17 Jul 2013

'This Is One Of The Last Frontier Fights'

By Lachlan Williams

The largest coal mine expansion in New South Wales is about to get underway in the Leard State Forest. Lachlan Williams met an unlikely coalition of locals determined to stop the mine going ahead

The trucks will soon start rolling into the Leard State Forest to build infrastructure for the mines that will all but destroy it. The Boggabri and Tarawonga mines are expanding within the forest, and a third, the Maules Creek mine, is being established.

It will be the start of the largest coal mine expansion in New South Wales, and the death knell for both a critically endangered ecosystem and the local community, according to the many and diverse people who oppose the mining expansion in the remote region in the state's north.

The Leard State Forest recently came to prominence as the site of one of the most spectacular corporate hoaxes in Australian history. In January a press release under ANZ letterhead was sent from a remote protest camp within the forest that has been established and continuously occupied for more than 300 days.

The release briefly wiped more than $300 million off the market capitalisation of Whitehaven coal. Two weeks ago, anti-coal activist Johnathan Moylan was charged with misleading the market in connection to the release. If convicted, he faces 10 years' prison and half a million dollars in fines.

But there's a deep background to the protest camp, which acts as both a symbolic blockade and a hub for those who oppose the expansion of mining in the area. It's brought together farmers, activists, ecologists, families, civil servants and artists united in their opposition to the proposed Maules Creek mine.

Murray Drechsler has lived in the 7000-hectare forest for almost a year, keeping an eye on the mines and fighting to focus public awareness on the impending establishment of the 4000-hectare Maules Creek mine and Boggabri/Tarawonga expansions, which would clear half of the endangered box-gum woodland forest, a tier one biodiversity hotspot.

“The first priority is to raise awareness,” he tells New Matilda. “To let people know there is a coal mine in State Forest.”

Despite Maules Creek mine receiving its final approval, the groundswell of support he and other activists have achieved has left him optimistic.

“There's a very good chance we'll win,” says Drechsler. “The price of coal is dropping. Awareness of its impacts is rising.”

Since the existing Boggabri and Tarawonga mines laid off large parts of their local workforce, community support has cooled, he says.

“It's easier to communicate with people, because they know how ruthless the mines are.”

There has been opposition to coal and coal seam gas (CSG) mining in the area for more than a decade. Phil Laird's family has been farming in Maules Creek for six generations, and he is vehemently opposed to the mine that threatens his livelihood. So are most of the community, he tells New Matilda.

“We're surveying road-by-road what people want,” says Laird. “And of people who respond, about 96 per cent of landowners are saying they want their land and road coal or gasfield free.”

If Whitehaven Coal's Maules Creek mine goes ahead, it will be the end of a long battle for him. “Once they start, that's it,” says Laird. “It's a wall of money, and there's nothing anybody can do about it.”

He has briefed ministers, banks, and commodities analysts, and is investigating a legal challenge to the mine before work properly begins on the infrastructure.

The Lairds and other farmers have supported the environmental activists and their camp in the forest.

“My brother Rick gives Murray fuel, and we'll give him meat from time to time,” he says.

“He's got a lot of supporters. Cliff [Wallace, another local farmer] is here at the camp three or four nights a week. Water, showers – there's all sorts of things that people do.”

The support for the protest camp is not charity or country hospitality, but a manifestation of an alliance that's been growing for a long time, as farmers and environmentalists realise the extent to which their aims are complementary.

“Activism is like a chess game,” he says. “You have to know who's on your side, and where they are. You have to know what you're trying to achieve on any given day.”

“When you start getting all of these groups to join together and form one big group you have a threat to capital,” he says. “If a project is wound up because it's not legally able to proceed, or a mass movement stops it in its tracks, that's when [mining investors] get very nervous.”  

Johnathan Moylan, who has become a posterboy for the anti-coal movement since he was charged, is also acutely aware of the need for traditional opponents to unite.

