Cooking the Planet: Australia's Love for Coal Portends Ecological Doom

Coal is the country’s second largest export and the industry is poised for expansion.
This is probably not the greeting the Australian Tourist Board had in mind. (Handout/Getty)
Sep 20, 2012
A former Gourmet staffer, Lawrence enjoys writing about design, food, travel, and lots of other stuff.

If you were planning a vacation to Australia, it’s possible one of your must-see stops would be Queensland. A little research on would reveal that you could “Sun yourself on the golden sands of Surfers Paradise [and] snorkel through the technicolor treasures of the Great Barrier Reef.” Sounds dreamy.

But, wait, what’s this up ahead as we approach the Galilee Basin? The tourist materials didn’t say anything about a gigantic pile of coal. But that’s exactly what you might find.

According to Australia’s Times Live, Greenpeace has said “Queensland’s Galilee Basin could threaten the global climate, as well as destroy local habitat, if all of its thermal coal was mined and burnt. ‘If the Galilee Basin were a country, the carbon dioxide produced from using this coal would make it the seventh dirtiest fossil fuel burner on the planet,’ Greenpeace said in a report: ‘Cooking the Climate and Wrecking the Reef’. With nine new thermal coal mines in the pipeline, five of them bigger than any existing coal mine in Australia, Galilee’s carbon dioxide output could hit 700 million tonnes per annum once it hits maximum production.”

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NewGenCoal, which is the Australian coal industry’s website (and says it is “dedicated to highlighting the activities the industry is undertaking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal mines and coal use”), explains that, “Coal is Australia’s second top export and plays a major role in our nation’s economy, bringing in billions of dollars in tax and royalties. Coal was the first commodity to be discovered and mined in Australia. Now, we are the world’s largest coal exporter, with 78 percent of the coal we mine sent to over 30 countries. Coal is Australia’s second largest export after iron ore and Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coal.”

Commenting on the Greenpeace report, The Guardian notes, “the nine mines’ production capacity of 330m tonnes of coal a year for export would represent an ‘unprecedented’ increase in the scale of coal mining in Australia. The mines’ maximum output, primarily aimed at servicing the burgeoning Chinese and Indian markets, would nearly double Australia’s total 2010/11 coal production of 352 millions tonnes and eclipse its export total of 283 million tonnes.”

“The Greenpeace report states that the mines will only be able to launch and operate at capacity if global appetite for coal continues to grow strongly. This scenario would in effect nullify an internationally agreed goal to keep the increase in average global temperatures below 2C from pre-industrial levels.”

The Guardian also reports that, “Australia is itself a heavy user of coal, as well as a leading exporter. Although the country has committed to cutting its own carbon emissions by 5% on 2000 levels by 2020 and introduced carbon pricing in July, the federal government has been accused of botching its attempts to move the country away from fossil fuels. This month, the government abandoned plans to pay five of Australia’s dirtiest coal-fired power generators to close down, despite already handing them $1bn in taxpayer money to cushion the impact of carbon pricing.”

And while tourism is big business for the country, coal appears to take precedence. NewGenCoal says, “Australia was the only one of the world’s 33 advanced economies to grow in 2009 during the worst global recession since the Great Depression. The principal reason for this was our continued coal exports.”

Are you surprised by the amount of coal being exported by Australia? Do you think the international community should try to bring pressure on the country to reduce their environmental impact?

Lawrence Karol is a writer and editor who lives with his dog, Mike. He is a former Gourmet staffer and enjoys writing about design, food, travel and lots of other stuff. @WriteEditDream | Email Lawrence |

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