Australia's New Prime Minister Vows to Bolster Coal Industry As Environmental Groups Denounce Coal Exports
By Samiha Shafy
The lucky country, as Australians call their homeland, sits on enormous deposits of natural resources: uranium, zinc, iron ore, lead, bauxite, copper, gold, manganese and nickel. But among its greatest assets are the world's fourth-largest coal reserves—an estimated 76.4 billion tons, or nine percent of global reserves.
Coal mining has powered the Australian economy for decades. In recent years, thanks to the seemingly insatiable energy appetite of China and other Asian countries, Australia’s coal industry has been growing at dizzying speed, its production rising 80 percent since the early 1990s and its exports more than doubling in the past decade. If all proposed mining projects move ahead as planned, Australia, currently the world's second-largest exporter of coal after Indonesia, could double its overseas shipments by the end of the decade to become the world’s largest coal exporter. Today, roughly three-quarters of Australia’s domestic electricity production comes from coal, making the sparsely populated continent of 23 million people the world leader in per capita greenhouse gas emissions.
So what are the odds that the country can overcome its coal addiction? Just a year or two ago, after Labor Party Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her Green Party allies successfully introduced a national carbon tax and set ambitious renewable energy goals, the prospects looked reasonably good. This month, however, things abruptly changed. On Sept. 7, staunch conservative Tony Abbott—a man who once dismissed human-caused climate change as "absolute crap”—was elected prime minister, significantly dimming the prospects that Australia will reduce its reliance on coal mining and coal exports anytime soon.
Environmental activists and members of the Green Party take some consolation in the fact that the public has become increasingly worried in recent years about the environmental impacts of the country’s massive, open-pit coal mines. Australians also have been shaken by a noticeable jump in extreme weather events, which scientists partly attribute to climate change. In addition, an increasing number of Australians are concerned about a major expansion of coal export terminals in the state of Queensland, which could threaten the country’s iconic natural wonder: the Great Barrier Reef.
“We're seeing more and more people becoming aware of what is going on, and they are outraged," Larissa Waters, the only Green Party senator from the coal rich-state of Queensland, said in an interview. “If it comes to turning the reef into a coal and gas highway or protecting it, people want it protected."
Environmentalists also note that commodity prices have fallen steeply, which has caused a slump in Australia's mining sector. The economic slowdown in China is putting a strain on Australia’s coal industry and shrinking the government's revenues. As a consequence, several new coal-mining projects have been shelved, and the coal industry has shed 11,000 jobs in the past year. Five Asian nations—Japan, China, South Korea, India and Taiwan—account for 88 percent of Australian black coal exports.
Outgoing Prime Minister Kevin Rudd worried about the impact of the slowdown of China’s economy on Australia’s coal sector and urged diversification of an economy overly dependent on coal and other forms of mining. But the newly elected Abbott and his Liberal-National coalition dismissed Rudd’s hand-wringing and vowed to reverse the slump in coal mining. After his recent election victory, Abbott announced that Australia was “open for business.” His coalition has promised to scrap the carbon tax, dump a climate advisory body, expedite approval for new coal mining projects and loosen environmental regulations governing the coal industry.
Many Australians applaud such steps. The coal industry has a powerful lobby, and a report commissioned by the Australian Coal Association (ACA) said the industry generates 43 billion Australian dollars in revenue annually. The industry takes credit for the fact that Australia was the only G10 country whose economy did not slip into a recession during the global financial crisis in 2009.
The ACA projects that exports of thermal coal, which is used to produce electricity, will grow at 11 percent a year for the next five years. The association also says that coal companies are investing $25 billion in new coal mining projects that could increase production by about 20 percent by the end of next year. Nine new “mega mines” are proposed for the Galilee basin in Central Queensland, five of which would be larger than any mines that currently exist in Australia. A host of environmental groups are opposing the Galilee projects, which would comprise one of the largest coal mining complexes in the world.
