The joy of stats
Statistics isn't one my favourite subjects, but this week some savoury stats have been injected into familiar debates.
The Newcastle Herald reported on Wednesday that Labour Federal Member for Hunter (New South Wales), Joel Fitzgibbon, was calling for the development of a regional strategy to promote economic transition in mining areas, following BHP Billiton's announcement of nearly 300 jobs to go at it Mount Arthur mine near Muswellbrook. The total number of anticipated job losses in Hunter Valley mines so far this year has reached 1000.
The same paper reported this morning that the amount of Hunter Valley coal exported through Newcastle fell by about 9 per cent in January and February of this year compared with the same months last year. Previously, sales volumes had remained relatively strong despite the plummeting price of coal on commodity markets. (I am advised, however, that these figures may reflect production lost as a result of flooding in April last year.)
Last night I attended a Reef and Coal Forum organised by the Queensland Conservation Council, GetUP! and the Australian Marine Conservation Society. Speakers included Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Director of the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland and best known for his work on the effects of climate change on coral reefs; Mark Ogge, a researcher at progressive think tank The Australia Institute; Tony Fontes, a dive operator in the Whitsundays who arrived from California in the 1978 to dive the Reef and never went home; and Pat O'Neill, prospective ALP candidate for the Brisbane electorate on a keep-all-fossil-fuel-reserves-in-the-ground platform.
With a coral bleaching episode currently evidenced on the Great Barrier Reef, there were lots of stats flying around. Professor Hoegh-Guldberg told us that anything greater than a 1.2-degree increase in ocean temperatures would mean the Reef would no longer be a coral-dominated environment. Mark Ogge surprised us with the news that there had been a 15 per cent increase in coal production in Queensland in the last two years. And Tony Fontes described the huge variety of life on the Reef from the largest whale shark to the smallest gobies; from the fastest sailfish (top) to the slowest seahorse.
In the light of the coal production figures, it was less of a surprise that Queensland's emissions have risen over the last year, significantly more than in any other state of the Commonwealth. This was mainly as a result of the use of electric motors powering equipment in coal seam gas fields. You can read more about greenhouse gas emissions indices and energy trends here.
The state's increasing carbon pollution also results from reliance on coal for electricity generation, huge fuel consumption for transportation, the processing of gas ready for export, and an increase in land clearing, facilitated by legislation under Campbell Newman's LNP government. In 2012-14 land clearing doubled to 300,000 hectares, and the same is expected in 2014-15. All in all, the chances of Australia meeting its emissions targets pledged in Paris are remote, while seriously undermining the Federal government's 'Direct Action' policy.
This didn't stop New South Wales Liberals calling on PM Malcolm Turnbull this week to fund public debates on climate change, including the question of whether or not the science is 'settled'. This would be laughable if it weren't so tragic for Australia's already tardy climate action policies. The successful motion will be conveyed to so-called Environment Minister Greg Hunt so, fortunately, we can expect no further action.
This Liberal idiocy coincided with Melbourne's hottest March night since records began; Canberra equalling its March heatwave record of nine consecutive days above 30 degrees; and Sydney's record-breaking 31-day run of temperatures above 26 degrees.
Great days for going to the beach and burying our heads in the sand once more.
(I found the splendid sailfish at lazerhorse.org)