As Australia bakes in a summer heatwave, protestors are blocking construction at Whitehaven Coal’s Maules Creek Coal Mine in northwest NSW’s Leard State Forest. About 30 activists are blockading the entrance to the forest, chaining themselves to bulldozers seeking to clear trees for an access route.
Maules Creek is the largest new coal mine currently under construction in Australia. The mine will produce 13 million tonnes of coal per year (mostly for export), resulting in 30 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year, equivalent to New Zealand’s entire energy sector. It will destroy 1,600 hectares of forest home to 34 endangered species as well as farmland, deplete up to seven metres’ worth of groundwater, and produce 18,000 tonnes of coal dust. Whitehaven intends to begin producing coal by the first quarter of 2015. It will be joined by two other mega-mines in the region, the Boggabri and Tarrawonga coal mines.
The protestors are from the Leard Forest Alliance, consisting of environmentalists, farmers, and indigenous Australians from several groups including Front Line Action on Coal, Lock the Gate, and 350.org Australia. Protestors from Front Line Action on Coal have been camped out near the site for over 500 days, and they intend to stay where they are. From 25 January, they will be joined by over 100 more people who will be trained in nonviolent direct action. The Australian Greens have congratulated the protestors.
The activists say they have “exhausted every legal and political avenue to make our voices heard”. ANZ has financed the mine; both state and federal governments have granted environmental approvals; the Federal Court has rejected an appeal for the approval to be overturned despite it having been based on false information and evidence of broad coal-related corruption in NSW; and in any case the Government recently passed retroactive legislation outlawing a legal challenge to the project.
The protestors say construction has been halted, though Whitehaven says: “Protests at our project sites are a nuisance but… Today’s protest has not disrupted the progress of construction works.”
I don’t envy the protestors out there in this heat, but I admire their bravery. We are not dealing with ordinary circumstances. We are dealing with an industry that is endangering the world as we know it for profit, with the full endorsement of governments. We are living in a time when climate science tells us we cannot afford to burn the majority of the world’s fossil fuels, but corporations and governments are planning to do just that, and banks continue to invest in new coal mines. We live in a time when the world’s political “leaders” have agreed to limit global warming to a safe level, but are neglecting to act on an adequate scale. We live in a time when we urgently need to phase out fossil fuels globally, but instead Australia is ramping up its coal exports.
In such extraordinary circumstances, it makes sense for citizens to take matters into their own hands.