By Miriam Pepper
It was predicted to be a hot summer in eastern Australia, with a return to dry El Nino conditions after two back-to-back wet La Nina years. And hot it has been indeed. Temperature records have tumbled across the country – including the hottest day, the longest heatwave, and the hottest four month period.
With heavy fuel loads heightening fire risks, bushfires have blazed across Tasmania, Victoria, NSW, South Australia and Queensland. The fires have wreaked devastation on communities, with homes, farmland and forest destroyed. Thankfully few human lives have been lost (unlike the Black Saturday bushfires of 2009), though many non-human neighbours were not so fortunate. Some 110,000 hectares burned and 130 houses were lost in the Tasmanian bushfires earlier this month, and fires still rage in Gippsland Victoria where over 60,000 hectares have burned so far. And we are only just over halfway through summer.
On January 12, the Australian Government-established Climate Commission released a short report entitled “Off the charts: Extreme Australian Summer heat”. The document concluded that:
“The length, extent and severity of this heatwave are unprecedented in the measurement record. Although Australia has always had heatwaves, hot days and bushfires, climate change has increased the risk of more intense heatwaves and extreme hot days, as well as exacerbated bushfire conditions. Scientists have concluded that climate change is making extreme hot days, heatwaves and bushfire weather worse.”
The Australian continent is one of climate change’s frontlines, and also a major source of its primary cause – fossil fuels.
While the mercury soared and the fires roared, a young translator from Newcastle called Jonathan Moylan issued a fake press release claiming that the ANZ bank, which is bankrolling a massive new coal project at Maules Creek in north western NSW, had withdrawn its loan. Whitehaven Coal’s share price plummeted temporarily before the hoax was uncovered, making national news.
This action did not come out of the blue, neither for Moylan personally nor for the various communities and groups that have for years been confronting (and been confronted by) the rapid expansion of coal and coal seam gas mining at sites across Australia.
The scale of fossil fuel expansion in Australia is astonishing. Already the world’s biggest coal exporter, planned mine expansion could see Australia double its output. The world’s largest coal port of Newcastle NSW has already doubled its capacity in the last 15 years and may now double it again. Mega-mines that are on the cards in the Galilee Basin in central Queensland would quintuple ship movements across the Great Barrier Reef, to 10,000 coal ships per year. If the proposed Galilee Basin mines were fully developed today, the annual carbon dioxide emissions caused by burning their coal alone would exceed those of the United Kingdom or of Canada. The implications of such unfettered expansion locally for farmland, forests, human health and aquatic life as well as globally for the climate are severe.
I have twice had the privilege of participating in a Christian affinity group with Moylan at coal protests. And at around the time of his ANZ stunt, John the Baptist’s ministry and the baptism of Jesus in the gospel of Luke were on the lectionary. For me, there have been some striking parallels between John and Jonathan (Jono).
John the Baptist lived in the wilderness. Jono the Activist has been camping for some time in Leard State Forest near Maules Creek, at a Front Line Action on Coal mine blockade.
John got himself locked up by criticising the behavior of Herod, the then ruler of Galilee (in what is now northern Israel). For making the announcement that ANZ should have made, Jono could now face a potential 10-year jail sentence or a fine of up to $500,000.
When followers suggested that John the Baptist might be the Messiah, he pointed away from himself and towards the Christ that was yet to come. When the spotlight has been shone onto Moylan, by the media and activists alike, he has repeatedly deflected the attention away from himself and towards the resistance of the Maules Creek community to the project and towards the impacts if the project goes ahead – the loss of farmland and critically endangered forest, the drawdown and potential contamination of the aquifer, the coal dust, the impacts on the global climate. And indeed, the way that Moylan has conducted himself in media interviews has I believe resulted in exposure about the Maules Creek project itself (which is currently under review by the federal Environment Minister) as well as some mainstream discussion about broader issues such as responding to the urgency of climate change, government planning laws and the rights of communities, and ethical investment.
In an opinion piece published today, Jono Moylan finishes by urging us to act:
“We are living in a dream world if we think that politicians and the business world are going to sort out the problem of coal expansion on their own. History shows us that when power relations are unevenly matched, change always comes from below. Every right we have has come from ordinary people doing extraordinary things and the time to act is rapidly running out.”
Whatever our age, ability or infirmity we can all play a part in such change from below.
Climate Commission: http://climatecommission.gov.au
Frontline Action on Coal: http://frontlineaction.wordpress.com
Maules Creek Community Council: http://maulescreek.org
“Potential jailing not as scary as threat of Maules Creek mine”, opinion piece by Jonathan Moylan, 24/1/13: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/potential-jailing-not-as-scary-as-threat-of-maules-creek-mine-20130123-2d78s.html
Greenpeace climate change campaigns: http://www.greenpeace.org/australia/en/what-we-do/climate/
Australian Religious Response to Climate Change: http://www.arrcc.org.au
Uniting Earthweb: http://www.unitingearthweb.org.au