In early March, we saw the raw power of fossil fuel capitalism on full display in Perth.
The Western Australia Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) released a policy requiring big offshore oil and gas operators to provide 100% carbon offsets for all their emissions.
The contribution of the gas industry to Australia's greenhouse gas problem cannot be overstated. While pollution from coal is decreasing, half of Australia’s rise in carbon dioxide emissions last year came from just one source — Chevron’s Gorgon project in the Pilbara.
With so much attention on the terrible Adani coalmine it is easy to lose sight of the vast amounts of carbon dioxide produced in the processing of natural gas off the coast of WA and the Northern Territory.
WA’s emissions have risen by a staggering 27% in 15 years — the most of any state — and gas is the main culprit.
On March 8 however, The West Australian went all out to nip the EPA proposal in the bud. Its front page headline decried “Out of their Mines”, in reference to the EPA.
By lunchtime Labor Premier Mark McGowan declared that his government would not be heeding the EPA’s advice.
But Woodside Energy, Australia's largest oil and gas company, was still not satisfied. It ran full page advertisements attacking the EPA for several days in succession.
Given that McGowan had already rolled over, why did the company feel the need to hammer away so ferociously? Why such a virulent reaction when, according to research by The Australia Institute, providing 100% offsets would only cost about 2% of the big oil and gas companies' profits?
The content of the advertisements — a mixture of feel-good statements and outright lies — gives it away. Woodside was clearly worried that, contrary to their claim that “natural gas is part of the answer”, the EPA proposal would make people realise that gas is just as bad as coal.
The future of life on Earth demands that no new significant coal or gas reserves be opened up for exploitation. But in WA the claim that “gas is good” is an article of faith — a modern day state religion.
Oil and gas companies reinforce ideological obedience by doling out sponsorship crumbs to sporting and cultural events, cultivating the delusion that they somehow create the wealth from where their profits flow.
Woodside had a serious point to make — the heretics must repent or be smashed. On March 14 it was joined by Shell, Santos and Chevron in a private meeting with the premier.
Later that afternoon the EPA, which had valiantly defended its policy in spite of the government, finally confessed its sins and took the policy off the table.
The very next day, students marched past the citadels of mining wealth as part of their School Strike 4 Climate, demanding that in 100 years there still be a planet. It is a simple and reasonable hope, but one which Australia’s biggest corporations — and the governments that serve them — had just demonstrated their preparedness to obliterate.
It’s fitting that St Georges Terrace leads up a hill to a freeway straddled by the Woodside Tower on one side and state parliament on the other, neatly symbolising the master-servant relationship.
Labor in government is simply unwilling and incapable of confronting the fossil fuel mafia by daring to suggest that one day soon Australia will have to forgo the profits made from selling gas and coal to the world in order to save life on Earth.
It will take a people-powered movement of the scale we have seen overthrow dictators in the Middle East to bring the evil regime at home to its knees.
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