So BHP has made another bumper profit. Just released figures report a record earnings result of $US13.4 billion, $16.7 million, driven by strong sales of commodities including petroluem products and coal. The press coverage of this has largely been uncritical; a doff of the hat to Chip Goodyear, and a general feeling of contentment that BHP, and Australia, can continue to ride the unprecedented commodities boom.

What is missing is an analysis of what BHP’s profits mean from a climate perspective.

BHP makes money by digging up and exporting commodities like coal. Its 23 coal mines worldwide produce nearly 150 million tonnes of coal a year, and it has major expansion plans in Australia. When that coal is burnt it creates greenhouse gases that fuel climate change, the costs of which will be huge if left unchecked. Australia, in particular, will be vulnerable as a hot, dry continent, and key industries like agriculture and tourism will be devastated.

In essence, therefore, BHP’s record profits now are being made by producing and exporting products which will threaten our economic wellbeing in the future. Yet the coverage of BHP’s profits fails to make this connection and fails to ask a very basic question: if climate change is such a threat, then why is it good that BHP continues to mine and export even more coal and other climate-changing products?

The answer from BHP would inevitably be “we’re investing in clean coal”. Rubbish. BHP is spending about $360 million on clean coal over five years, a miserly amount compared to their profits. The expenditure is designed to create the appearance of caring about climate change so it can continue to profit from fuelling it.

Ultimately, reportage of BHP’s profits is just another manifestation of Australia’s current holiday from history. We happily ride the commodities boom while ignoring the inevitable, and severe, consequences of our quarry mentality, and economy. Future generations will look back at us in the same way we look back at Easter Island communities and ask “what were they thinking when they chopped down the last tree?”

Peter Fray

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