PR problems. That’s what Adani’s proposed Carmichael coalmine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin has been having. Maybe they need a theme song. Here, with a nod to the Man in Black, is a line to get them started: Well we shot a reef in Queensland, just to watch it die.
Those driving the Carmichael mine have had plenty of time to learn the climate change basics. They know coal has the highest carbon dioxide content of all fossil fuels. They know a large majority of climate scientists have identified rising concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as the major driver of global warming in the modern era. They know that extracting the bulk of existing global fossil fuel reserves is considered, by everyone from doctors to military commanders and the Davos economic elite, to spell calamity for human life on Earth.
Australian politicians will also have noticed that corals, like glaciers and the carbon and methane trapping permafrost, are highly temperature sensitive. So they know coral bleaching is another neon warning sign that the global climate catastrophe is underway.
Except, of course, that the warning sign is no longer neon. It is bone white. Courtesy of lethal coral bleaching the Great Barrier Reef is being redeveloped as a 2,300 kilometer long offshore cemetery.
To add to the melancholy picture, public money used to build road and rail infrastructure for the Carmichael mine are supposed to open up the basin to many more mines, while the whole operation will be serviced by expanded coal ports cutting like centurions’ lances into the side of the reef.
Queensland: beautiful one day, bone yard the next.
Any halfway rational government would be quarantining the reef from further insults and mobilising the population for an emergency transition away from hydrocarbons. An all-hands-on-deck, bring-everybody-along effort. Not just for domestic electricity production, but for our exports.
Instead, both major parties at federal and state levels are supporting the establishment of a coal mine with a projected lifespan of sixty years.
That alone says everything.
“Father, forgive them,” Jesus is supposed to have cried from the cross, “for they know not what they do.” In fact, as to the risk of cooking the planet, the only thing we will never be able to say is: “We didn’t know.”
But the main cast of politicians, fossil CEOs, and all their bagmen keep finding ways “not to know.”
Or, to be more charitable, they know about as much about the mind-boggling complexities of global oceanography, geology, atmospheric thermodynamics and paleoclimatology as the rest of us non-experts, but they elect to hear what they want to hear, dignifying their opportunism as “skepticism.”
This is why we should thank Adani. Like a corporate villain so crudely drawn one might suspect it of being secretly in the pay of the green movement, the Adani Group has arrived on the scene to push our responsibility for our actions into our faces. This is the existential crossroads. This is where the gun is clearly in our hands.
So what is to be done?
As soon as the question is posed it becomes obvious it needs refining. The first thing to note is that “we” are split. The gun is not really in our hands, it is in theirhands. That is, it is in the hands of the fossil bloc, otherwise known as the “to hell with the rest of you” fossil fuel military industrial financial media bloc.
If global warming is to be seriously addressed then it will not be enough to speak “truth to power,” as the new documentary by Al Gore has it. The gun of state power has to be wrested from the hands of the fossil bloc. This is the great battle on our doorstep.
When our children, or simply our slightly older selves, ask us if we tried to salvage a liveable world for them, they are not going to be content with a bland “what did you do?” They are going to ask us very pointedly why we dawdled so long before throwing out this criminally irresponsible band of ecocidal know-nothings.
It will be a good question. And it won’t be enough to say we trusted in the sainted Elon Musk. We won’t get anywhere without clean energy, but new technologies and cheaper prices for renewables are not going to win the struggle for us.
Since at least the 1980s ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Peabody Energy, Shell and other diehard members of the fossil bloc have been fighting a covert war against activists, scientists and policy makers to stop action on climate change.
Now, after decades of windbaggery from the global political class, the transition away from hydrocarbons has become a desperate affair. We might already be doomed. Or we might make it. As for the present, two things are clear: the fossil bloc are not leaders, they are undertakers; and if we don’t take them down, they will take everyone down.
Maybe it is time to turn some of that anxiety about the dark storms ahead into open revolt against what is being done to us now.
It is not that pleading with the powerful is useless. As the disinvestment/reinvestment campaign is showing, major organisations can change direction. And as 350.org’s Bill McKibben put it, while the recent Paris climate agreement “didn’t save the planet, it may have saved the chance to save it.”
Nonetheless, from the oil and gas fields of the war-ravaged Middle East, to Queensland’s Galilee Basin, to the dozen other fossil fuel projects worldwide detailed in Ecofys’ Point of No Return report, the fossil bloc are going to keep blocking the way for as long as we let them.
In this context speaking truth to power is really a theatre where we become bold enough to speak truth to each other. Pressuring the powerful is a school where we learn the meaning of taking back power.
This can’t come a moment too soon. The great majority of us have been rendered complicit less by our petrol-fueled cars and plastic bags than by political inertia. If we can’t even try to dispossess those who would dispossess us of our future, then, by default, the gun does end up in all our hands, and their casual indifference to mass death becomes our collective suicide.
And this, paradoxically enough, is the second reason we should thank Adani: we need this fight. It is in fights like these that we tone up, that we emancipate ourselves from waiting.
The Adani mine, let us recall, has it all. Not just climate change and damage to the reef, but habitat destruction, erosion of Indigenous land rights, ground water exhaustion and pollution, increased drought risk for local farmlands, loss of coastal employment, and long term health effects. And that’s without mentioning falling demand for coal and waste of taxpayers’ money that could be going on more toll roads and Joint Strike Fighters.
To take on Adani is not just to take on climate change. It is to take on the insane irresponsibility of the corporate plutocracy.
Join the fight. It will make you feel better.