Australia's brown coal shame

Here in Australia, we export hundreds of millions of tonnes of coal each year and now the state of Victoria wants to export even more of it.

While most of us are aware the ramifications of burning coal in terms of carbon dioxide emissions, there’s bad coal and then there’s filthy coal.

We have oodles of the filthy kind – brown coal; particularly in Victoria.

Australians have the highest carbon impact per capita and it’s no coincidence that Victoria has the highest power generation emissions in the nation; thanks to brown coal.

Victoria has enough brown coal to last 500 years at current generation rates, assuming of course the planet was habitable for that long.

Brown coal isn’t just emissions intensive, it’s chock full of other goodies such as mercury. Even low-emissions brown coal is only as “clean” as poor quality black coal – and of course it takes additional energy to create this so called low-emissions brown coal.

Regardless, not content just to crap in its own nest (although it affects us all), the Victorian government is rubbing its hands together – the state’s brown coal reserves look set to be opened up to international export; 12 million tonnes a year of the stuff. Victoria hopes to be spreading its toxic brown gold to India very soon.

So, we have a situation in Australia where some of those in power nod sagely about climate change, tsk tsk’ing that something must be done; yet are quite happy to actively undermine confidence and investment in solar power or to see our brown coal being burned elsewhere in huge quantities.

Here’s how the Victorian government is justifying it – according to The Age:

“But the documents say exports can be justified on three grounds: Victoria cannot unilaterally limit global emissions, the coal products could help developing countries overcome poverty, and emissions may be even higher if  countries are denied Victorian coal  and use dirtier fuels.”

Based on that reasoning, I may as well turn every tree on my property into firewood for overseas export. After all, I can’t limit global emissions on my own, can I? Unlike old growth trees, my trees will grow again. It’s a carbon neutral approach and the wood has to come from somewhere right?

I think if I tried doing that, several government departments would open up a can of environmental crazy on me!

It’s this type of rationalization that should make Australia an international laughing stock at the upcoming climate talks in Copenhagen.

If you’d like to let the Premier of Victoria know your thoughts on this – you can do so here.

While on the topic of coal, here’s a great new TV ad from one of Australia’s biggest grassroots activist groups, GetUp.