Cooking the climate: Wrecking the reef

Everything about the Galilee Basin is epic. Its name, its size and sparse beauty, the enormous amount of coal buried just under the soil and the scale of mining being proposed to dig it up. But eclipsing all of this are the epic consequences if this coal is dug up and burnt – and that remains true whether the coal is burnt in Australia or in India or China.

We have just released a new report revealing that if we mine the coal in the untapped Galilee Basin in Queensland, Australia could create more carbon pollution than the entire United Kingdom or Canada. The report, Cooking the Climate and Wrecking the Reef is the first time the greenhouse impact of the proposed Galilee Basin mines has been quantified.

And it’s not just bad news for Australia. The Galilee Basin is a ticking carbon time-bomb that will wreak havoc on our climate if the fuse is lit. The atmosphere doesn’t recognise one country from another – all the garbage thrown up there eventually hurts all of us. Nor is this just a question for the Labor government. All the major political parties in Australia have committed to the aim of keeping global warming under the critical threshold of 2 degrees. The time available to keep that promise is limited, and mining the Galilee Basin will take us a long way in the wrong direction.

Earlier this week, the Arctic ice melted to its lowest extent since records were kept. The rate of melting has accelerated in recent years, but far from acting to curb Australia’s biggest contribution to global warming, our Governments are accepting plans to massively expand it.

Australia has begun the process of approving up to nine new mega mines, five of which would be bigger than any existing coal mine in Australia. If these mines proceed, when they reach maximum production, the emissions from burning the coal would be 705 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. If the Galilee Basin was a country, it would be the seventh biggest emitter of carbon dioxide pollution from burning fossil fuels in the world.

The financial press is full of stories about the price of coal coming off the boil, we mustn’t be fooled into thinking this problem will just go away because of the slowing coal boom.

Apart from becoming a key driver in global warming, these mines will also exact a terrible cost on farms, water supplies and coastal communities and would also put one of the world’s greatest natural treasures – Australia’s Great Barrier Reef – under very serious threat. The Great Barrier Reef is vulnerable to global warming. Coral is extremely sensitive to even short periods of increased sea temperatures, resulting in coral bleaching. A rise in sea temperature of 2-3 degrees is predicted by the end of the century under some climate models if greenhouse gas emissions are not tightly controlled. Such a rise in temperature could be fatal for the Reef, and is predicted to result in the annual bleaching of over 97 percent of the Reef. In addition, the Reef stands between the Galilee Basin mine proposals and the power station of Asia: mining the Galilee means new coal ports, millions of tonnes of dredging, and thousands more coal ships making their way through the Reef every year.

That’s why we are calling for a halt to the massive expansion of coal mining and export infrastructure proposed for Queensland. How we deal with the Galilee will shape the future of our children and our grandchildren. It is not good enough for the government to hide behind the drug dealer’s defence; I just sell the stuff, what others do with it is their own business.

Check out the both the report and our great new animated video about the coal export industry.

Please join with us and take action to save the reef

Inland coal mines will transport the coal to shipping ports along the Queensland coast to be shipped through the Reef resulting in a massive increase in shipping through the World Heritage area. © Darren Jew/Greenpeace

Bimblebox Nature Refuge will be a victum of the proposed series of mega mines in the Galilee Basin. ©Greenpeace/Sonya Duus

Inland coal mines will transport the coal to shipping ports along the Queensland coast to be shipped through the Reef resulting in a massive increase in shipping through the World Heritage area. © Darren Jew/Greenpeace

Bimblebox Nature Refuge will be a victum of the proposed series of mega mines in the Galilee Basin ©Greenpeace/Sonya Duus

Inland coal mines will transport the coal to shipping ports along the Queensland coast to be shipped through the Reef resulting in a massive increase in shipping through the World Heritage area. © Darren Jew/Greenpeace

  • Steve

    Hi

    Oh, the hyperbole … this is one of the factors that, in my opinion, contributes to the perceived loss of support for the Green movement (see Julie Macken’s post of a few days ago).

    Putting that to one side, I’d like to make a few comments… you say:

    “Earlier this week, the Arctic ice melted to its lowest extent since records were kept. The rate of melting has accelerated in recent years…”

    As you well know the cause of the latest record low, according to NASA, was the massive storm which occurred on August 5, 2012 which broke up the ice and allowed it to melt faster. Bad weather also produced the 2007 record low.

    http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/arctic-storm.html
    http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2012/2012GL051330.shtml

    In any case, I find it hard to accept that the “… rate of melting has accelerated… ” when it is 5 years since the last weather driven record … that’s a strange sort of acceleration …

    In terms of “wrecking the reef” you say:

    “The Great Barrier Reef is vulnerable to global warming. Coral is extremely sensitive to even short periods of increased sea temperatures, resulting in coral bleaching. A rise in sea temperature of 2-3 degrees is predicted by the end of the century under some climate models if greenhouse gas emissions are not tightly controlled. Such a rise in temperature could be fatal for the Reef, and is predicted to result in the annual bleaching of over 97 percent of the Reef.”

    For starters, to allow readers to independently verify the statement and allow us to sort out fact from hyperbole, I really wish contributors to this blog would reference the peer reviewed papers, official data sources or actual scientists they have examined when they write their posts – (you will note that I routinely reference my comments to indicate that I’m not making any of my criticisms up).

