Dear Prime Minister,
We are writing to strongly reject your statements made on Monday 13 October regarding coal mining.
There is no justification for the pronouncement that “coal is good for humanity”. It is in direct contradiction to all the available public health evidence.
There is ample evidence, which we have supplied to your office, documenting the adverse health impacts that arise from air pollution (and other environmental impacts) in both coal mining communities and resulting from coal combustion more widely. In the USA, it is estimated that 23,000 people lose their lives prematurely every year as a result of coal combustion alone. This is of course exactly why the USA and Chinese governments are moving to restrict coal burning near their major cities.
The economic costs arising from coal fired power stations have been assessed by US economist William Nordhaus (2011) and found to outweigh the value provided by as much as 5.6 times. All recently published work in this area is consistent on this point. The only reason coal can be made to appear economically viable is by the deliberate exclusion of these health and environmental costs.
The argument that providing coal based energy is essential for improving poverty in the developing world is also not supported by the available evidence. In fact, the health impacts from coal outweigh health gains in all but the very poorest of nations. Even then, the benefit is marginal. Moreover, energy poverty can be, and is being, addressed using non-fossil fuel energy sources that do not have the same detrimental health or environmental costs.
Use of fossil fuels, including coal, has been incontrovertibly linked to climate change. Climate change is now recognised as the greatest threat to our health this coming century (Lancet 2009). It is also the case that the poorest nations will be disproportionally impacted by the effects of climate change and the least able to adapt. If we are genuine about acting in the interests of humanity, then our focus must be to assist these developing countries with renewable energy technology and rapidly decarbonise our economy, which incidentally is the highest per capita emitter in the developed world.
In light of these facts, it was very disturbing to health professionals to hear the statements made by you regarding coal on Monday. It is unacceptable totrade Australia’s public health for short term economic benefit. Yet this is exactly what your government is promoting.
For these reasons, we seek an urgent response and explanation from your office and ask that your statement be retracted.
Dr Kingsley Faulkner AM
Doctors for the Environment Australia