The Isaac coal mine approval is a betrayal of our future

May 21, 2023
coal mining.

The decision to approve the Isaac coal mine is a betrayal of Australians and indeed people worldwide and as a medical doctor I am justifiably angry.

The warning to end all fossil fuel developments recently published in Australian newspapers by 100 prominent Australian scientists and experts was related to the Beetaloo gas development in the NT but it applies to all fossil fuel developments including Isaac.

The forlorn hope was that Government would listen to distinguished Australians on whom they rely for leadership and guidance in the health services and in scientific innovation. The hundred prominent scientists were headed by Peter Doherty a Nobel Prize winner.

Many other warnings are being ignored by our government including harsh words from UN Secretary-General António Guterres that there must be no new fossil development.

As most doctors, nurses and health workers will recognise, we are opting to allow our emissions to increase by developing and exporting more gas to balance our budgets, which is stated quite openly by some jurisdictions, for example the Northern Territory. Our fixation on the economy in the recent budget left climate change and environmental degradation inadequately funded as we approach breeching to 1.5 temperature rise in the next few years.

The world will suffer thousands of deaths and much ill health and poverty.

Australians will also suffer- and those in recent floods and storms know the experience. Health workers are distressed and angry. These worldwide deaths caused by Australian emissions could be calculated but it would have little effect on a government obsessed with putting the economy first.

Ukraine and some European countries are not concerned by their budget deficits for they are at war. Climate change is war and sacrifices have to be made, the government must grasp this and put aside Aukus and other fantasies.

The leading Medical Journal The Lancet has repeatedly said that climate change is the biggest threat to global public health in the 21st century. More preventative health strategies are badly needed to prevent burgeoning hospital admissions. Our frustration lies in our inability to prevent the deaths in heat waves, floods and fires from lack of government action.

The government already knows that two percent of Australians die from heat waves each year and this will get much worse as the next El Nino arrives soon. We are not preventing these deaths. Our failure extends across many government departments including housing which is inadequate in many high temperature areas, appalling in areas inhabited by Indigenous people and with no policy on providing heat shelters. Similarly the increased immigration will add to housing needs, and increase consumer demand- and we have no population policy, Government action is ad-hocery.

It’s impossible to understand the government’s position in approving more gas mines which will boost emissions internationally and cause more devastation in poor countries unable to protect their citizens. We are a wealthy country historically partially responsible for global heating.

What could be the reasons for these decisions to open more coal and gas mines?

Could it be ignorance despite 2 decades of scientific evidence published in Australia? Some ministers display this when they puff out their chests and tell us about their renewable energy revolution. They think this absolves them. But more coal mining will not be accepted by the inhabitants of submerging Pacific island nations. No matter that Isaac is a small mine and will operate for only 5 years, it will be signalled to the world as ‘Australia opening new coal mines’.

Perhaps there is conflict in the Cabinet. It is hard to believe that Health Minister Butler or Minister Plibersek approved Isaac under the aged and clapped out EPBC Act which was criticised in Professor Samuel’s review for inadequate input from the States. The government has been in power for a year and shows no urgency for reform on the EPBC Act, yet we are in veritable war for survival.

Minister Plibersek’s recent radio interview was seen as apologetic for the approval of the Isaac Mine.

Perhaps government feels there is no point in stopping coal when the US has vast new gas developments and China many more coal mines? Better to balance the budget!

There must also be one terrible additional worry, that the fossil fuel industry still has the government by the throat with the revolving door of appointments, the constant lobbying, and the venom of the Murdoch media bringing Ministers into line. No wonder the gas industry spokesperson gratefully approved petroleum resources rent taxes in the recent Budget because they were so small!

Clearly manipulation of government minds by Big Oil is still effective for the government and its state satellites have succumbed. The SA energy minister has just said at a conference that the state is now open to the gas industry.

Government is failing to grasp that the cessation of fossil fuels and the renewable energy revolution are needed simultaneously for a sporting chance of avoiding the Armageddon of irreversible climate change. They must also realise that under present policies, the projected rate of climate change is faster than mammals and vertebrates can adapt to; extinctions are increasing rapidly, many due to temperature rise. Humans are vertebrate mammals and our bodies will not adapt quickly enough to survive the rising temperatures.

Dear Ministers, remember there is no going back unless emissions are reduced now. Only Covid-19 in 2020 and the international financial crisis in 2008 dented the steady rising emission rise since 1990. Why not offer leadership to the world and start the ball rolling. More than any other country, we can afford to act and offer leadership to the entire world. We can save many lives with action now.

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