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Guest Notes

Energy notes

16 November 2019

9:00 AM

16 November 2019

9:00 AM

The world needs more Australian coal, not less

Most fairy tales contain important life lessons and as the father of five children I have read my fair share of them. Take The Big Bad Wolf. He is a frightening figure that huffs and puffs. He does a great job at scaring the first two little pigs to run away. But no matter how much he tries, he can’t blow the third house down.

I thought of The Big Bad Wolf while watching the violent protests at the International Mining Conference in Melbourne recently. The green and socialist activists (but I repeat myself) do a lot of huffing and puffing. They try to scare businesses and political parties into agreeing with them and make them run away.

As we saw at this year’s election, however, when people stand fast, these activists rarely blow the house down. In fact, some of the activists, like Bob Brown, helped deliver the very result they didn’t want. The swing to the Coalition in areas with above average mining employment was three times higher than the Australia-wide swing.

Of course, ultimately the little pigs could only stand firm because the third little pig built a house of bricks. The mining industry, indeed any industry that modifies God’s green earth for the benefit of humanity, is under attack. All the more reason that we should build a house of bricks to defend the progress that has delivered the remarkable modern world we live in.

That house of bricks must include forthrightly defending what industries like mining deliver to the world.


Reducing carbon emissions is just one of the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals that the United Nations has identified as important. We should try to reduce our carbon emissions but we should also seek to end poverty and hunger, deliver economic growth and provide people with decent work.

The greater use of high-quality Australian resources gets us closer to all of these goals. Whether it is the need to reduce poverty, improve air quality or reduce carbon emissions, the greater use of clean Australian coal, gas and other resources helps.

In the case of reducing poverty we have seen that in our generation. In the mid-1980s, two-thirds of people in the Asia-Pacific region lived on less than US$1.90 per day. Today, less than five per cent of people in our region live on less than US$1.90 per day.

Over that same time period, the generation of electricity from fossil fuels in the Asia Pacific region has grown by more than sevenfold. It has been the use of affordable and reliable energy that has helped fuel the economic growth that has propelled so many out of poverty.

Almost two billion people are no longer impoverished thanks to the industrial and economic development of the Asia-Pacific, in part fuelled by Australian resources.

Our resources also help improve air quality because they so often replace poor quality fuels. For example, India still relies on straw, wood and other biomass for more than twenty per cent of its energy needs. All of these products when burnt in household stoves, or boilers at rudimentary factories, produce toxic concentrations of the particulates that create smog.

Australian coal is not burnt in such ways. Australian coal is used in modern coal-fired power stations that produce nowhere the same level of smog as the burning of biomass. Just look at Japan. Japan is powered by Australian coal and gas but has good air quality because it has become rich enough to afford modern energy production techniques.

For similar reasons our coal and gas help lower carbon emissions too. Adani’s coal from the Galilee Basin has an energy content of about 5,000 kilocalories per kilogram. Indian thermal coals have energy content much lower than this amount. So that means when a tonne of Galilee coal is used compared to Indian coal it would typically produce roughly fifty per cent more energy. Hence there will be fewer emissions for every tonne of coal used.

Australia’s resources have played such an important role in helping build a better world that we must continue to expand their production and use, and we will continue to reduce the world’s emissions as we do.

We often fail to realise how much we rely on fossil fuels. The third little pig could not have built his house of bricks without fossil fuels, as most modern bricks are made in kilns powered by coal or gas. What we must do is not run away from the big bad wolves who are trying to scare us away from continuing to help bring people out of poverty.


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