“The alliance between environmentalists and farmers is the most powerful social force in the country,” he tells New Matilda. He came to the camp to support the local protestors.

“We should be supporting farmers and their right to say not to large coal and CSG projects. Most people can understand the power imbalance between a large coal company and a small farming community.”

The opposition to the mine, say those involved in the campaign, has serious grounds. The approvals process was flawed, offset requirements flouted and the impact on surrounding groundwater inadequately examined. Health impact assessments were not part of the planning process, and the work by the mine's own environmental consultants was faulty.

“The pressure's on to deliver what the company wants,” says a spokesperson for the Australian Koala Foundation.  “They use data selectively. A consultancy did a survey here and didn't find any koalas. There was a resident population here the whole time.”

One consulting company working on the Maules Creek assessments was Cumberland Ecology, who provided the initial consulting (pdf) for the overturned (pdf) Warkworth mine in 2012.

Moylan, who faces stiff penalties for his own civil disobedience, says laws and regulations should be enforced against Whitehaven Coal, who own the Tarawonga and proposed Maules Creek mines.

“They're being investigated for supplying false and misleading information to gain approval,” he says. “Whitehaven must not be allowed to destroy any forest or farmland until that investigation is completed. We should all know whether their application and the approval were fraudulent and needs to be revoked.”

Cliff Wallace, an ex-orchardist who has been farming in Maules Creek for 28 years, is one of the camp's staunchest supporters - Dreschler camped on his land while he was looking for a place to set up camp in July last years.

Wallace provides showers for visitors to camp as well as meat and vegetable when he can, cuts firewood and takes interested parties on tours of his farm so they can see what's at stake.

“This is one of the last frontier fights,” he says. “If we lose this fight, we're losing our property rights.”

“Properties will be contaminated to the point where they're unfarmable.”

“When they've destroyed this valley, they'll move onto the next, and the next. What are we going to eat?”

If his opposition to the mine, and the reasons for his support for the protesters is driven out a wish to protect farmland, it's also ideological.

“We don't have the right to dig everything up in one generation,” he says. “We're lucky to be born in this country to begin with. If we dig it all up, what are we going to be left with?”

Over the past six months, more and more people have visited the camp. Activists from the cities are organising periodic gatherings that provide both entertainment and education for people from Melbourne, Brisbane, the Northern Rivers, Sydney, Tamworth, Armidale and other centres.

Families from nearby towns, opposed to the mine, come and camp with their children. Artists have developed work in the area, thankful for both the stimulus of the fight and the space the forest provides. The Gomeroi traditional owners have picketed the offices of Whitehaven coal in Boggabri over salvage practises of culturally significant objects, making national news

If the legal challenges to the establishment of the Maules Creek mine are unsuccessful, the alliance of such diverse and numerous groups in opposition to it could yet stop it – though there isn't much time. Those at the forefront of the resistance remain optimistic though.

“This community is under siege,” says Moylan. “But by bringing people together, we know we can beat them.”

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This user is a New Matilda supporter. DrGideonPolya
Posted Wednesday, July 17, 2013 - 13:48

Sceince says that 80% of fossil fuels should  be left in the ground.

The ABC reports the bipartisan policy of “5% off 2000 greenhouse gas pollution by 2020” coupled with unlimited coal and gas exports – however, as described below, this is disastrous and Lib-Lab  claims that they are ‘”Tackling climate change” are utterly  false.

