At what cost?

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Feature Story - 13 March, 2013
Imagine if our air was so dirty it led to the deaths of 10,000 kids under the age of five every year from respiratory problems, or so filthy that it gave 20 million Australians asthma. Imagine if air pollution killed between 80,000 and 115,000 Australians each and every year?
Air pollution from coal©Greenpeace / Peter Caton

We would be rightly scandalised by that. We would demand action and no doubt get it. We certainly wouldn’t accept that kind of disease burden as being the necessary by-product of our energy consumption would we?

This is the price being paid by Indian families for coal fired power as revealed in a shocking new report co-sponsored by Greenpeace in India.

The study - conducted by Dr. Sarath Guttikunda and Puja Jawahar of Urban Emissions - is the first time that anyone has quantified the death and disease burden from coal power plants in India. Apart from the thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of Indians sickened by this pollution, the study also estimated the economic impact of this health burden, putting it at between US$3.3 and 4.6 billion per year.

In 2010, India was the third biggest consumer of coal world-wide and most of it was produced from domestic coal mining. But the country is also a key target market for Australia’s growing coal exports. Indian companies GVK and Adani are planning to build massive new coal mines in Queensland’s Galilee Basin. Adani’s Carmichael mine is proposed to produce 60 million tonnes of coal at full production, and GVK’s Alpha and Kevin’s Corner mines would together produce the same. MetroCoal, the company behind a large new mine called Bundi proposed for Queensland’s Surat Basin has recently announced a deal to sell this coal to a India’s National Thermal Power Corporation – a public company running some of the power stations already polluting Indian air.

When the Australian coal industry is challenged over the growth of coal exports to India, the public is spun the story that only coal can lift Indian communities out of poverty and that Indian families are desperate for Australian coal. This report reveals the truth behind that lie and its fatal delusion. On the contrary, pollution from coal power is causing death and disease on a significant scale in India.

That’s why Greenpeace is working to accelerate the proliferation of renewable energy across regional and metropolitan India to help combat the terrible toll coal is taking. It’s also why it is unconscionable for Australia to push its coal onto India, now that we know what this costs communities in lives, poor health and in financial terms.

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