The re-election of the Coalition Government was followed by claims of a mandate for fast tracking approvals of the controversial Adani mine, writes Dr David King. Only weeks after the Federal Election, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced the granting of the two final State Government approvals — groundwater management and the black-throated finch protection plan. The reality of voting intentions is more complex than a single issue and often swayed by playing to genuine concerns or fears.
Issues can be misrepresented for political purposes. The majority of Australians and Queenslanders have expressed concerns regarding the possible effects locally on water and habitat, the global contribution of coal to climate change and the loss of the Great Barrier Reef. It is unrealistic to think that this majority was suddenly reassured and converted due to a particular election result.
People need and want jobs and were told that opening the Galilee Basin would provide them with job security. Yet modelling has indicated that a mechanised Adani mine could simply move jobs from Hunter Valley mines to Queensland, with a net decrease in workers employed in thermal coal in Australia.
Exaggerated job figures of 10,000 jobs have been often repeated by proponents, despite Adani admitting in court that around 1,460 jobs would be the maximum during construction, with ongoing operational jobs being only a few hundred. Investing in renewable energy and the environment also produces new jobs.
As a GP, some patients come to me asking for antibiotics to treat their viral colds. What they really want is something to help them feel better and recover. Their assumption is that antibiotics will do this for them. When I explain that antibiotics may do more harm than good for viral infections and there are better options for symptom relief, most are happy with this. Antibiotics, like coal, have positive benefits, but overuse of both have led to negative impacts.
Making mining approvals has many similarities to the process in making clinical decisions, such as the need to balance benefits versus risks and harms and the need to overcome common misconceptions. A subset of this process is to consider whether there are safer ways to achieve similar outcomes and in whose interests.
Are there other safer ways to provide employment to Queenslanders? Are there cleaner ways to lift poor Indians from poverty and cheaper means of providing energy to large numbers who can’t afford connections to the grid? Who do you think is really going to benefit the most from digging this coal and shipping it to Asia?
As a doctor, I am concerned about the adverse health impacts of coal and living in a hotter world. The evidence is clear that warming is increasing the severity of weather events and the health impacts will only increase. Food insecurity, increased range of infectious diseases and increase in allergic disease are also being seen.
Coal is the largest contributor to climate change and the world will need to leave the majority of known reserves in the ground to prevent further warming. Absent from the recent debate about opening new coal mines and jobs is this concept of a carbon budget. A UN report by the world’s leading climate scientists last year warned we have 12 years to keep global warming to a maximum of 1.5°C, beyond which we risk worsening drought, floods, heatwaves and instability and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.
Change is difficult, but the best strategy is to plan for managing transitions rather than avoiding reality. We have cost-effective and safer alternative sources of energy, so it is ethical to do the right thing for the health of humanity and the world and support a planned transition from coal.
The now-ousted Tony Abbott reminded us we can frame climate change as an economic or a moral issue. Doctors stress that it is also a health issue.
Earlier this month, Australian doctors declared a climate emergency and were among an international coalition of healthcare organisations that have signed A call for clinicians to act on planetary health. Also, on Wednesday 12 June, a letter was sent to Premier Palaszczuk from Doctors for the Environment Australia asking her to consider the health impacts of approving the Adani mine.
As climate change will have impacts for all of us, it’s critical that Premier Palaszczuk follows the best evidence and considers the health and wellbeing of all Queenslanders, rather than buckle under the political pressure of self-interest to support the Adani mine. Economic analysis suggests the Adani mine is not viable without significant subsidies from both the Australian and Indian Governments. Approvals are science-based assessments, but our politicians shouldn’t be giving free water and royalty holidays to encourage a mine that will likely do more harm than good.
Dr David King is a Brisbane GP and a member of Doctors for the Environment Australia
First published in Independent Australia on 15 June 2019
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