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The Flawed Moral Argument For Exporting Coal To India

21/10/2015 9:32 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:50 PM AEST
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Over the weekend, Resources Minister Josh Frydenberg told ABC's 'Insiders' program that there was a 'strong moral case' for approving the Adani Coal Mine in order to 'help lift hundreds of millions of people out of energy poverty not just in India but right across the world.'

Mr Frydenberg said: "Over a billion people around the world don't have access to electricity. This means that more than two billion people today are using wood and dung for their cooking. The World Health Organisation says that this leads to 4.3 million premature deaths... So there is a strong moral case that the green activists sometimes don't comprehend."

There is nothing moral about providing dirty coal to India. Australians know that. In a recent poll by Essential Research, only 3 percent believed that poor people benefit a lot from the export of Australian coal. In contrast, 67 percent believe mining company executives benefit a lot.

Australians are extremely adept at spotting spin. People know that coal pollutes and it's immoral to pollute. People get that coal pollution is the biggest contributor to global warming. People know that the world's poor are already bearing the brunt of global warming.

Australians are turning in droves to clean renewable energy, knowing it's the economic power of the future. It's clean renewable energy that can lift people out of poverty, not dirty old coal that causes severe air pollution in the mega cities of China and India where the air pollution is frequently so bad that children and the elderly are advised to stay indoors.

Just look at Under the Dome to see the result of coal in China.

How is it moral to mine and burn more coal when we know that the ocean is warming and that we're gambling with the future of ocean life? We've already seen two massive coral bleaching events in the Great Barrier Reef -- in 1998 and 2002. The world is currently experiencing a third global coral bleaching event which, if conditions continue, could see our Reef hit a third time early next year. And each time the Reef is hit it becomes less resilient, less able to fully recover.

Sixty-nine thousand jobs depend on a healthy Great Barrier Reef. Last year the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority released its second Outlook Report which referred to catastrophic impacts on the Reef from global warming. Will Minister Frydenberg look those 69,000 Australians in the eye and say, I'm sorry about your job and your family, but we need to help the poor in India by burning more coal?

The Reef can survive and thrive, but only if we turn rapidly and decisively to clean renewable energy. There is no room in this world for the proposed Carmichael mine -- which would be the largest coal mine in Australia and one of the largest in the world -- no room for the massive coal port along the Great Barrier Reef coastline that it would require, and no room for the hundreds of additional coal ships ploughing through the Reef's waters.

There is still time to save the Reef from global warming, but not much. We have to do it now so that we can avoid annual bleaching events by 2030. Recovery would be impossible at that point and it's only 15 years away. And the good news is that clean renewable energy is the same solution that will lift millions of Indians out of poverty.

Minister Frydenberg and his Parliamentary colleagues have to make moral choices every day in their public life. As Resources Minister, his choice is either to expose the coal industry's moral narrative as a lie and embrace innovation and disruption in the energy sector to bring about a clean electricity-powered Australia, or to support a twentieth century, dirty economic power in terminal decline, which is attempting to cloak itself in moral sack cloth. King Coal becomes the Emperor with no clothes.

Minister Frydenberg and Prime Minister Turnbull have a tough choice to make as it takes courage to confront such vested interests, but for the sake of 69,000 Australians dependent on a healthy Reef for their livelihood, for all Australians who love the Reef and want to pass it on to their children, and for the sake of India's poor, the moral choice is clear.

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