Anti-coal activists are campaigning to shut down the Coal Industry in Australia. They say the world must stop using fossil energy because of dangerous climate change. To stop using coal and other fossil fuels would have far reaching consequences for billions of people. So just how do the activists claims stack up?
The War on Coal in Australia
As environmental activism reached a peak in 2013 prior to the Australian election, yBC interviewed a wide range of Australian personalities about the emerging War on Coal. Having reaped the benefits of a decade long minerals boom, activists now call for Australia to ban all coal exports because of climate change concerns.
While the IPCC’s call to restrict global warming to 2 degrees is accepted by both the Australian Government and the coal industry, our interviewees suggest activists are promoting solutions which will damage Australia economically and do nothing to address climate change. Which approach should countries adopt to secure energy supply and address climate change in a meaningful way?
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The coal industry is a productive, law-abiding contributor to Australian society. It provides direct and indirect employment to thousands, pays its taxes and complies with some of the most stringent regulations in the world. In recent years, it has focussed heavily on world-class safety, the rehabilitation of mines, sustainability across all of its practices, and better community involvement. Yet in some quarters, the industry is portrayed as reckless, greedy and in denial about climate change.
Talk to anyone in the industry, and they are somewhat taken aback. What is clear is that these perspectives of the industry do not represent the views of the majority of Australians. So how has an industry which has helped create such prosperity and a high standard of living become portrayed as such a pariah?
Commentators, politicians, academics, experts and the industry have been advocating a democratic, consensus-based approach as vital for Australia. According to the Australian Coal Association, over the years, industry has had discussions with most of the NGOs and environmental groups and exchanged viewpoints with civility and respect. Many of those discussions have resulted in change, progress and accommodation.
But it seems the dialogue has changed of late – and not for the better.
What is clear is that fringe groups, for whom the industry is the enemy, get a disproportionate amount of media attention. For these groups, the cause is more important than consensus or in some cases more important than the law. Their actions have resulted in material damage and the propagation of lies, distortions and a level of discourse that is emotive and anti-scientific.
Commentators have noted that this represents an erosion of democratic values and a passive acceptance of dishonesty in public discourse. This is not how civilised societies operate. It is not what Australians deserve or agree with.
Clearly, the industry will continue to defend itself against shady tactics and will continue to openly engage with those who share a desire for a pragmatic solution to Australia’s environmental concerns without destroying an entire industry.
Dr Nikki Williams, CEO of the Australian Coal Association, said “We believe that, despite the shouting that attempts to drown democratic discussion, most Australians agree with us.” Dr Williams may well be right.