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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Tony Abbott praises coal for prosperity ignoring huge health and climate costs

Our Prime Minister Tony Abbott is out of touch with the realities of coal with regard to it's ongoing impact on population health and mortality and indirect impact on health and environment through climate change.

At a press conference for opening a new joint venture coal mine by BHP and Mitsubishi he told the world: "Coal is essential for the prosperity of Australia. Coal is essential for the prosperity of the world. Energy is what sustains prosperity and coal is the world’s principle energy source and it will be for many decades to come."

Did you cringe too? Abbott is an international laughing stock for championing coal and ignoring it's health and climate change impacts. His only friend on the international stage is Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper who has his hands dirty developing the carbon intensive Albertan tar sands.

New coal fired power can't even compete now on cost with renewables already a cheaper source of energy.

His endorsement of coal and coal companies flies in the face of overwhelming support by the Australian public for the rollout of renewable energy generation in Australia.

Here is what Tony Abbott said at his doorstop interview opening the Caval Ridge coal mine on Monday 13 October 2013, according to the Prime Ministers website:

"It’s great to be here at the Caval Ridge Mine. It’s terrific to be with the local member, Michelle Landry. I want to thank the partners here, BHP and Mitsubishi, for making myself and Michelle so welcome. The opening of this mine, a $4 billion investment, will produce five and a half million tonnes of coking coal a year. It created over 2,000 jobs in the construction phase. It will sustain more than 500 jobs in the production phase. It will add $30 million to the Moranbah local economy, and it will also add tens of millions of dollars every year to the wider regional and statewide and national economy.

This is a sign of hope and confidence in the future of the coal industry. It’s a great industry and we’ve had a great partnership with Japan in the coal industry. Coal is essential for the prosperity of Australia. Coal is essential for the prosperity of the world. Energy is what sustains prosperity and coal is the world’s principle energy source and it will be for many decades to come.

So, I’m here to affirm my faith and confidence in the coal industry. One practical way of affirming my faith and confidence in the coal industry was the abolition of the carbon tax, the abolition of the mining tax, and one of the things which we know would happen if there were to be a change of government at the next election is that the carbon tax would come back and the mining tax would come back. So, if you want to sustain the coal industry, if you want to sustain the jobs, if you want to sustain the towns that depend upon the coal industry, you’ve got to support the Coalition because we support coal, we think that coal has a big future as well as a big past.

I’m here to do what I can to build a strong and prosperous economy for a safe and secure Australia. I’m just a bit disappointed that the only policy commitment that seems to have emerged from the Opposition over the last 12 months is recommitment to a carbon tax.

Now, let’s be under no illusion: the carbon tax will kill the coal industry in the long run because it will just go up and up and up and it says to Australia and it says to the world that coal is not an absolutely essential source of energy, it’s some kind of environmental villain. Sure, coal is a source of emissions, but it’s also a source of energy and there can be no prosperity without energy and modern power stations are increasingly environmentally friendly and that’s what we should be working towards: a more efficient, more effective use of coal, because that way we get reduced emissions intensity but we also get the prosperity that people right around the world depend upon.

Cost of coal ignores population health and mortality impacts

Now lets have a look at just the health effects of coal. We have known of the effects of coal dust, and the pollution effects of coal for more than a century.

Coal miners develop pneumoconiosis - black lung disease - caused by the inhalation and build up of coal dust in the lungs reducing miners health and lifespan, and it is one of the occupational hazards of working in the industry that need to be constantly guarded against by stringent air circulation standards and safety measures. Those who live near coal mines, or near the transport of coal, or combustion of coal in power stations are also impacted through increased allergies and respiratory health impacts.

The residents of Morwell in February 2014 during the 45 day Morwell mine fire found out just how deadly coal combustion could be. Associate professor Adrian Barnett, from the Queensland University of Technology, analysed official Births, Deaths and Marriages data and found that there was a high likliehood that an extra 11 deaths were caused by pollution from the mine fire. "My results revealed an 89% probability that death rates were above average during this period, with an estimated 11 to 14 extra deaths." Barnett said in an article in The Conversation.

The burning of coal for heating accompanied by a high pressure inversion created the Great London smog of 1952 which is estimated to have killed more than 12000 people.