The Australian Climate Commission in the Key Findings part of its report “The Critical Decade 2013. Climate change science, risks and responses” (see: http://climatecommission.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/The-Critical-Decade-2013_KeyFindings.pdf ) has stated: “Most nations of the world, including Australia, have agreed that the risks of changing climate beyond 2oC are unacceptably high. The temperature rise is already approaching 1oC above pre-industrial, nearly halfway top the 2oC limit… 5. Most of the available fossil fuels cannot be burned if we are to stabilise the climate this century. The burning of fossil fuel represents the most significant contributor to climate change. From today until 2050 we can emit no more than 600 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide to have a good chance of staying within the 2oC limit. Based on estimates of the International Energy Agency, emissions from using all the world’s fossil fuel reserves would be about 5 times this budget. Burning all fossil fuel reserves would lead to unprecedented changes in climate so severe that they will challenge the existence of society as we know it today. It is clear that most fossil fuels must be left in the ground and cannot be burned. Storing carbon in soils and vegetation is part of the solution but cannot substitute for reducing fossil fuel emissions” [p2]. This statement means that we can burn no more than 80% of fossil fuels.

Australia's “economic demonstrated resources” of  iron ore total 24 billion tonnes, this corresponding  after industrial steel making to 16.7 billion tonnes CO2 or 2.8% of the world's terminal GHG pollution budget, noting that Australia has only 0.3% of the World's population. Exploitation of Australia's presently discovered conventional and unconventional gas resources would generate 61.5 billion tonnes of CO2-e or about 10% of the world's terminal GHG pollution budget of 600 billion tonnes CO2, noting that Australia's “fair share” is only 2.0 billion tonnes CO2-e. However, CO2 from combustion of Australia's  huge coal resource potential of 1 trillion tonnes of coal would be an estimated 692.7 Gt CO2 (from brown coal) plus 1,073.9 Gt CO2 (from black coal) for a total of  1,766.6 Gt CO2 i.e. 1,766.6 billion tonnes CO2 or 294.4% (2.9 times) the world's terminal pollution budget of 600 billion tonnes of CO2 (see Gideon Polya, “Australia's huge coal, gas & iron ore exports threaten planet”, Countercurrents, 15 May 2012: http://www.countercurrents.org/polya150512.htm  and Gideon Polya, “The Mining Lobby and Mainstream Media censorship in Lobbyocracy Australia”, Countercurrents, 25 May 2012: http://www.countercurrents.org/polya250512.htm ). Taking Australia’s huge Domestic as well as Exported GHG pollution into account (in 2010 in Mt CO2-e, 578 (Domestic) + 803 (coal exports) + 34 (LNG exports) + 293 (iron ore exports) = 1,708: see section G, “2011 Climate change course”: https://sites.google.com/site/300orgsite/2011-climate-change-course ) this means that Australia is set to exceed the whole world’s terminal budget by a factor of 3.    

The Australian Climate Commission estimates that “Under a business as usual model, with emissions growing at 2.6% per annum, we are on track to have completely used up the allowable global emissions budget within the next 16 years, that is, by 2028” (The Australian Climate Commission, “The Critical Decade 2013: a summary of  climate change science, risks and responses”: http://climatecommission.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/The-Critical-Decade-2013-Summary_lowres.pdf , p7).

However in 2009 World Bank analysts used an estimate of a GWP of 72 for CH4 on a 20 year time frame to re-assess the contribution of livestock to man-made GHG pollution as over 32.564 Gt CO2-e/year of which 5.047 GT CO2-e/year is due to undercounted methane. This re-assessment lifts the annual GHG pollution from 41.744 Gt CO2-e to 63.803 Gt CO2-e. Assuming that live-stock-related GHG pollution increases in direct proportion ion to energy-related CO2 emissions, one can estimate that the world will reach 551.738 Gt CO2-e in 2017 and 624.363 Gt CO2-e in 2018 i.e. the World has 5.8 years at present rates before it exceeds the terminal CO2-e budget. However one can re-assess the World Bank re-assessment by consider that CH4 has a GWP relative to CO2 of 105. This re-assessment indicates that the World will reach 573.167 Gt CO2-e in 2017 and 648.547 Gt CO2-e in 2018 i.e. the World has 5.3 years at present rates before it exceeds the terminal CO2-e budget. of 600 Gt CO2-e (see Gideon Polya, “Doha climate change inaction. Only 5 years left to act”, MWC News, 9 December 2012: http://mwcnews.net/focus/analysis/23373-gideonpolya-climate-change.html ) .

