Coking coal not the best target for climate movement

The expansion of the coal industry exposes the fraud of Kevin Rudd’s claims that his government is tackling the climate crisis. The likelihood that the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme will pass the Senate in some form is doing nothing to stop the massive expansion of emissions intensive industries.
NSW Climate Camp highlights this hypocrisy and it is encouraging to see people preparing for mass collective action to demand change.
The environmental damage caused by long-wall coal mining around Helensburgh poses serious dangers to Sydney’s water supply. It has been the target of local community protests that deserve the support of other activists.
But as a focus for climate activism it is somewhat disorienting. Coking coal at Helensburgh is exported for steel production, not used in the coal-fired power generation taking place in Australia.
Lots of the coal mining in Australia is for export to China and India. Opposing these exports can play into the common argument that China and India’s development needs to be held back. In reality unless rich economies like Australia are prepared to transform carbon intensive practices, developing economies will be forced to emulate them to grow and remain competitive.
China and India have a right to better living standards and we should not shut off their steel supply. We need to fight to shift the domestic priorities of the Australian government, creating the conditions for more sustainable development abroad.
There are methods of steel production without coal that are being researched, but at present high quality steel still requires coking coal.
We need to vastly increase recycling of steel and maximising energy efficiency in production—but new steel will be needed to make wind turbines, solar power stations and public transportation.
Climate Camp will be an important focus for activists. Days of discussion and action can help clarify the movement’s perspective—laying the basis for a successful protest demanding green jobs and no new coal-fired power stations in NSW at the state Labor conference in November.

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