To accommodate growing exports, Australia is expanding existing coal ports and building new ones, some of them along the coast of Queensland, not far from the 1,430-mile Great Barrier Reef. A government-commissioned report found that port expansions could seriously disturb reef ecosystems, since spoil from dredging can travel long distances. Dumped silt also can be moved repeatedly by storms, damaging coral and threatening marine animals like sea turtles and dugongs, which have a hard time finding food in murky waters. Critics warn that increased ship traffic also brings with it a higher risk of accidents, such as the one three years ago when a Chinese coal freighter crashed into the reef.
The coal boom threatens the reef in less direct ways, as rising greenhouse gas emissions lead to higher seawater temperatures and worsening ocean acidification, both of which can damage or kill coral reefs. Scientists have calculated that the reef, which in 1981 became the first ocean region to be recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site, has lost half of its coral since 1985.
In Australia, there are growing concerns that a boundless expansion of coal mining may damage the reef to such an extent that UNESCO could place the reef on a list of World Heritage sites in danger. At its annual meeting in June, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee decided to give Australia a grace period until 2014 to come up with a convincing rescue plan.
“When it comes to coal and gas, our government is completely blinded,” Waters, the Green Party senator, said in an interview. “They just want to export as much of the stuff as they can."
She is fighting a seemingly futile battle with the traditionally conservative Queensland Legislative Assembly to write UNESCO's recommendations for the reef‘s protection into law. “First,” she said, “no ports in untouched regions. Second, no port expansions that could impair the universal value of the reef. And third, a moratorium on port projects until 2015."
Creative Commons/ Marcus Wong Wongm
Industry representatives dispute that coal mining poses a threat to the reef. “I see a bunch of these activists jumping up and down, saying that we are destroying the reef,” said Paul Mulder, managing director for coal and infrastructure with the Australian-Indian energy giant GVK Hancock Coal. “They have no idea what they‘re talking about."
“We are in the coal business,” Queensland's Premier Campbell Newman said in response to UNESCO criticism. “If you want decent hospitals, schools and police on the beat, we all need to understand that." Last week, Newman told Abbott that his top priority was developing the Galilee basin and that the best thing the central government could do was “just to get out of the way.”
Looking at the numbers, it seems unlikely that Australia could stop being a major source of coal in the foreseeable future. Over the last 30 years, no other country in the world has shipped more coal abroad, with exports reaching 457 million short tons in 2011.
Stopping Australian coal exports, however, is precisely what a growing number of environmental activists are attempting to do. Greenpeace has openly called for civil disobedience to stop exports, and in April activists briefly occupied a coal freighter bound for South Korea. American environmentalist Bill McKibben, who toured Australia in June to campaign against coal mining, was impressed with the public attention he received. “We had sellout crowds all over the place, and there was lots of press,” he wrote in an e-mail. “Apparently the coal industry thought it was a threat, because they came after me fairly hard.”
The industry has good reasons to be thin-skinned. Analysts blame the big mining companies for over-investing during the boom and ignoring the signs that demand from Asia could slow down in the long run. In May, the ACA issued a statement saying that “rapidly deteriorating investments in coal mining and coal infrastructure projects ... reinforces the urgent need for state and federal governments to focus on the competitiveness of the coal industry."
That is precisely what Abbott has pledged to do, and this month’s election results were an indication that many Australians place concerns about the country’s resource-based economy above fears of climate change or the environmental degradation associated with coal mining.
But environmental advocates say that despite Abbott’s victory, their message about the long-term damage done by coal mining—including threats to the Great Barrier Reef—is resonating with many Australians. One reason may be that Australians are feeling the effects of a changing climate earlier and more strongly than other nations. Storms and floods are increasingly common, as are heat waves, wildfires and droughts.
“The coal industry presents itself as quintessentially Australian,” said John Hepburn, founder of the Sunrise Project, an environmental group fighting the expansion of coal mining. “There is this sense that we are rich in natural resources, and what we do is we dig them up ... [But] the movement against coal has been growing incredibly rapidly. Something in the Australian psyche is starting to change."
Visit EcoWatch’s COAL page for more related news on this topic.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Taison Bell
"Hospital Capacity Crosses Tipping Point in U.S. Coronavirus Hot Spots" – Wall Street Journal
This is a headline I hoped to not see again after the number of coronavirus infections had finally started to decline in the Northeast and Pacific Northwest. However, the pandemic has now shifted to the South and the West – with Arizona, Florida, California and Texas as hot spots.