For further details see “ABC Fact-checking Unit & incorrect reportage by the ABC (Australia's BBC)” : https://sites.google.com/site/mainstreammediacensorship/abc-fact-checking-unit ). For whatever reason this site has (temporarily?) DISAPPEARED from coverage by a Google Search but is reproduced here under the title "ABC censorship & malreportage": https://sites.google.com/site/abccensorship/abc-censorship .

Vam
Posted Wednesday, July 17, 2013 - 15:46

Yo Dr Polya, do you have a link for the second world bank report you mention? (Only 5.3 years left to act)

However in 2009 World Bank analysts used an estimate of a GWP of 72 for CH4 on a 20 year time frame to re-assess the contribution of livestock to man-made GHG pollution as over 32.564 Gt CO2-e/year of which 5.047 GT CO2-e/year is due to undercounted methane. - See more at: http://newmatilda.com/2013/07/17/one-last-frontier-fights#sthash.nhu8m0Gc.dpuf

However in 2009 World Bank analysts used an estimate of a GWP of 72 for CH4 on a 20 year time frame to re-assess the contribution of livestock to man-made GHG pollution as over 32.564 Gt CO2-e/year of which 5.047 GT CO2-e/year is due to undercounted methane. - See more at: http://newmatilda.com/2013/07/17/one-last-frontier-fights#sthash.nhu8m0Gc.dpuf

Vam
Posted Wednesday, July 17, 2013 - 15:47

Yo Dr Polya, do you have a link for the second world bank report you mention? (Only 5.3 years left to act)

Tim Macknay
Posted Wednesday, July 17, 2013 - 18:23

Dr Polya, could you explain why you chose the 20 year GWP estimate for methane in your calculations, rather than the 100 year estimate? I understand that the 20 year estimate is higher, but given that the target warming temperature is usually set at the end of the century, why not use the 100 year estimate? Are the figures for the other GHGs in your calculations based on 20 year or 100 year estimates?

The paper by Shindel, Faluvegi et al from which you derive the 20 year GWP estimate of 105 discusses some of the uncertainties and difficulties with using GWP methodology, so it does make me wonder how firm it is possible to be about these figures at present.

Also, I note that the Shindel, et al paper actually found a 20 year GWP estimate for methane ranging from 79 to 105, so you have chosen the highest figure. Is there a methodological assumption behind that?

For those interested, the Shindel, Faluvegi et al paper is here.

Stripling
Posted Wednesday, July 17, 2013 - 18:53

It is a shame this subject doesn't get the same press as the Boats

This user is a New Matilda supporter. DrGideonPolya
Posted Thursday, July 18, 2013 - 12:15

@ Yam:  re “5.3 years left”see  Gideon Polya, “Doha climate change inaction. Only 5 years left to act”, MWC News, 9 December 2012: http://mwcnews.net/focus/analysis/23373-gideonpolya-climate-change.html .

Re revised World Bank GHG estimates see Robert Goodland and Jeff Anfang. “Livestock and climate change. What if the key actors in climate change are … cows, pigs and chickens?”, World Watch, November/December 2009: http://www.worldwatch.org/files/pdf/Livestock%20and%20Climate%20Change.pdf .

Re “16 years left” see The Australian Climate Commission, “The Critical Decade 2013: a summary of  climate change science, risks and responses”: http://climatecommission.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/The-Critical-Decade-2013-Summary_lowres.pdf , p7.

 

@ Tim Macknay: re “20 years rather than 100 years” see references for Yam above and the estimates for only 5-16 years left to act before a catastrophic 2C is inevitable.

Re “79 -105” GWP for CH4  I have adopted the precautionary principle of taking the worst case scenario. 

Tim Macknay
Posted Thursday, July 18, 2013 - 13:01

Dr Polya, thanks for your clarification.