Defensive coal’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

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“Strong, decisive action puts some industries under threat. None more so than the powerful coal industry. This is why it would be naïve to expect the industry to take the threat lying down,” writes MICHAEL MOORE

DID you know that on average you, and each member of your family, subsidises the fossil fuel industry by more than a thousand dollars? Imagine if this subsidy was directed to renewables.

Michael Moore.


Tackling climate change cannot be done as a single issue. The response to such a complex challenge has to be multifaceted, tackling as many causes and as much of the mitigation as possible. It is well past time for strong, decisive action.

Strong, decisive action puts some industries under threat. None more so than the powerful coal industry. This is why it would be naïve to expect the industry to take the threat lying down when there is a model for resistance in the way the Minerals Council successfully undermined Kevin Rudd’s “mining super-profits tax”. And the process has commenced in earnest.

COAL21 is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. This is an organisation that was set up over a decade ago to research climate change mitigation in the form of carbon capture and storage. However, the goal of COAL21 is now to enhance “the public standing and reputation of Australia’s coal industry”. The first cab off the rank will be a multi-billion-dollar advertising blitz to enhance the image of coal.

The ABC’s Stephen Long reports that information sent by COAL21 to advertising agencies for the blitz does not even include the key element of carbon capture and storage – or clean coal. Of course, there is no such thing. The closest would be “less dirty coal”. But clean coal has proved an important distraction. This is the sort of distraction planned by the CEO of COAL21, Mark McCallum, who (coincidentally) is also the general manager of climate and energy at the Minerals Council.

COAL21 sees its role to “focus on lowering emissions from coal to support cost-effective, reliable and cleaner energy both in Australia and locally”. Cleaner energy – not clean energy. It is funded by 26 investors from the black coal industry who wish to see COAL21 “changing the narrative” around the potential for low-emissions technology”. Changing the narrative – not “end emissions” – because clean coal is a myth and what is needed by them is propaganda.

The iconic image of Scott Morrison, as Australian Treasurer, bringing a lump of coal to Question Time raises serious concerns about climate change. Was it the idea of one of the political donors from the coal industry? Influencing governments at the same time as persuading the community is a fundamental advocacy technique. Apart from influencing government, COAL21’s wolf-like advocacy goal will be to persuade the broader community.

The Australian Conservation Foundation was quick off the mark. “Burning coal is the biggest cause of climate damage in Australia right now. No ifs or buts about it”. The foundation went on to attack the greed of “coal barons” pointing out “it’ll wreak unimaginable havoc on our planet and ultimately kill millions of people”. 

The Mining Council’s campaign against the “super-profit tax” argued the impost would come from the superannuation of mum-and-dad investors. This was a total distortion. However, advertisement after advertisement carried the concept until it became part of mainstream thinking. A similar propaganda distortion can be expected from the coal industry. As the Conservation Council put it: “Running ad campaigns to promote coal is not just unethical – it’s a crime against our planet and all of humanity”.

The government argues that these (donors to political parties) add to Australia’s GDP. However, the International Monetary Fund reported in May that in 2017 the fossil fuel industry received $29 billion in subsidies in Australia and $5.2 trillion internationally with 44 per cent going to the coal industry. This amounts to more than $1000 per person in Australia. Your thousand, that of your spouse, your partner, your children!

In the short term we do need coal. However, we also need governments to make long-term plans for a full transition to renewable energy. How much better for our $1000 a year to go to renewables as part of the transition process, rather than supporting wealthy fossil fuel mining barons to the tune of a grand?



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Michael Moore
Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health in the Carnell government. He has been a political columnist with "CityNews" since 2006.

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