On the June 2-3 weekend, hundreds of people from around NSW will gather at the site of the proposed Anvil Hill mega-coalmine in the Upper Hunter Valley to protest their opposition to the state government and coal companies' push to expand the coal industry. It's expected that NSW planning minister Frank Sartor will decide whether to approve the mine very soon.
Anvil Hill has become a symbol of the need to rein in the rampant expansion of the coal industry in NSW. The Hunter has become a moonscape of open-cut coalmines, with new and bigger ones on the horizon. The industry covers towns, such as Muswellbrook, in dust. It consumes vast amounts of already scarce water and threatens the viability of industries that are worth millions of dollars and thousands of jobs to the Hunter, such as the wine, horse and tourism industries. On top of this grim picture, it's a fact that the burning of coal from these mines fuels climate change — the greatest threat our country and the planet face.
Discussion of climate change, its impacts, causes and solutions is ubiquitous: emissions trading, offsets, renewable energy, nuclear power and "clean coal" have become barbeque conversation topics. While politicians are now mouthing platitudes about the scale of the threat and the need to act, what's missing is a recognition that Australia, NSW in particular, is actively fueling climate change through the massive coal industry. Indeed, the climate impact of the coal industry's current expansion plans would dwarf the woefully inadequate policies being promoted by the major parties at state and federal level.
Politicians and the coal industry have shrugged this off, arguing that emissions from the burning of the coal overseas should be accounted for overseas, or that if we don't export coal someone else will.
This is an abrogation of responsibility and, given Australia's vulnerability to climate change, literally suicidal. Climate change is a global phenomenon. It doesn't matter if the coal is burned in Sydney or Shanghai. The simple fact is that every tonne of coal that is converted into carbon dioxide (CO2) fuels climate change, and Australia's export coal industry is responsible for converting millions of tonnes of coal into CO2 every year.
The industry is the largest in the world. Every year Australia exports about 230 million tonnes of coal which, when burned, releases more greenhouse gas emissions than all sources in Australia combined. Newcastle is the world's largest coal export port, with a capacity of 102 million tonnes of coal a year. Recently approved expansion plans by the NSW Labor government could allow that figure to rise to 211 million tonnes of coal a year within the next decade. The climate implications of this are huge. When burned, that 211 million tonnes of coal will produce about 548 million tonnes of greenhouse pollution. Australia's current emissions of greenhouse gases from all sources are about 560 million tonnes.
What's driving this massive expansion are new mines such as Anvil Hill which, if approved, will be one of the largest mines ever to open in Australia, producing an estimated 10.5 million tonnes of coal a year. When burned, this will produce about 27 million tonnes of greenhouse pollution. That's more than pollution than what's produced by 4 million vehicles in NSW.
Stopping this massive expansion is essential if we are to stop dangerous climate change: the place we will draw a line in the sand is Anvil Hill.
For the last two years, a campaign to stop the proposed mine has drawn support from a diverse number of groups and individuals. Join us at Anvil Hill and be part of the campaign: either come up on June 2 and camp for free at the site (and enjoy music and cheap food!) or come up on June 3. Buses will leave Sydney Town Hall at 7am on Sunday June 3 amd return in the evening, but you must book to be sure of a spot. A $10 charge will help cover costs. Email email@example.com or phone 0407 008 917.
[Ben Pearson is a member of the Save Anvil Hill Alliance and a Greenpeace climate change campaigner.]