I’m saddened and horrified by the pictures of the fires in Australia. But the graph above gives the context for those fires and other instances of climate chaos and destruction. To some extent, what we’re witnessing in Australia is time-delayed arson, in that humans have applied “accelerants.”
But let’s not be smug or think of this as a problem “over there.” Graphs of Canadian and US oil production would appear nearly identical to this graph of Australian coal. Moreover, it’s not just emissions from Australian coal that are contributing to the firestorms in that country, but Canadian and US and EU and Chinese emissions as well. Each of us, in our flying and driving and consuming, have contributed to this carnage. Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from one place will contribute to melting a glacier in another place, damaging a reef in another, and intensifying a fire in yet another.
Sadly, a major part of the Anthropocene will be the Pyrocene. Our petro-industrial emissions are pushing the planet, biosphere, and our communities into a new age of megafires.
Let’s conclude with some insights from the coal corporations and their industry associations:
“The Australian coal industry is a key pillar of the Australian economy…. Coal benefits all Australians through its contribution to exports, wages, investment and tax revenue. It is Australia’s comparative advantage in coal … that has helped to sustain the longest period of continuous economic growth in the nation’s history. … Australia [is] the fourth largest producer of black coal in the world. … This production is possible because Australia has vast resources of coal. … At current production rates these resources will sustain production of black coal for 125 years and lignite for over 1,200 years” [italics added].—Minerals Council of Australia, “Coal’s Economic Contribution”
Sources for Graph:
– B.R. Mitchell, International Historical Statistics: The Americas and Australasia (London: The Macmillan Press, 1983), Table E2, p. 404;
– U.S. Energy Information Administration, International Energy Statistics
– Reserve Bank of Australia, “The Changing Global Market for Australian Coal” (Bulletin – September 2019 Global Economy)
– Australian Commodity Statistics 2006, p. 244 & 245