Opinion: Gautam Adani’s ecological cosplay

September 29, 2022
A Wangan and Jagalingou Cultural Custodian at Dalgayu Dina, “big foot” in Wirdi language. Traditional Custodians are still fighting to stop Adani's coal mine. Photo: Wangan and Jagalingou Cultural Custodians

Imagine the tobacco producer who invests in smoke limitation programs, or the arms manufacturer who attends a conference proposing to ban weapons and seek a better future.

Gautam Adani, one of India’s most ruthlessly adept billionaires, has added his name to the growing list of corporate cosplay, using “ecological credentials” as camouflage for fossil fuel predation.

Recently, the Adani Group said it would invest $US70 billion in the green energy transition and associated infrastructure in what it calls “an integrated hydrogen-based value chain”.

The corporation specialises in power generation, real estate, commodities and port infrastructure.

Adani has created sprawling “solar parks” comprising thousands of hectares in Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. The acquisition of such land has come at considerable cost to local farmers, many of whom have protested such alienation and loss of fertile land.

Adani’s program is relentlessly expansive, part of a suite of approaches that seem to be winning investment. French multinational Total Energies has poured in funds to acquire 25% of Adani New Industries.

The Indian billionaire is pursuing what his fossil fuel colleagues are doing: pretend to go green. Adani hopes to make his company the world’s largest renewable energy producer by 2030, which might encourage some laughter but for its seriousness.

At the Forbes Global CEO conference in Singapore, Adani exhibited the cocksure awareness of a cosplay trickster.

“We are already the world’s largest solar player, and we intend to do far more,” he said. “Adani New Industries is the manifestation of the bet we are making in the energy transition space.”

He said in addition “to our existing 20 GW renewables portfolio” the new business would “be augmented by another 45 GW of hybrid renewable power generation spread over 100,000 hectares”.

Boastfully, he said this was “an area 1.4 times that of Singapore”.

Adani told the India Economic Conclave (IEC) in April that India was “on the cusp of decades of growth that the world will want to tap into”.

“Therefore, there can be no better defence of our interests at this time than atmanirbhar,” using the Hindi word for self-reliance and which is a feature of Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi’s nationalist drive.

As with most billionaires, success is a convenient marriage of self-aggrandisement and patriotic purpose. “For India,” Adani told the IEC, “the combination of solar and wind power coupled with green hydrogen opens up unprecedented possibilities”.

With greenwashing being an essential part of its public relations, the Adani Group is promoting souped-up ecological cosplay across the globe.

The London Science Museum announced a sponsorship deal last October with Adani at the Global Investment Summit, ahead of the COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow. The deal involves developing an exhibition space titled, “Energy Revolution: The Adani Green Energy Gallery”.

Dame Mary Archer, chair of the Science Museum Group, explained the gallery would “take a truly global perspective on the world’s most urgent challenge”.

Critics were less than impressed by the Museum’s breezy refusal to consider Adani’s blotchy human rights record and treatment of indigenous communities both in India and Australia. Protests were organised and two trustees resigned.

The Adani Group has close ties with the Modi government, which is keen to fashion it as a spear of influence. Its renewables story cannot hide the fact that its core business remains thermal coal mining, gas distribution and transportation.

The latter has been particularly striking, with the company winning government tenders to operate a number of airport facilities despite lacking any experience in aviation.

This was a source of consternation for Kerala’s Finance Minister Thomas Isaac, whose state government was ignored in the bid for Thiruvananthapuram airport. “People of Kerala will not accept this act of brazen cronyism,” he declared in 2020.

No one else has the influence in New Delhi as Adani does. As Tim Buckley of the Sydney-based think tank Climate Energy Finance explained: “His political power, his ability to understand the lay of the land in India, is second to none”.

Controversially, the Adani Group also deeply embedded in the Carmichael Mine in central Queensland.

The company made a concerted effort to suppress the findings of a university report into its lack of consultation with Traditional Owners, who had not “given their free, prior and informed consent” to the operations.

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination also expressed its concern in 2019 that Adani’s consultations regarding the Indigenous Land Use Agreement “might not have been conducted in good faith”.

All this paints a picture of a company keen to cut corners and stomp on toes. For his efforts, Adani is now the second wealthiest man on the planet.

Only the extra-terrestrially minded Elon Musk bars his route on the rich list’s chart. Ecological cosplay, it would seem, pays.

[Binoy Kampmark lectures at RMIT University.]

* * *

Green Left was sent the following letter by Kate Campbell, Head of Communication Bravus (Adani) following the publication of Dr Binoy Kampmark's piece. We are reprinting it below. 

Dear Sir/Madam,

I write to request that you urgently remove the piece entitled Gautam Adani’s ecological cosplay from your publication.

The piece is factually incorrect. It is also clearly an opinion piece outlining Mr Binoy Kampmark’s personal opinion on the topic, however the article is not clearly marked as opinion.

Mr Kampmark presents hearsay and rumour as fact and did not approach Adani for comment.

These are breaches of any number of journalistic codes of ethics. It reflects poorly on your publication to have published such biased and incorrect opinion as news.

For example, Mr Kampmark cites a letter to the UN by a minority group of Traditional Owners from Queensland in Australia. To present the facts of this matter in a balanced way he should also note that the majority of Traditional Owners who supported the mine, also sent a letter to the UN sharply criticising the body for silencing their voice and for its paternalistic treatment of their people. The letter is attached.

The claim that Adani tried to suppress a university report is also completely untrue and there is no evidence to suggest this is the case.

Similarly, claims that land acquisition has “come at considerable cost to local farmers” is incorrect.

In fact, there is considerable evidence that the protests cited have been organised and carried out not by local people but outsiders who have travelled to the local region for the purpose and who do not represent local views.

I look forward to your early action to remove and amend this article.

Yours sincerely,

Kate Campbell, Head – Communication Bravus

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