A Miner Problem

The looming threat of the Carmichael mine is not the only ecological destruction we should be worrying about.

The ecological damage from mining is undeniable. Recognising the damage from other industries, however, will take work. Photo by Dominik Vanyi

In Australia, the public concern, quite rightly, over the proposed Carmichael mine has centred on the sheer scale of environmental damage projected to be wrought to the Galilee Basin in Central Queensland. In the fragile Australian landscape, large scale land clearing and unsustainable water use can destroy ecosystems, whilst carbon emissions are driving climate change with notable destruction of the great barrier reef and extreme weather conditions.

Queensland currently leads the states and territories of Australia in terms of CO2 emissions with 28% of total emissions [1] whilst only representing roughly 21% of the total Australian population [2], with the Adani mine set to pump a further 79 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere per year across its lifetime [3]. 12 billion litres of water will be used per year [4], and almost 28 thousand hectares of land will be cleared for the surface of the mine alone [5].

With figures like these, the only sensible and ethical position is to demand this horrendous ecological disaster does not go ahead.

Water, one of our most scarce and precious resources, is integral to our survival. Australia, after all, is referred to a sunburnt country and for good reason. 12 billion litres of water per year (or 13 Olympic swimming pools a day), will be squandered. What if this number, however, was over 522 billion litres per year? In Queensland, this much water is used every year (and growing) for animal agriculture (pasture, animal feed production, direct use by animals) [6]. You may argue that this, in your eyes, is not squandering, but the enormous resource use to produce animal-products is inefficient and wasteful of our natural resources in the same way as a coal mine, to say nothing of the cruelty inherent in the use of animal as commodities.

This includes the water used for animal feed production and their drinking water

What if the 27,892 hectares of land cleared for the surface of the Adani mine (44,000+ hectares for the total mine) was 138,462,446 hectares? This is the land cleared in Queensland for grazing and crops for animal feed [7]. 93% of land clearing in Queensland was for agriculture, of which the vast majority is pasture, animal feed and grazing land [8]. Recently, half a million hectares in the great barrier reef catchment was cleared for grazing and cropping land [9]. This impacts biodiversity of the region, and further drives species loss.

Much of this land use is grazing on native pastures which involves clearing of scrubland.

The only measure in which Adani manages to be worse than animal agriculture in Queensland is CO2 emissions (79m tonnes of CO2 per annum), in which animal agriculture (though grazing emissions and deforestation) represented almost 35 million tonnes of CO2 emitted per year. What this figure fails to account for, however, is the enormous methane production (roughly 12.6 million tonnes per annum in Australia [10]), a gas which has 86 times the capacity to warm the planet compared to CO2 before degrading into carbon dioxide [11]. Nationally, agriculture provides the bulk of both methane (60%) and nitrous oxide (85%) from our total emissions [12].

The majority of emissions involved in animal agriculture comes from the land clearing and deforestation, and enteric emissions.

Even when we scale up all mining in Queensland, it still only uses 26% of the water animal agriculture does [13]. All mining still only uses 0.13% the land used for animal agriculture [14]. Current mining, excluding the proposed impacts of the Carmichael mine, has less than half (46%) the greenhouse gas emissions of animal agriculture [15]. This should give alert us that the animal agriculture industry has avoided scrutiny for far too long.

This is not the first article to question the lack of attention paid to the industry in climate change discussions (see this article), but when pastoralists couch themselves in environmental campaigns such as the Farmers for Climate Action (which is made up largely of graziers), they become an untouchable entity despite the overwhelming damage of their industry to the environment and to the individual sentient beings exploited. The long held view of pastoralists as ‘stewards of the land’ persists and must be challenged. There is a current push to have agriculture excluded from Australian emission targets, further entrenching ecological damage as standard, acceptable practice [16].

With these figures, especially in comparison to the known impacts of the ecological disaster that is the Carmichael mine, why do we fail to take the necessary action to stave off complete ecological destruction?

The Carmichael mine is easy to oppose, and individually costless to do so. Changing our own behaviours and consumptive practices requires self-reflection and self-evaluation. We must be willing to face some uncomfortable truths in order to preserve our environments and ourselves.

The political nous to wind back the broad scale destruction of our environments, in all its forms, is absent. The change must come from an informed and motivated public willing to fight for it in their personal lives and as a collective movement. Boycott of animal products is the most effective personal action we can take to reduce our environmental impacts and can be achieved right now.

We need to maintain the pressure to ensure the Carmichael mine never comes to fruition, and we need to harness this growing awareness and concern to tackle other structures that destroy our environments for profit.

Take action here:

Ecological justice is a key pillar of anti-speciesism. Beyond the direct harms caused to animals through consumption, destruction of habitats and ecological systems has devastating impacts on the species who rely upon them.

References

  1. http://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/15d47b77-dee2-42c6-bf2e-6d73e661f99a/files/state-inventory-2015.pdf
  2. http://www.population.net.au/population-of-queensland/
  3. http://envlaw.com.au/wp-content/uploads/carmichael16.pdf
  4. http://eisdocs.dsdip.qld.gov.au/Carmichael%20Coal%20Mine%20and%20Rail/SEIS/Appendices/Appendix%20K/Appendix-K2-Water-Balance-Report.pdf
  5. http://www.adanimining.com/Common/Uploads/SEISDocuments/12_SEISDoc_Volume%202%20Mine%20Studies.pdf
  6. http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/DetailsPage/4618.02016-17?OpenDocument
  7. http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/DetailsPage/4627.02016-17?OpenDocument
  8. https://publications.qld.gov.au/dataset/land-cover-change-in-queensland-2015-16/resource/60a7902d-7a9d-49a7-90b1-a54686fbcef5
  9. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jul/13/disaster-half-a-million-hectares-of-forest-bulldozed-in-great-barrier-reef-catchment?CMP=share_btn_fb
  10. http://www.abc.net.au/news/rural/2015-12-14/impact-of-cattle-on-methane-emissions-downgraded/7027088
  11. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-bad-of-a-greenhouse-gas-is-methane/
  12. http://agriculture.vic.gov.au/agriculture/dairy/emissions-in-dairy/methane-research
  13. http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/DetailsPage/4610.02015-16?OpenDocument
  14. https://www.qld.gov.au/environment/land/vegetation/mapping/qlump-datasets
  15. http://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/15d47b77-dee2-42c6-bf2e-6d73e661f99a/files/state-inventory-2015.pdf
  16. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/jul/31/nutcase-stuff-barnaby-joyce-threatens-to-oppose-national-energy-guarantee