Hard-Hit States Quickly Learned Value of Masks<p>As a respiratory virus, SARS-CoV-2 is transmitted mainly through droplets that leave the mouth and nose as a person talks, sneezes, coughs or exhales. It thrives in environments where there are lots of people in enclosed spaces – <a href="https://theconversation.com/aerosols-are-a-bigger-coronavirus-threat-than-who-guidelines-suggest-heres-what-you-need-to-know-142233" target="_blank">especially if they are laughing, talking, singing</a> or otherwise coming into close contact. It thrives physically in the same settings where we thrive socially.</p><p>This is why the early hard-hit areas were able to crush the curve by closing businesses and implementing stay-at-home orders. Without significant close human interaction, the coronavirus couldn't spread.</p><p>While other states are now seeing hospitals fill with COVID-19 patients, most of the Northeast is maintaining control of community spread as its economies reopen. The difference reflects, at least in part, each state's behavior expectations and the willingness of residents to keep up safety precautions like wearing masks, avoiding large crowds, maintaining social distance of at least six feet and staying isolated when they are ill or may have been exposed to the virus.</p>
How Rhode Island's Daily COVID-19 Case Numbers Fell<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQ2MTAwOS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNDE1MDUxMH0.Ce8r6qCwhkJm8D8vUnTl5CblhFPXj_eBIlYqJ5yobqE/img.png?width=980" id="32ce3" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f15da39d4dab6393216510dbed678840" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p>Northeastern states now <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/26/politics/maskwearing-coronavirus-analysis/index.html" target="_blank">lead the nation</a> in mask-wearing and adherence to other best practices. An <a href="https://www.mercurynews.com/2020/06/26/which-part-of-the-u-s-leads-the-country-in-mask-wearing/" target="_blank">Axios/Ipsos poll</a> showed that in states with high mask use, virus circulation is at <a href="https://www.inquirer.com/health/coronavirus/covid-19-coronavirus-face-masks-infection-rates-20200624.html" target="_blank">lower levels compared to states with less mask use</a>. Studies on the <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-020-0908-8" target="_blank">effects of how quickly coronavirus restrictions have been lifted</a> around the world have found that slow, careful strategies have led to fewer illnesses and deaths during reopening.</p><p>In many parts of the Northeast, the months of illnesses, deaths and the struggle to turn the COVID-19 tide are still <a href="https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/06/23/most-americans-say-they-regularly-wore-a-mask-in-stores-in-the-past-month-fewer-see-others-doing-it/" target="_blank">fresh in people's minds</a>. The progress isn't uniform, however. <a href="https://gothamist.com/news/coronavirus-cases-among-20-somethings-nyc-rise-prompting-de-blasio-issue-new-mask-guidance" target="_blank">New York City's mayor has expressed concern</a> about an uptick in positive cases among people in their 20s.</p>
The Problems of a Political Divide<p>Elsewhere in the country, the current surge in COVID-19 cases <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-surges-of-the-coronavirus-across-the-nation-could-force-more-shutdowns/2020/06/12/e6985b94-acd9-11ea-a9d9-a81c1a491c52_story.html" target="_blank">began to pick up after Memorial Day weekend</a>, when people in several states that hadn't seen the same toll from the pandemic let their guard down. <a href="https://theconversation.com/covid-19-messes-with-texas-what-went-wrong-and-what-other-states-can-learn-as-younger-people-get-sick-141563" target="_blank">Video and pictures</a> showed parties, barbecues, crowded beaches and political rallies – all with very little social distancing or mask-wearing – giving more fuel for the coronavirus to spread.</p><p>Despite the overwhelming evidence for what we should be doing, following the advice of public health experts has also, sadly, become politicized. Depending on the news sources people listen to, they might hear warnings from health officials being taken seriously or being dismissed by pundits and politicians.</p><p>A <a href="https://www.axios.com/axios-ipsos-poll-coronavirus-index-15-weeks-e4eb53cc-9bc8-4cac-8285-07e5e5ef6b2b.html" target="_blank">recent national poll</a> shows that Democrats report consistently wearing a mask 68% of the time, while Republicans reported doing the same only 34% of the time. The national conversation has devolved into a false dichotomy: Either you're on the side of prioritizing safety or you're on the side of personal freedom and opening the economy.</p><p>In reality, the two should be partners, as these preventative measures are the best tools we have to reach our common goals of reopening businesses and schools safely. It's the same reason we stop at stoplights and go through metal detectors at the airport – we make a small sacrifice for the greater public good.</p><p>For the foreseeable future, Americans will have to collectively agree to live life a little differently. Until we can all agree on this, the coronavirus will continue to have the upper hand, and our health and wealth will suffer.</p>
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By Zahida Sherman
Cooking has always intimidated me. As a child, I would anxiously peer into the kitchen as my mother prepared Christmas dinner for our family.
