Originally published in The Guardian
The Laird brothers at a protest earlier this year.
Dear Mr Laird,
We have never met, but I want to shake your hand.
Recently I have learned a bit about you and your story. I’m from Western Australia myself and don’t yet know this side of the country so well, but I’ve heard all about you, a sixth generation farmer from Maules Creek in Northern NSW. I know that your family has been on the land there for five generations, growing cotton and canola and raising cattle. I’ve not yet set foot in the Leard State Forest, but I have heard the stories of koalas up the eucalypts and of the other rare animals and plants that still thrive, magically, in the critically endangered box-gum forest. I’m in awe of the rich historical connection of your family, and of the much deeper past of the Gomeroi people’s traditional custodianship of that country which still continues today.
I hope, one day soon, to bring my family up to walk in the forest. That my daughters might hear the cries of the birds, maybe glimpse a koala in the gums, look to the tiniest of creatures among the brush and leaves, and know the beauty of the place. But, if I wait too long, my family may not get that chance, because I have learned that the place you love and the creatures, communities and culture that depend on it, are in grave danger.
I wonder what it felt like for you when, a few years ago, a notice turned up to tell you that a coal mining company wanted to dig an open-cut coal mine in Maules Creek? What did it feel like, as you learned that the company wanted to drain up to seven metres from the water table that local farmers need to grow their crops? What was your reaction, when you found out that coal companies in the Leard Forest mining precinct would end up spraying 18 thousand tonnes of coal dust onto your fields, your crops, your animals and your homes? How was it, when you heard that the mine was going to be cut out of the heart of the forest that bears your family’s name?
Leard State Forest and surrounding farmlands. Photograph: /Leard State Forest and surrounding farmlands. Photograph: maulescreek.org
I’ve read you have been described as “an unlikely environmental campaigner” transformed into a “champion of the forest” by concern at what open-cut mines could do to the health of your land and family. I admire your tenacity and the moral clarity of your purpose. I know that you have tried every avenue the government provides to citizens who want a say over development in their backyard. You’ve explained to company and government representatives just how much damage the mine will do. But it seems no matter what you do, the bulldozers just get closer.
And as we now know, when you dig a bit deeper into the forces backing the coal mine, things get murky. The first coal company pleaded guilty to failing to disclose their political donations to the NSW National party days before the 2011 state election. The second company, Whitehaven, has been accused of failing to respect the cultural and heritage rights of the Gomeroi traditional owners in rushing through their project. Whitehaven has also been accused of providing false and misleading information to government about the biodiversity offsets required to mitigate the impacts of the mine on the forest and its animals.
Now Whitehaven’s bulldozers may be just days away from the trees. With the chips down and the odds stacked, you have asked for help. Facing all the money and power of the coal industry, you recently called for the big environmental organisations to come to Maules Creek to help you save it.
Mr Laird, I am writing to tell you that Greenpeace will answer your call.
We will do so because we share your love of place; of forests and animals; of clean air and water. We will do so because we don’t think it is right that mining companies should be able to ride roughshod over ordinary Australians. We will do so because we believe Whitehaven’s plans are immoral. We will do so because Whitehaven are among the climate makers, those fossil fuel companies whose actions threaten us all.
It is not only your home that is in jeopardy but all our homes. Analysis of new government data shows that Maules Creek is the biggest new coal mine under construction anywhere in Australia. And coal is the biggest single fossil fuel driver of climate change. Everyone from the International Energy Agency to the United Nations tells us that most coal needs to stay in the ground if we are to have any hope of staying under two degrees of global warming.
Whitehaven, of course, say that their huge pit will make money and jobs. But even the Queensland coal industry body admitted this week that plummeting global coal markets make the financial future of coal look fairly dodgy. Bankers like Goldman Sachs say that coal as a commodity is now on pretty shaky ground.
So here’s the rub. Whitehaven wants to rip apart the place you love so dearly in order to pump carbon pollution into the atmosphere for a feckless shot at a quick profit. It is a pretty ugly vision.
And that is why Maules Creek is shaping up to be the next big environmental struggle in Australia. I think Australians of all sorts are going to be in on this one, in a broad fellowship of all those who prefer the clean scent of the eucalyptus to the choking dust of the mines. We will stand up for your home and our homes; for all of our kids, our shared future and a finer vision for our country than the darkness of an open cut coal pit.
So if you will have us Mr Laird, just as Greenpeace stands with the people of Queensland who are resisting the industrialisation of the Great Barrier Reef by the coal industry, we will stand with you. We will answer your call.
Mr Laird, although I do not know you yet, you are a man whom I admire. I look forward to shaking your hand.
CEO of Greenpeace Australia Pacific.
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