Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Poisoning the Great Barrier Reef

Australia has become one of the most affluent countries in the world.  It's economic miracle is anchored to a much larger economic miracle to the north, in China.   Australia has been reaping a vast fortune selling coal to China.

How much coal?   Enough to deposit about a million tons of the stuff annually onto Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

This has gone on for the past decade and is set to almost quadruple in the coming years as Australia accelerates its great coal rip off.

Australia’s coal industry admits that it loads 50 million tons of coal every year onto its trains at the mine faces and unloads 49 million tons onto the coal ships at its main port in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef.

The wind and rains take the million tons of coal dust lost in transit out into the waters of the worlds largest surviving coral reef complex, a World Heritage Site, already under threat from rapidly warming ocean waters.

Of course you wouldn’t know this if you watch CNN’s environmental series featuring  Phillipe Cousteau. No, he blamed the typhoons hitting the Great Barrier Reef and failed to mention how in a few years its expected to see up to 5 million tons a year of coal dust polluting the great reef.

Coal dust is particularly toxic to living things containing nasty elements like mercury, lead, cadmium and chromium just to name a few deadly agents and the residents and fishermen living around Australia’s main coal export port can no longer eat their local sea life, at least not if they care about their health.

As the coal dust continues to blow offshore or be washed into the currents flowing along the great reef we should expect to see ever greater environmental devastation. Every new typhoon stirs up the coal dust on the bottom and this poisoning will just keep on keeping on destroying the great reefs complex ecosystem for centuries to come.

When I think of Australia I sometimes recall Nevil Shute's 1957 novel, "On the Beach" about an American nuclear submarine crew in an apocalyptic world following nuclear war taking refuge in the last intact place on the planet - Australia.   Good thing Shute wasn't writing that book today.

Australians herald their newfound fossil fuel wealth as their "golden energy age" even as they acknowledge it will cost the world dearly.   The chief economist for the International Energy Agency, Dr. Faith Birol, is getting close to throwing in the towel.

Rising global demand, though, will come with a hefty climate cost. Energy-related greenhouse gas emissions - now about two-thirds of the total - are likely to rise by 20 per cent to 37.2 gigatonnes by 2035, according to IEA's mid-range scenario. ''Some people talk about the 'green growth' in Asia. When I look at the numbers … it's black growth,'' Dr Birol said.

Those emissions will put the world on course for a long-term average temperature rise of 3.6 degrees, far above the internationally agreed 2-degree target. Without current efforts to limit emissions, temperatures would rise 5.2 degrees, Dr Birol said.

By the way, 3.6C warming will not be survivable for most of the planet.

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