Falling in Love With Food All Over Again<p>Slowly, through my most intimate relationships with friends and partners, I began to see the beauty — and rewards — of cooking.</p><p>I got tired of giving in to defeat and always bringing chips or paper products to social gatherings. I started asking my mom to send me her Christmas and Thanksgiving recipes. I even volunteered to host Thanksgiving dinner at my place.</p><p>Each time I heard my loved ones sing the praises of the foods I prepared for them, I felt a tinge more confident that I could carry out our traditions my way.</p><p>In reaching out to other relatives for their favorite recipes, I learned that they had a little help of their own. They didn't rely solely on their ancestral cooking instincts. They turned to Black chefs for guidance.</p><p>These 7 cookbooks by Black chefs have inspired my family and fed us in nutrients, joy, and spiritual sustenance. They're also helping me overcome my personal fears of cooking.</p>
Get CookingWhether you're in recovery from cooking fears like me, or are just looking to expand your culinary confidence with dishes honoring Black heritage, these Black chefs are here to support you on your journey.Turn on some music, give yourself permission to make mistakes, and throw down for yourself or your loved ones. Glorious flavors await you.
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By Tara Lohan
The conclusion to decades of work to remove a dam on the Middle Fork Nooksack River east of Bellingham, Washington began with a bang yesterday as crews breached the dam with a carefully planned detonation. This explosive denouement is also a beginning.
The History<p>The Middle Fork Nooksack drains glacier-fed headwater streams that run off the icy summit of 10,778-foot Mt. Baker. The Middle Fork joins the North Fork and then the mainstem of the Nooksack River, which travels to Bellingham Bay and Puget Sound. The entire Nooksack watershed stretches 830 square miles across Washington and into British Columbia.</p>
A Plan Comes Together<p>The Middle Fork dam is not a pool dam built for water storage. Much of the time, water flows over the top until dam operators drop a floodgate to divert water to new locations. That water travels about 14 miles through tunnel and pipeline to Mirror Lake, then Anderson Creek, and to Lake Whatcom before finally being delivered to residents' taps.</p><p>Before removing the dam, engineers had to move the water intake 700 feet upstream and situate it at an elevation that still enabled city water withdrawals throughout the year, regardless of flow conditions.</p><p>They also needed to make sure that the rushing water didn't sweep up fish and accidentally send them through the water-supply system.</p><p>"The solution required a fairly complex design in the intake structure, including a fish exit pipe out of that structure to put fish back into the river in a way that meets current environmental permit standards," explains LaCroix.</p>
Project layout for the removal of the Middle Fork Nooksack diversion dam and rebuilding of water intake. City of Bellingham<p>Despite the cost and the work, she says, being able to continue to meet their municipal water obligations while opening up habitat for threatened species has been a win-win.</p><p>"I think there's a lot of benefits to having a dam removal versus fish passage — the main one being that you get a free-flowing river that can be a dynamic ecosystem and change over time," she says. "A static fish ladder just can't provide that same level of ecosystem benefit."</p>
Restoration Success<p>Despite local authorities' championing dam removal on the Middle Fork, the project has largely flown under the radar, overshadowed in the Pacific Northwest by heated discussions about a much larger potential project — removing <a href="https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/feds-reject-removal-of-4-snake-river-dams-in-key-report/" target="_blank">four federal hydroelectric dams on the lower Snake River</a>, a major tributary of the Columbia River.</p><p>Proponents of dam removal there see it as the best chance for recovering threatened salmon populations, including Chinook, which could help starving Southern Resident killer whales. Those dams also provide irrigation water, barge navigation and hydropower, so there's been more pushback against removal efforts.