By Michael Mobbs

11 January 2010 – Coal is Australia’s biggest boomerang.

With every shipload of coal we send overseas we import more frequent and extreme droughts and floods.

Our coal comes back to Australia in the form of heartbreaking storms, dying crops, droughts and suiciding farmers. (Two farmer suicide each week in Australia.)

Coal digging and coal burning causes climate change. It causes massive amounts of carbon dioxide pollution

Australia digs and sells more coal than any other country on Earth.

According to an article on 5 January in the US financial website Bloomberg, “While most Australian hard coal is sold to steelmakers, higher prices are spilling over into Germany, where E.ON AG and RWE AG use it for 18 per cent of the country’s electricity, and Britain, where Drax Group Plc operates western Europe’s biggest coal plant.”

As Earth’s biggest digger and exporter of coal Australia has more power than most to stop global warming.

Bloomberg’s article makes this clear without saying so. It reports how influential is the availability or loss of our coal.

“The Australian floods will have a “knock-on effect” for European coal prices assuming Asian buyers seek alternative supply, a company spokesman at E.ON AG said. “Asian demand strongly influences global coal prices,” said Georg Oppermann, a spokesman for E.ON, Germany’s biggest power utility. “If there is any upward pressure on coal prices within this region, Asian coal customers would then look to buy coal from suppliers in Russia, South Africa, US or Colombia, which traditionally supply coal to Europe.”

If Australia stopped digging and mining coal the price of world coal would skyrocket.

“Australia shipped 259 million tons of coal for steel and power in 2009, according to the World Coal Association,” the Bloomberg article continued.

“Queensland’s exports account for about 180 million tons a year, about a fifth of the world’s total, according to Sverre Bjorn Svenning, an analyst at Fearnley Consultants in Oslo. On 4 January coal for delivery to Europe in 2012 traded at $122.50 a metric ton, the highest level since 5 November 2008, and fell to $118 a ton.”

If coal prices were significantly higher the cost of dirty coal-fired electricity would jump and less electricity would be used.  Equipment, work practices, buildings and other electricity users would become more efficient.

And cleaner forms of electricity generation would become more financially competitive and more commonly used.

By halting coal mining Australia can achieve massive cuts in coal use and the climate pollution it causes.

It’s possible that with the single act of halting coal digging here Australia could cut more pollution than if it introduced a carbon tax.  The money saved from avoiding a carbon tax could be directed to retraining coal miners, compensating the coal mining companies and investing in clean energy power stations.

Coal mine owners do well, financially. But their profit comes because they don’t pay for the floods and droughts they cause.

Australia’s state governments control and profit from coal mining.

But it’s our government which pays to repair flood and drought damage.

So the money it pays to repair the damage done by coal reduces the value of the money it skim off coal sales. These true costs of coal mining are yet to be quantified but they’re of the same order as the taxes our governments get from the coal mining industry – both are in the billions.

And insurance companies pay for repairing coal’s flood and drought damage, too.

At some point insurers will stop agreeing to other profit-making companies prospering at their expense.

Insurers will challenge coal companies and others who claim insurance and seek to escape from their contracts because of that they say is their inability to comply due to “an act of God” in the form of catastrophic weather.

They’ll say, “No, your coal mine flooded because by digging and selling coal you have caused the floods you complain of, and we won’t pay you any more for your own self-harm. We can’t prove you caused all of the drought or flood but we don’t need to because we can prove you contributed to some of it.”

So a coal miner is not a coal miner; he is a boomerang thrower.  A union supporting digging coal-mines is not a union but a boomerang thrower.

The difference between coal-mining boomerang throwers and the ones who were here first, and threw boomerangs for thousands of years, is simple.  Indigenous people threw boomerangs as specific targets, animals, to eat to live.  It was one of their “must have” eating options.

But today’s boomerang coal throwers throw coal just to get money. They can get food to live in many, many more ways that don’t depend on doing harm to our country, our farms, farmers, rivers, ground water, health.

The coal mining industry knows the damage it does and the choices it has; the coal lobby spends significant time and money trying to kill off the green vote and to stop media and politicians acting to prevent climate change.

Which prompts a logical question about our coal boomerang throwers.

By what rights do unions, coal miners and governments choose to throw coal at our Earth’s weather, our farmers, our agriculture and our culture when their digging and burning and selling of our coal is killing our country?

That’s easy.  They get to do it because they can.

There will a day come when those being flooded and drought-stricken understand the violence being wrecked on our country by coal miners and governments.

When that day comes there’ll be a reckoning.

Michael Mobbs is a sustainability coach who advises, teaches and speaks on sustainability issues. He works with developers, governments and communities to design and obtain approvals for houses, units and subdivisions. He is based in the inner Sydney suburb of Chippendale, where in 1996 he pioneered the conversion of his inner city terrace into a sustainable house, which has now been disconnected to mains water and sewerage and is powered by solar energy.

Michael Mobb’s book “Sustainable House 2nd Edition” is available from his website

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