MAULES CREEK, Australia, June 24 (Reuters) – A farmer’s habit of rising before dawn finds Cliff Wallace alone most mornings while a rag-tag army of anti-coal activists camped in tents and tee-pees on his land catch a few more hours sleep.
When the protest camp finally awakens, talk around a makeshift mess hall over coal’s impact on global warming competes with analysis of plunging coal prices or the latest bank to come out against investing in fossil fuel extraction.
“It’s a diverse group we’ve got here and in their own way they all want to save our trees from the coal companies,” says Wallace, 62, who grows wheat on land bordering the Leard State Forest, where bulldozing of endangered Box-Gum Woodland trees to develop an open pit coal mine has drawn national attention.
Wallace is happy to host the anti-coal protesters as he is concerned about the impact the mine will have on his farm’s groundwater and says he is “deeply saddened” by the disruption to the region’s animal habitats.
Taking on Australia’s powerful coal sector was once left to environmentalists like Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund, but now the anti-coal movement is attracting wider support, from farmers to banks and investment funds striving to be seen as ethical investors and not contributing to global pollution.
“Specifically, the bank does not lend to companies for whom the core activity is the exploration, mining, manufacture or export of thermal coal or coal seam gas,” says Australian lender Bendigo Bank, adding it was committed to minimising environmental harm.
Australia’s biggest asset manager AMP says its ‘Responsible Investment Leader’ fund won’t invest in companies deriving more than 20 percent of earnings from thermal coal, oil from tar sands and other types of fossil fuel, the same restriction it applies towards companies that derive revenue from pornographers, weapon makers, tobacco and alcohol.
“KING COAL” UNDER PRESSURE
To reach Wallace’s farm, drivers pass through a police checkpoint, where vehicles are searched for ropes and chains that could be used to climb trees or lock onto mining equipment – traditional guerrilla protest tactics used against coal mines.
Until now, protesters have faced an uphill battle to rally the wider Australian population against the biggest names in the coal sector, including Rio Tinto and Peabody Energy Corp.
Known as “King Coal” in Australia, tens of thousands of workers are employed in collieries and whole towns rely on mines for their existence. More than half the world’s steel-making coal, worth A$40 billion a year, comes from Australia.
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