Even as world leaders gather in Paris this week to negotiate a treaty to slash greenhouse gas emissions and the burning of fossil fuels accelerates the climate change battering Australia, the country’s coal-mining binge continues unabated. The world’s second-largest exporter of coal, Australia ranks as one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases per capita, thanks to its dependence on the black stuff to generate more than 70 percent of its electricity. One recently approved coal mine would generate more carbon dioxide than 52 nations. That mine, along with six others in the works, would become the world’s seventh-largest emitter of C02.
Coal is not just an existential threat to an iconic animal whose vulnerability to climate change foreshadows the fate of other species, scientists say. Fifteen miles away, the government has approved the construction of a 13.5-square-mile Chinese-owned coal mine to be built on the habitat of several hundred koalas and some of Australia’s richest farmland. The Shenhua mine has triggered a rebellion among residents, who fear the 1,000-foot-deep open pits will contaminate an aquifer that transformed the Liverpool Plains into Australia’s food bowl. Now, the farmers and ranchers of this bedrock conservative region are making common cause with environmentalists to stop the mine by challenging its impact on the koala. If they can save the koala, they may just save themselves.