Following years of protest, Australia this week granted approval for a vast new coal mine to be built in Queensland. The decision to allow Indian company Adani to go ahead with its $16 billion mine—despite the environmental impacts and the protests of indigenous peoples—shows that coal, a waning industry that many consider unsalvageable, is still a powerful force.
When built, the Carmichael mine will become the biggest thermal coal project in Australia. The battle to get here was fraught, and three dynamics at the heart of it mirror energy conflicts worldwide—from the US coal country Donald Trump has promised to resurrect, to the millions of Indian households still living without power, to those people dedicated to making leaders take seriously the long-term impacts of our short-term decisions.
First, there’s the local perspective. Queensland’s mining sector has been hit so hard by falling commodity prices worldwide that its precipitous drop is known as the “mining cliff.” At least 22,000 mining jobs were lost in two years starting in November 2013; that number is projected to hit 50,000 in the next two years.
Approval for the Carmichael mine didn’t come through until Adani made two key promises: that it would create 10,000 new jobs, and that those jobs will go to locals. The company specifically promised not use foreign staff on “457 visas,” which allow companies to bring skilled temporary workers in from outside Australia. Mining royalties paid to the state could fund hospitals and schools, its advocates have said.
The promises echo those of US president-elect Donald Trump, who has vowed to bring jobs back to the coal-mining areas decimated by market dynamics—namely, the fall in global coal prices due to cheap natural shale gas—and developed-world regulations.
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