Crikey has recently been full of stories
about how the mainstream media is failing to engage properly with the proposed
media reforms. The excellent point is that, while certain aspects of the story
are being discussed, key “difficult” areas are being avoided.

Exactly the same analysis applies to
another high-profile story – our resources boom. Amid the acres of newsprint,
you’d be hard pressed to find more than a handful of pieces looking at the
climate impacts of the current coal bonanza.

Unfortunately for all of us, in both cases,
it is not just the media ignoring this story – our governments are also taking
a “hear no evil” approach.

A case in point is the planned expansion of
the Newcastle coal port with the new Kooragang coal loader. There has been plenty
of media coverage of how it will deal with the queues of ships and allow us to
send far more coal to the hungry Asian markets. There’s been coverage linking
it to the expansion of the coal fields into new areas such as Anvil Hill and
the Gunnedah Basin.

Often you’ll find these stories in the same
paper, or the same news bulletin, as stories on the heatwaves in the USA,
melting Siberian permafrost and the growing scientific certainty that we must act
very fast if we are to turn back the clock on climate change.

Given the major pubic interest in both
elements of this story, surely it would be incumbent upon our media to point
out that our coal exports are actually causing a real, measurable proportion of
climate change.

Here are the numbers to prove it. The Kooragang coal loader alone, at full
capacity, would send some 66 million tonnes of coal overseas every year, giving
rise to around 160 million tonnes of climate changing carbon dioxide. The emissions
from that coal would be about equivalent to:

  • NSW’s entire annual domestic
    emissions;
  • a third of Australia’s total
    domestic contribution to global warming;
  • approximately 0.5% of
    total global annual greenhouse emissions.

Quite a stark fact. But neither the media
nor the NSW Government wants to know.

The Environmental Assessment for the
Kooragang development has just been posted on the websites of Planning NSW and
NCIG, the Newcastle Coal Infrastructure Group.

In compliance with NSW Government
specifications, the EA details its greenhouse impact as limited to its on-site
energy usage. It explicitly excludes the greenhouse emissions from the coal
that passes through it, claiming that “it would be inappropriate to incorporate
an assessment of the greenhouse emissions of the burning of coal that is
exported through the Project” since those impacts are “created by a third
party”.

Now hang on, let’s make this very clear. Newcastle’s coal
export capacity is stretched. If the port is not expanded, our exports cannot
increase, meaning all that coal intended for power stations around the world
will stay in the ground – there’s no point mining what you can’t sell.
Centennial Coal, a member of NCIG and developers of the massive planned Anvil
Hill mine, whose EA is expected any day now, have stated baldly that, without
Kooragang, the mine won’t go ahead.

In other words, without Kooragang, global
greenhouse emissions would not grow by that extra 0.5% per year.

It’s not every day that a government gets
the chance to assess a development with such massive global implications. You
would have thought they’d be jumping at the chance. But no, it would be
“inappropriate” even to include that information in the environment assessment.

That’s what I’ll tell my kids, then. Sorry
girls, back in 2006 it was inappropriate to deal with climate change. What will you say?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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