This week, CANA had a Perspective Piece in the Christchurch Press in response to a pro-coal-mining piece from Chris Baker of Straterra, the mining industry lobby group. We submitted the article as “Straterra Can’t Spin Climate Change Away”, but the Press gave it a better title: Coal Mining Catastrophe. The article is below, and also on Stuff: http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/opinion/perspective/7134638/Coal-mining-catastrophe
Coal Mining Catastrophe
Chris Baker, the Chief Executive of Straterra, recently claimed [in the Press] that it was “unrealistic and irresponsible to advocate for a halt to coal mining in New Zealand”.
Straterra’s spin is well-funded by its mining industry masters. But it is those who claim that New Zealand and the world can safely continue to mine and burn coal who are being unrealistic.
Those who want to profit from coal mining adjust their tactics to the circumstances. In the USA, the mining companies, drillers and frackers continue to pour money into the climate change denial movement. In New Zealand, at least in public, the mining industry claims to be concerned about climate change. It just works hard to stop us taking any meaningful action on it.
The world’s climate is already changing: more floods, more droughts, more tornadoes. Sea level rise has begun, and even if we stopped burning fossil fuels tomorrow, we are already committed to more.
Climate change is driven by the burning of fossil fuels, and coal is 79% of the remaining climate changing potential. There is enough of it to raise the temperature of the planet by a further 15 degrees. If the world continues to mine and burn coal, flash floods and droughts will be the least of our worries. Instead, we will see the collapse of ice sheets, major sea level rise, massive forced migrations, and major famines. New Zealand will not be immune.
What does Straterra advocate to solve the problem? Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), to capture carbon dioxide emissions and store them underground. But successful examples of CCS are so far confined to a few demonstration projects, and even they capture only a fraction of the emissions.That’s because CCS is very expensive, and remains unproven. Indeed, the total amount of C02 successfully sequestered through CCS so far in the whole world is equivalent to one year’s emissions from our tiny Huntly power station.
Information revealed in Australia over the weekend shows Kevin Rudd’s $2.5 billion fund for CCS has been a waste of money and effort.(1)
CCS’s value to the coal mining industry is not as a practical solution, but as a shield against political pressure. The coal industry advocating CCS is like the cigarette industry advocating filter tips.
The coal mining industry likes to talk big about the economic benefits of mining, but here’s a simple practical test: go to a coal mining town, maybe Kaitangata in South Otago or Ohai or Nightcaps in Southland. Take a walk. Smell the coal-laden air. Look at the rundown houses, the pot-holed roads, the few shops. Do these look like rich towns to you?
New Zealand census statistics show that coal mining communities have higher unemployment and lower median incomes than the average for the district where they are located.(2) There is money in coal mining all right, but it doesn’t go to local communities. It goes to overseas investors and rich New Zealanders. And the good jobs are filled by mining experts from overseas.
There is only one way to preserve a climate that is safe for our children and grandchildren – and for ourselves. We need to stop new and expanded coal mining, and then phase out existing coal mining over time. We should be transitioning our energy system to non-fossil energy sources as the coal in existing mines is depleted and miners retire.
Realism isn’t hoping that you can wave a problem away because there is a cushy income in pretending it doesn’t exist. Realism is seeing what’s wrong, and doing what’s necessary. We need to keep the coal in the hole, because if we don’t, no amount of PR bluster or wishful thinking will be enough to save us.
- Tim Jones