</p><p>Previous dam removals around the country, however, have proved successful at aiding fish recovery and river restoration.</p><p>Most notably the 1999 demolition of <a href="https://therevelator.org/edwards-dam-removal/" target="_blank">Edwards Dam on Maine's Kennebec River</a> restored the annual run of alewives, a type of herring essential to the food web. The fish run has gone from zero to 5 million in the two decades since dam removal. Blueback herring, striped bass, sturgeon and shad have also extended their reach. And the resurgence has brought back osprey, bald eagles and other wildlife, too.</p><p>The overwhelming success of river restoration on the Kennebec helped to spur a nationwide dam removal movement that's now seen 1,200 dams come down since 1999. Last year a record <a href="https://www.americanrivers.org/conservation-resource/a-record-26-states-removed-dams-in-2019/" target="_blank">90 dams</a> were removed in 26 states, including <a href="https://therevelator.org/cleveland-forest-dam-removal/" target="_blank">20 dams in California's Cleveland National Forest</a>.</p>
Spider excavators remove on dam on San Juan Creek in California's Cleveland National Forest. Julie Donnell, USFS<p>The results have been seen in the Pacific Northwest, as well, which boasts the largest dam removal thus far in the country. In 2011 and 2014, the demolition of <a href="https://therevelator.org/elwha-dam-removal/" target="_blank">two dams</a> on Elwha River, which runs through Washington's Olympic National Park, opened up 70 miles of habitat that had been blocked for a century. Scientists have started seeing all five species of salmon native to the river coming back, particularly Chinook and coho. Bull trout, they've observed, have increased in size since the dams were removal.</p>
Benefits on the Middle Fork Nooksack<p>McEwan hopes to see a similar outcome on the Middle Fork.</p><p>Like the Elwha the Middle Fork Nooksack is a relatively pristine river with little development, and dam removal is expected to provide a big boost to fish. The additional miles of spawning habitat are important, but so is the temperature of that water.</p><p>The dam removal will open access to cold upstream waters, which are ideal for salmon and getting harder to come by as climate change warms waters and reduces mountain runoff.</p><p>"This is really great for the climate change resiliency for these species," says McEwan.</p><p>Steelhead will get back 45% of their historic habitat in the river, and scientists expect Chinook populations to increase in abundance by 31%.</p><p>That <em>could</em> help Southern Resident killer whales.</p><p>"When you get to the ocean, it's a little bit of a black box in terms of what you can model and say definitively is going to help, but more fish is better for orcas," McEwan says.</p><p>Upstream habitat will see benefits, too.</p><p>Oceangoing fish like salmon enrich their bodies with carbon and nitrogen while at sea. When they return to their natal rivers to spawn and die, the marine-derived nutrients they carry back upriver become important food and fertilizer for both riverine and terrestrial ecosystems — aiding everything from trees to birds to bears.</p><p>"Once the fish start making their way back, it will start changing the whole ecological system," says Delgado.</p><p><span></span>But any ecological benefit from salmon restoration, either in the ocean or the upper watershed, won't be immediate.<br></p><p>"The population of salmon on the Middle Fork is so low that we expect it's going to take quite a while to rebound," she says. "But the big picture is that what's good for salmon is good for the region — our history and our destiny are intricately intertwined."</p><p>After decades of work, that process of restoration has finally begun.</p>
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By Katie Howell
A new tool called The Food Systems Dashboard aims to save decision makers time and energy by painting a complete picture of a country's food system. Created by the Johns Hopkins' Alliance for a Healthier World, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Dashboard compiles food systems data from over 35 sources and offers it as a public good.