MAC: Mines and Communities

From Mining to Markets: the making of a mega-disaster?

Published by MAC on 2009-12-08
Source: Nostromo Research (2009-12-07)

There's little doubt that global greenhouse gas emissions (GGE) have already exceeded their former "tipping point".

Following announcement of the "Copenhagen Accord" on December 19 2009, it became clear that we'd all been betrayed; a betrayal that can be spelt out in a phrase - "Two Degrees Too many!".

That's the increase in global greenhouse gas emissions that the US, Brazil, India and China are now prepared to allow for the forseeable future - although it presages devastation in Asia and further "death for millions" in Africa.

Nonetheless, the impending crime mustn't be blamed simply on these four states: South Africa also joined the death-dealing crew, as did the Ethiopian regime.

Many delegates didn't sign up to the fraudulent accord. But did they have much better to offer? Most pin their faith on dubious market mechanisms which carry their own human and ecological toll.

Some of us may already have shut our ears to the pre-Copenhagen pontificating by governments and companies. In our own coverage of the event, we tried not to do so.

Instead, we focussed on some hard realities that many delegates (even some NGOs) apparently ignored.

The most important of these realities can be summed as follows: it’s to do with coal.

Obviously there are manifold triggers of adverse climate change. However, coal usage plays a greater role than any other. That’s confirmed, not only by the man who "discovered" global warming, but also in a sober scientific study released last November.  

Coal is for burning

The mining, transportation and burning of this fossil fuel has now become more vital to electricity generation than oil or gas, let alone so-called "renewables".  

And governments’ plans – not to mention those of the mining industry - to further excavate the "black stuff" are advancing faster than ever before.

India – already dependent on coal for two-thirds of its power – will actually emit more GGE over the coming decade than at present, primarily from burning coal. South Africa intends to build a massive coal-fired power plant, partly to serve requirements in its platinum belt. Mongolia – miniscule as a GGE "culprit" compared with most other states – is about to permit mining of a world-class coal deposit.

Despite its favourability as a site for wave and wind power, the Philippines is threatened by having even more coal-fired power plants on its shores.

This isn't all the "coal toll" - by a long shot. Much of the fuel's output goes towards the refining and smelting of metals, and into cement kilns, where their contributions to GGE are highly significant.

Mining coal releases exiguous amounts of methane – 23 times more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2, and the prime cause of underground explosions that kill thousands of workers each year.

The burning of coal is also more egregious to human health than has so far been generally recognised. Turning coal into liquid fuel (CTL), to serve the growing transportation sector, releases 40 percent more carbon dioxide than oil when burned, according to one scientific report.

Is coal for turning?

This is not to say we can – or even should – ban dependence on coal overnight.

Mines and Communities is acutely aware of the misery that such a precipitate decision would bring to millions. A "just transition" to alternative fuels will take time, but this makes it all the more urgent to embark on this course right now.

Not to mention that we should develop a realistic picture of how many people - and species - are likely to be uprooted, thanks to exacerbated global warming; and how much of this involuntary eviction can be ascribed specifically to coal and other mining.  

Arguably, there are ways to exploit this carbon resource, which may lay claim to being "clean" and without requiring it be dug up.

In the long run, however, every proposal bulwarking the case for mining further coal, is flawed.

The big three C’s –  carbon emission credits, carbon cap and trade, carbon capture and storage – depend on untested science, dubious economics and flagrantly self-serving market manipulation for their success.  

The "hoaxes" involved in trading carbon emissions permits are now being exposed. But these schemes are what underpin the European Union's initiative to combat global warming. And they comprise what passes as a climate "policy" by other states, including the US and Australia - the world's biggest per capita carbon culprit.

Alas, many people left Copenhagen, still with blithe confidence in a "greening" of the dirtiest fuel currently burned on earth. Yet there's strong evidence that there can never be "clean coal".

Meanwhile, as insurance agencies warn they may not be able to cope with claims following climate-related disasters, the World Bank sets its own cap at financing projects which risk compounding those very losses.

When we will collectively face the awful truth?

So long as we fail to keep coal forever in the ground, any attempts to save our earth and its inhabitant will be a short one indeed.

[This commentary is provided by Nostromo Research].

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