Green Left Weekly
Bill McKibben writes: There’s nowhere else on the planet right now where the dichotomy between two potential futures–one where we address the climate change crisis, one where we ignore this momentous threat and continue with business as usual–is playing out in such an explosive way as Australia, with Gautam Adani’s Carmichael mine at its centre.
There is nowhere else on the planet right now where the dichotomy between two potential futures – one where we address the climate change crisis, one where we ignore this momentous threat and continue with business as usual – is playing out in such a dramatic and explosive way as Australia.
In the US, Donald Trump is decimating decades of hard-fought environmental and climate standards – it’s all 18th century all the time. But the ageing fossil fuel assets and recent “market failure” of the Australian electricity grid is pushing political leaders to all-out brawling, pitting conservative inaction against the demand for solution-focused action.
A recent wave of blackouts and near misses and the proposal of the biggest coalmine in the world – the Adani Carmichael mine in Queensland – has created tinder-dry conditions that only needed one spark to go up in flames.
The spark finally came recently, via Twitter, from renewable energy entrepreneur Elon Musk who offered to sell the batteries that would remove the last argument against renewable power.
It turned the deadlocked debate over how to fix Australia’s fossil fuel-ladenand often failing energy “market” into an open war between those backing the dying coal industry with those set on using the moment to transition to renewable energy.
Indeed, one of the icons of the ageing coal fleet, the dirtiest coal power station in the developed world – Hazelwood in Victoria – turns off its turbines this week as it shuts down. The symbols couldn’t be clearer: Musk’s batteries or Adani’s mega-mine and dirty coal power. Which one represents the future?
As you formulate the answer, remember that the war is of course playing out against a tragic backdrop: the ongoing destruction of the Great Barrier Reef that is Australia’s great natural treasure, the thing it’s been charged by the world to protect. That horror is a human-created disaster, caused directly by man-made global warming that is increasing ocean temperatures by an alarming rate.
The decision about the future is also a decision about what kind of democracy you want. As in the US, the Aussie mining industry has for decades has a disproportionate amount of power over politicians. It cares about one thing only – not the greater good, but its own perpetuation.
But now the coal industry is starting to lose its grip. And it won’t necessarily be a slow process. The fractures are running through all stratas of Australian governance: states are closing coal stations and opting for renewable energy and battery storage (a la the Musk Tweet); and companies and businesses that have traditionally been allies of the coal industry are advocating for climate policies that would essentially spell the end of coal-powered energy; individuals and communities in great numbers are breaking free of the grid.
A marooned and thoroughly isolated Malcolm Turnbull is left on the losing side advocating for an industry and a coalmine we all know he doesn’t believe in to appease a small number of rightwingers in his party so he can continue to call himself the prime minister. Without a doubt, he will be swept aside by the arc of change – he who had the chance to lead on the issue of our time but chose to give in to vested interests and the fringe of his party.
As your electricity grid fails and industry holds on to the myth of an ever-growing coal export industry, Australians must draw a line in the sand and decide whether they continue to support coal, or whether the future is renewable.
Backed against the wall, the coal lobby and Turnbull’s fossil fuel-obsessed colleagues have gambled everything on the construction of the Adani coalmine. This mine would be the largest coalmine in history and, if constructed, it would do much to push the planet beyond 2C of warming.
The politics of coal are changing and this mine is that line in the sand.
Last week a historic alliance of environmental groups representing more than 1.5 million people launched the largest climate movement in Australia’s history.
Led by Bob Brown, who I had the honour of meeting last year, the battle to stop Adani is shaping up as the most important environmental fight ever down under, the likes of the Tar Sands battle we’ve seen in North America.
People are engaged and will take action to preserve the climate, the Great Barrier Reef and the rights of the traditional owners whose land will be destroyed by this mine in ways that hasn’t before been seen.
In my many visits there, I have found Australians to be obliging and deeply passionate about protecting their unique environment. Never has the contrast between the fossil fuel present and the clean energy future been in such stark relief. I now implore all Australians to take a stand – for the sake of the world’s climate – to ensure this mine never goes ahead.