The particulates, heavy metals and chemical pollutants such as Sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide from the combustion of coal in our power generators have an ongoing deleterious affect on the health of surrounding population. The residents of Anglesea know this too well with the single turbine Anglesea power station being a major polluter of sulphur dioxide and particulates impacting local residents.

Residents of Anglesea have protested they want the pollution at least curbed, or the power station shut down. ALCOA, despite promises, has so far failed to put appropriate scrubbers on the power station to reduce this pollution. But with nearly 9,000MW of excess of generating capacity in the National Electricity Market (NEM) grid, we don't even need this power station to continue operating. It needs to be closed down and the adjacent mine site re-habilitated which will provide local employment for several years.

For China:
"Emissions from coal plants in China were responsible for a quarter of a million premature deaths in 2011 and are damaging the health of hundreds of thousands of Chinese children, according to a new study.

"The analysis traced the chemicals which are made airborne from burning coal and found a number of health damages were caused as a result. It estimates that coal burning in China was responsible for reducing the lives of 260,000 people in 2011. It also found that in the same year it led to 320,000 children and 61,000 adults suffering from asthma, 36,000 babies being born with low weight and was responsible for 340,000 hospital visits and 141 million days of sick leave.

Source: The Guardian December 2013: China's coal emissions responsible for 'quarter of a million premature deaths'

For Europe:
Air pollution from Europe's 300 largest coal power stations causes 22,300 premature deaths a year and costs companies and governments billions of pounds in disease treatment and lost working days, says a major study of the health impacts of burning coal to generate electricity.

Source: The Guardian June 2013: European coal pollution causes 22,300 premature deaths a year, study shows

For the USA:
Fossil fuel combustion harms air quality and human health. A 2010 study by the Clean Air Task Force estimated that air pollution from coal-fired power plants accounts for more than 13,000 premature deaths, 20,000 heart attacks, and 1.6 million lost workdays in the U.S. each year. The total monetary cost of these health impacts is over $100 billion annually.

Schneider, C., and Jonathan Banks. 2010. The Toll From Coal: An Updated Assessment of Death and Disease from America’s Dirtiest Energy Source. Clean Air Task Force.
Source: Estimated health effects from U.S. coal-fired power plant emissions

Coal is so healthy and good for our prosperity. After all, Tony Abbott has far more knowledge than Climate Council chairperson Professor Tim Flannery and Distinguished Research Professor from the School of Paediatrics and Child Health Fiona Stanley in assessing the health costs of coal. In September 2014 these two distinguished scholars had an opinion article published in the Sydney Morning Herald:

"In the US, 50,000 deaths each year have been attributed to air pollution from coal-fired power generation. Globally, air pollution from coal combustion is accountable for more than 200,000 deaths per year.

"In Australia, the Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering estimated that the ill-effects of coal costs the country $2.6 billion annually. In Europe, the health cost of air pollution from coal-fired power stations is €42.8 billion a year, and more than 4 million lost working days each year, due mainly to respiratory and cardiac disease. US economists have estimated the health impacts of coal-fired power stations in the US to be between one and six times its value added.

Read more in the literature review and briefing paper published by the Climate Council on Health Effects of Coal (PDF)

Tony should try telling that "Coal is essential for the prosperity of the world" to the people of small island nations around the world, and particularly the people of the Pacific islands in nations like Tokelau how they feel about emissions from coal causing global warming which is causing sea levels to rise, more intense storms to occur, that will inundate their low lying islands and contaminate their freshwater.

He should look the Pacific Island Climate warriors presently touring Australia in the face and tell them their culture and prosperity are dependent on us digging deeper more extensive holes for exporting coal to cook the earth with ever increasing business as usual emissions pushing global average temperatures to 4 to 6 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, according to a World Bank report, endangering civilisation as we know it.

Recent analysis shows that continued expansion of coal mining and use of other fossil fuels firmly places us on the RCP8.5 emissions pathway heading for average global temperature rise of 3.2–5.4 °C by 2100. Tony Abbott's prosperous future will be a hothouse nightmare of famine, starvation and mass extinction.

People in the future will look back and scratch their heads at how the people of Australia could elect such a nasty, greedy, self-centred, anti-science, misogynistic, ideologically driven person as Tony Abbott to Prime Minister.

The answer is simple: he lied to the people of Australia in the lead up to the September 2013 election. This has been born out by the extent of broken promises since his election in areas as diverse as renewable energy, health, welfare and education.

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