Coal Has To Go - Now!!!
At the most recent United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP26) we were told that ‘coal was being consigned to history’. But here in ‘clean green’ Aotearoa(new Zealand) we keep burning the stuff like crazy: based on the latest available data (2018) our gross emissions ranked 24th amongst the ‘developed’ countries and our emissions per person were the sixth highest in the world per capita.
Fonterra, the country's largest company, uses approximately 500,000 tonnes of coal each year at many of their 30+ manufacturing sites to turn liquid milk into powder. This produces over one million tonnes of CO2, which, according to a recent article in the respected scientific journal ‘Nature Communications’, is enough to kill 225 people by 2100 due to heat related causes.
In 2017 our prime-minister called climate change "my generation's nuclear-free moment" and eventually a so-called ‘climate emergency’ was declared but the coal keeps on burning. Some of it’s mined locally but a lot of it is now imported from Indonesia (even as we continue to export local coal as well!)
The past seven years have been the hottest in recorded history. Islands are beginning to submerge, crops are failing, there are widespread fires and storms and soon there will be wars as humanity fights for the remaining resources.
This is why we need to break the coal habit and why I found myself standing in front of the gate of the Takitimu coal mine in Southland on Monday May 2nd (2022) at 6 am on a cold Autumn morning with a group of brave ‘nature protectors’ from groups like Greenpeace, Extinction Rebellion and Coal Action Network.
Takitimu is the mine that produces the coal which Fonterra burns at Clandeyboye Milk Factory in Canterbury to turn liquid milk into powder for export. This is the mine that produces the coal that rolls through the city of Dunedin almost every day of the year so that Fonterra can continue to cut costs. Sure, they’ve made some promises to phase out using coal (by 2037) but they’re only doing this one production plant at a time. To encourage the industry to switch away from coal, the government has already contributed $450,000 (from tax payer money) towards two boiler conversions so that they can burn less harmful materials such as wood pellets but this still leaves a lot of other boilers burning coal like there’s no tomorrow.
Some people have criticised environmental groups such as Extinction Rebellion for stopping KiwiRail’s trains from carrying coal to Fonterra’s plants. However KiwiRail is a state-owned industry - the very same state that’s declared a ‘climate emergency’. How does this make sense? Nearly all the public train routes have been shut down but if you’re a lump of coal there’s a carriage ready and waiting.
In the past people have asked protestors such as myself why we didn’t go and protest outside the mine rather than stopping coal trains in town, so now we’ve done that. But stopping a train load of coal is one thing. Shutting down a mine 200km away is a whole other deal and yes – we had to drive there in cars and vans carrying heavy equipment. There’s simply no other alternative, but to say that using petrol to conduct a protest is ‘being hypocritical’ is a bit like saying you can’t criticize society because you’re a part of it. If we could afford electric trucks we would have used them.
We did what we did knowing that it would be an expensive undertaking. Some of us might be arrested again, we might lose our jobs and even our houses if we are convicted and be ordered to pay huge expenses (as some of us already facing for stopping coal trains). Some of the team took to rafts in the mine’s lake, others attached themselves to the conveyer belt which carries the coal and several brave souls occupied huge kit-set towers erected at the mine’s entrance. By late afternoon we figured we’d made our point and we all left with our gear as peacefully as we’d arrived.
Why do we keep taking these risks? Personally, it’s not for my sake but for the sake of my children (and yours) and to try and quieten the doomed voice of the natural world that keeps me awake every night. Coal has to go! Now!