Green Protesters Target Aussie Coal Exports

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 7/15/2008 02:01:00 AM
There's a famous English saying implying superfluousness which goes, "It's like bringing coals to Newcastle." Newcastle upon Tyne is, of course, famous for being a major coal mining site in England. Unbeknownst to many, however, there is another Newcastle in Australia which is very much associated with coal. The port of Newcastle is Oz's most active location for loading coal bound for world markets. Aussie mining giants like Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton use this port. Infamously, China is a very large customer for Australian coal. Combining China's voracious energy appetite with its relative nonchalance over environmental matters has resulted in dark, Satanic mills that manufacture climate change hell on Earth [just kidding!--I won't be offending Chinese readers because all Blogger sites are blocked in the PRC anyway.]

Recently, the environmental activist group Camp for Climate Action attempted to block the railways which feed into the port of Newcastle to protest Australia's growing coal exports. In large part, Australia is "the lucky country" due to commodity demand by countries such as China. I am actually sympathetic with the protesters on the uncleanliness of much of today's coal power. However, I hold out hope for carbon capture and storage technologies utilizing things like underground coal gasification which can mitigate the impact of coal power. Let's be realistic here: the likes of China and India won't be giving up on coal anytime soon, so coal has to be part of the package of solutions to climate change. Although this technology is prohibitively expensive at the current time, a concerted push to develop it should benefit the global commons. Given its relative abundance, coal shouldn't be demonized provided it can be used in a less environmentally damaging way. Reuters has this video clip on the climate riot. Meanwhile, the Sydney Morning Herald describes the chaotic scene where an estimated thousand protesters disrupted incoming trains into Newcastle for six hours:
37 demonstrators were arrested after about 1000 people halted trains in Newcastle yesterday in a protest against the coal industry's role in climate change. Police invoked some special powers, not used in a public protest since the Cronulla riots of 2005, enabling them to search vehicles, although organisers maintained the protest was peaceful.

Three coal trains bound for Carrington Coal Terminal - one of the ports which make Newcastle the world's biggest export point - were halted for about six hours after about a dozen protesters chained themselves to carriages. Hundreds of others lined the fence as mounted police held them back from the rail line from 11am until about 2.30pm.

The delivery of about 20,000 tonnes of Hunter Valley coal destined for export was delayed, although the coal loaders did not stop filling ships. "All rail movements were stopped because many protesters breached the perimeters and got on the trains," said Port Waratah spokesman, Matthew Watson.

The demonstration marked the third time in less than a fortnight that coal industry operations near Newcastle had been disrupted by protests against the industry's role in climate change. The demonstration was part of an international movement of "camps for climate action", which are designed to give people concerned about global warming a role in national debate about cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

"We have a really slim window of opportunity to act on climate change, so we need to take action," said a spokeswoman for the protesters, George Woods. "The status quo is fuelling a climate disaster, and today was about highlighting the role Australian coal plays in that. It's affecting all of the world, not just here."

Along with the nearby Kooragang Coal Terminal, Carrington terminal sees the export of coal which generates an estimated 216 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year, and a third terminal is under construction. By contrast, the total emissions from road transport in Australia is 72 million tonnes, the Australian Greenhouse Office said.

The 37 people arrested yesterday were charged with a variety of offences, including hindering police, resisting arrest and trespass. They are due to appear at Newcastle Local Court. Demonstrators claimed some police were not displaying badges when they made arrests - which would contradict a pledge made by police during the Summit in Sydney last year. This was denied by police.APEC"There is no comment, other than that all police were in uniform," a spokeswoman said.