The Great Barrier ReefImage: Darren Jew/Greenpeace

I joined the Rainbow Warrior III in Townsville, a city in the north-eastern coast of Queensland, Australia. After catching up with my Australian counterparts on the campaign and tour, I found myself in a small public gathering in the evening comprising of marine scientists, members of local conservation groups, journalists and think-tanks. Everyone was worried about one thing- coal!

From there started my interactions with Queenslanders who are going to be the most impacted by the largescale mining proposed in Galilee Basin. Nine new mega mines have been proposed in the Galilee Basin, two new rail lines to ferry the coal and nine new export coal terminals on Queensland coast to cater to the ferried coal. This will mean dredging and dumping of 113 million cubic meters of seabed for ports and upto 10,000 coal ships crossing the reef every year. Two Indian companies, Adani and GVK, are involved in these mega plans. The Australian government does not seem to be unduly worried about the Great Barrier Reef, nor about the 60,000 people who are employed due to the reef- in tourism, fishing and research industry.

All of these not only threaten the Great Barrier Reef, but also coastal wildlife and habitats such as the mangroves, wetlands, snub-fin dolphins, black-throated finches etc, 10 billion litres of water which will be sucked up from the surrounding environment and serious health impacts for the worried locals from transportation of coal. Furthermore, the coal burnt from Galilee Basin will add 705 million tonnes of CO2 which will surely accelerate world temperatures to beyond 4 degrees or more. So it is natural that many people are worried in Queensland and Australia but everytime people have protested, the government and coal industry in Australia blames them of relegating many poor Indians to energy poverty!

Great Barrier Reef is in danger

Does the story sound similar? It does to me. The Indian government too is giving the same explanation for mining in Central India, home to rich forests, wildlife such as tigers, elephants etc and scheduled tribes, who have been displaced for these power projects. But ironically, these are the same areas having the most amount of energy poverty! Greenpeace India recently supported the movie “Coal Curse” by the eminent journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta in Delhi, which highlighted the crony capitalism involved in coal scam and consequences of coal mining in the Singrauli region of Central India. With coal pollution causing around 1 lakh deaths in a year in India and the man-made drought in Maharashtra, which was caused by irrigation water being diverted for industries, 65% of which are thermal power plants, it seems like a similar playback time for Australia.

What we are really saying is that India has got itself locked into an irrational expansion of coal, without having appropriate policies to fix the problems that plague its electricity sector or really accounting the consequences of such a move on India’s environment and its people. What is needed is a holistic assessment of our energy situation, with equivalent focus on renewable energy, which can really help us electrify our rural areas and reduce peak energy shortages (in urban areas). And that is the story I have been telling here as well.

Another story that is strikingly similar is about industries. Most locals ask me a lot of questions about Adani, which will be building mines and ports here. Adani has purportedly submitted an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) which is riddled with holes and errors. To help them understand more about Adani, I created this factsheet on Adani in India. I am sure I can build a similar factsheet for other Indian industrial houses as well!

So what does this tell us? It tells me that the world is flat! While Thomas Friedman was criticised for his book on globalisation, I think the story of this pattern of development occurring across the world, affecting environment and people in a similar way as a whole, should be critiqued and showcased. It is time we realised that it’s a skewed concept of growth and development across the world, which is making fishermen and farmers in both India and Australia, protest against such development.


Arpana is a Climate and Energy campaigner at Greenpeace India