The Costs of Coal

Words by Lara Shearer
Art by Lily Li

Adani, the big bad wolf of the coal world. People were out to #StopAdani, but how much do we really know about it? Well for starters, we know that it has been in the works for nine years, and as of just last month, it has been given the official go ahead.

The Carmichael coal mine will be located in Queensland’s Galilee Basin, which is neighbours with Australia’s most thriving ecosystem, the Great Barrier Reef. This Australian beauty is already under suffrage and species endangerment as it is. According to Stop Adani, the project is said to allow 500 more coal ships to pass through the GBR World Heritage Area for the next 60 years. Not to mention the persisting issue of coral bleaching and the potential for illegally releasing coal-laden water.

There is a risk of major disturbances to the area’s natural groundwater systems, with rivers, sacred springs and aquifers all under threat. Stop Adani say that it will “suck out at least 270 billions of litres of water” from these water sources. The project could also mean the extinction of the endangered black-throated finch, as the site is home to the largest known population of the little guys. Adani did introduce a management plan for this but it’s yet to be confirmed. 

The thermal coal mine will produce coal which will then be shipped to Asia. No coal will actually be burned here as it is purely for mining and exporting purposes. Still, it seems intrinsically unfair that flora and fauna should be destroyed so we can binge another Netflix series or straighten our hair. 

Global warming—yep still a thing. And no, burning coal is not ideal, but hear me out. The project’s carbon contribution is estimated to release about 4.6 billion tonnes into the atmosphere. This sucks, however it is important to consider the alternatives, which would be much more bleak. If the Carmichael coal mine was not built here, it is said to have no immediate impact on the burning of fossil fuels because Adani would take their business elsewhere, where more carbon emissions will be produced. This is because in comparison to places like Indonesia, where the project would potentially be moved to, Australia’s coal is much cleaner—meaning “higher energy and lower impurities” and less environmental threat.

Still… It sets us back in progressing towards a fully renewable future and mitigating global warming, right? Adani will not necessarily halt the process towards a clean and renewable energy future, but at the moment, renewable energy will not suffice as a high volume baseload energy source required for both industry and domestic survival, because it’s not developed insofar as being able to keep up with demand and economic growth. 

It seems like corporate entities and deluded individuals are calling the shots, with a heavy focus on personal gain rather than the future  But try not to despair, there is a lot happening in terms of paving the way towards a completely renewable future in Australia. According to the Clean Energy Council, the annual electricity generation sat at 21 per cent for renewables in 2018 and it was the “best ever year” for wind farm installations, and those numbers continue to steadily increase. 

Aside from the tangible impacts, there is a deep long-standing connection to the area. The Wangan and Jagalingou people of the Galilee Basin in Queensland firmly contend that the Carmichael coal mine would “tear the heart out of the land”. They feel that by agreeing to this, they will lose their cultural integrity and identity. 

The land is their connection to their ancestors, their history and their culture—elements of life you can’t put a price on. To allow the Carmichael coal mine to go ahead would mean a monumental loss and a sacrifice of their fundamental right to the land. Put literally, they say “it would have devastating impacts on our native title, ancestral lands and waters, our totemic plants and animals, and our environmental and cultural heritage”. And the impacts would not end with their land, but cause cascading effects across the surrounding regions and waters of other Traditional Owners. With the go ahead only freshly confirmed, it isn’t exactly clear whether they will cease or continue their fight for their right to the land.

For other Queensland locals, the project has become a “symbol of hope” in terms of economic benefits, especially for those in rural communities. The coal mines’ endorsers have said they will provide thousands of jobs and increase property value and thus create a sense of newfound prosperity. Supporters contend that these local benefits outweigh its negative impacts. 

Originally with a projected cost of over $16 billion bucks, they now say the mine component will cost $2 billion and is said to generate $16.8 billion in taxes and royalties. There’s a lot of numbers being thrown around but because it’s not set in stone yet, neither are the numbers. The fact it is export-based does mean substantial funding for Australia, which means more funding for renewables research, which means more renewables. It will be a long road ahead, but progress is happening. It’s not the end of the world…yet.

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