining industry is a well oiled one. It’s no coincidence that the Mineral’s Council is one of the closest buildings to Parliament House, nor that we have documented almost 200 incidences of revolving door syndrome, where a senior mining industry official pops up in a senior Minister or bureaucrat’s office, as the Minister or head of department themselves, or vice versa.

Think Minerals Council Policy Chief Sid Marris who was just appointed Turnbull’s climate energy advisor. Or how about the Deputy Director of the Liberal Party who took up the role of External Relations Director for coal seam gas company Metgasco or Australia’s lead negotiator for the Kyoto Protocol who became the Australian Coal Association. The list is endless.

With connections as cosy as this, it’s no surprise that for every dollar the fossil fuel industry gives our politicians, they get $2000 back in the form of taxpayer handouts. This is despite survey after survey showing that Australians don’t want their hard-earned cash propping up the polluters and would rather have it fund health, education and renewables.

Amidst this backdrop, it should come as no surprise that our Government would fight so hard to help Indian mining company Adani build what would be Australia’s largest new coal project in Queensland, even when it is patently clear that the mine will lock in runaway global warming, devastate the Great Barrier Reef and provide only a small fraction of the jobs offered by renewables at 21 times the price.

In reflecting upon all of this, the first analogy that springs to mind is that of a junkie. The harder the side-effects of their habit stare them in the face, the tighter the addiction grips. The fear of losing the high compels them to cling harder than ever to the very thing that will destroy not only them but everyone around them.

Just like a junkie, our Government and the coal industry are increasingly confronted with the impacts of their fossil fuel addiction. Last year, it was the die off of vaste swathes of the Great Barrier Reef, an ecosystem so precious it has come to define Australia’s natural beauty to the rest of the world, not to mention providing employment for almost 70,000 Australians. Last week it was freakish temperatures, so hot you could fry an egg on the bonnet of a car, so hot that hundreds of bats literally fried to death, and so hot it strained our hospitals and pushed our energy grid to the limits.

This was a heatwave fuelled by the choices our politicians make every day to ignore the science as they dig deep for the mining lobby and throw our collective fate to the increasingly ferocious wind. And yet, rather than respond to these resounding alarm bells, our politicians and the big polluters are instead praising louder and clinging harder to the black rocks, fumes and oily goo that is trashing our future.

Scientist’s worst predictions of what might come next from this attachment to fossil fuels are increasingly dire. Where 3-4 degrees of warming by the end of the century was once forecast, we’re now facing down the possibility of a world that is 7 degrees warmer than it is now. Such a world would be so unlike today’s that it doesn’t bear thinking about if you want to retain your mental health.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. As Australia’s politicians and coal barons are working hard to meet these terrifying milestones, the rest of the world is leaving us behind.

China, the world’s largest energy market, is moving rapidly away from fossil fuels, with plans to invest almost $500 billion in renewables by 2020. More than half of Latin America’s energy came from renewables in 2016. In Europe, almost 90% of newly installed energy last year came from renewables. And the vast continent that is Africa is increasingly turning to large-scale solar and wind projects to meet the needs of its rapidly growing population and to address crippling poverty, prompting predictions it could become a renewable energy superpower. Even across the pond, New Zealand already generates 80% of its energy from renewables.

But most importantly, this mass global energy shift is backed up by the support of millions of people around the world, taking action at every level. The global climate movement boasts millions of active supporters, who populate every facet of public life, from bureaucracies and banks to schools and streetsides. They span cities and regional towns, on every continent on earth. They are not divided by class, creed or colour, gender, age or postcode.

They have organised in their communities to move institutions worth $7 trillion AUD to divest from fossil fuels, turned out millions in the streets, halted multi-million dollar coal mines, gas hubs and oil pipelines, shut down fossil fuel company headquarters, won bold policies and legislation to cut pollution, and are building thousands of community-led clean energy solutions from the ground up. They are not funded by dirty cash like the big polluters but are instead driven by their vision of a better world and compassion for their fellow citizens and the natural beauty of this planet we call home.

And though these times are tough, the future will be made by people like these. They are too many in number, too strong in conviction for our politicians to ignore.

So as the right spreads hate and Australian politicians dig us deep into a climate mess, we should take solace from the fact that, behind the headlines, fake facts and radio shock jocks, millions of people are busily building a different future, fuelled by clean energy and kindness. The history books will remember not those who let themselves be lured by the highest fossil fuel bidder but those who, without fear or favour, rolled up their sleeves, laced up their boots and fought for a better world.

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