    I have to say, that at first blush, I would have agreed in principle with the first sentence. However, upon further examination I find the following, from Professor Peter (Reader in Physics at James Cook University specialising in Marine Physics and has published peer reviewed articles on marine studies and coral reefs), who said on national TV:

    “All the corals that live on the Great Barrier Reef already live in New Guinea where temperatures are at least one or two degrees hotter. In fact in Papua New Guinea they grow faster and they are possibly more healthy as well. If there are temperature stressed corals in Queensland, they are in Moreton Bay because it is too cold. Corals like it hot essentially. In addition to that it is not well known that in fact the sea level has fallen on the GBR over the last 5000 years and this has killed a lot of the corals because they are exposed at low tide. If in addition to global warming we have sea level rise, as is the prediction, there will be a massive explosion of corals in areas which are now actually dead … there isn’t any doubt we will have more corals.”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_yMHuQthzeg

    So, the future is not going to be so catastrophic at all.

    Regarding the relationship between CO2 emissions and global temperatures, renowned climate scientist Richard Lindzen, in a presentation to the UK House of Commons this year, referred to the HADCRUT temperature series and stated:

    “Looking at the above, one can see no warming since 1997. As Phil Jones acknowledged, there has been no statistically significant warming in 15 years.”

    http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/02148/RSL-HouseOfCommons_2148505a.pdf

    Recall that Phil Jones is the climate scientist from the Hadley Climate Research Unit favoured by the IPCC.

    Referring to the satellite data we find that lower troposphere temperatures are currently 0.34 degrees C above average (rising at a rate of only 0.12 degrees C per decade since 1979, which gives a total rise of only 1.09 degrees by 2100)

    http://www.drroyspencer.com/wp-content/uploads/UAH_LT_1979_thru_Aug_2012.png

    It has been clear for some time that climate models overestimate the impact of CO2. I refer you to John Christie’s testimony to the US Senate earlier this year:

    “The average warming rate of 34 CMIP5 IPCC models is greater than observations, suggesting models are too sensitive to CO2.”

    http://curryja.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/christy-testimony-2012.pdf

    Regarding water temperature we find the following:

    “When averaged across the last 30 years, sea surface temperature in the Great Barrier Reef has increased by about 0.4oC, compared to records averaged across 30 years in the late 1800s.”

    http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/outlook-for-the-reef/climate-change/how-climate-change-can-affect-the-reef/rising-sea-temperatures

    That means that over the last century or so water temperature rose at the rate of around 0.06 degrees per decade suggesting that by 2100, water temperatures around the GBR will be only 0.5 degrees higher than now, far below the temperatures that you expect.

    In any case, as I’ve mentioned in comments on other posts, I accept the globe has been warming naturally since the end of the Little Ice Age in the mid 1800s (Akisofu 2010) at the rate of 0.5 degrees per century and that, due to negative water vapor feedback, any increment associated with a doubling of CO2 will be restricted to around one degree C.

    http://www.scirp.org/Journal/PaperInformation.aspx?paperID=3217
    http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/02148/RSL-HouseOfCommons_2148505a.pdf

    The natural warming of the globe following the Little Ice Age would suggest that any damage you expect to happen to the GBR would have happened eventually anyway, but as Peter Ridd suggests, things may improve due to future warming.

    All in all, given the science I have cited, I suspect your post exaggerates the issue and that the burning of our coal by economies trying to lift their people out of poverty will have minimal impact on the Great Barrier Reef.

    P.S: btw gorgeous photos!

  • Theres No Way In Hell,That WE are going to let these disgusting multimillion dollar COALPIGS destroy our beautiful Iconic Great Barrier Reef !!!!! ,I will do everything in my power to stop this from happening,Its not Happening Ever!!!! Not On My Watch !!!!!

  • Steve

    Hi,

    I’m sure those who have read this blog have also read the recent report by Townsville’s Australian Institute of Marine Science that shows naturally occurring storms have destroyed 24% of the reef over the last 27 years … since the frequency of storms off the Queensland Coast have not changed since the 1800s this suggests that naturally occurring storms will destroy the reef completely in 120 years or so, regardless of any other factor (that’s if the report is to be given any credibility).

    You will note that this report states that coral bleaching, commonly attributed to anthropogenic global warming, only caused 5% of the loss of coral.

    Only 5%!

    So much for evil coal barons … the impact of coal is overshadowed by the impact of normally occurring tropical storms and crown of thorns starfish.

    This report adds weight to my contention that human caused global warming will have minimal impact on the reef.

    I refer you to a government web site referring to the impact of recent coral bleaching events:

    “Most reefs recovered fully with less than 5% of inshore reefs suffering high mortality … Again, reef recovery was generally good with less than 5% suffering high mortality”

    http://www.aims.gov.au/docs/research/climate-change/coral-bleaching/bleaching-events.html

    So, most reefs fully recover from bleaching events …

    In conclusion I refer you to the following report described in the Australian newspaper by the very same Institute of Marine Science in February this year:

    “A GOVERNMENT-RUN research body has found in an extensive study of corals spanning more than 1000km of Australia’s coastline that the past 110 years of ocean warming has been good for their growth.

    The findings undermine blanket predictions that global warming will devastate coral reefs, and add to a growing body of evidence showing corals are more resilient than previously thought, up to a certain point.

    The study by the commonwealth-funded Australian Institute of Marine Science, peer-reviewed findings of which are published in the leading journal Science today, examined 27 samples from six locations from the West Australian coast off Geraldton to offshore from Darwin.

    The researchers found that, contrary to their expectations, warmer waters had not negatively affected coral growth. Quite the opposite, in fact: for their southern samples, where ocean temperatures are the coolest but have warmed the most, coral growth increased most significantly over the past 110 years. For their northern samples, where waters are the warmest and have changed the least, coral growth still increased, but not by as much.”

    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/health-science/study-finds-coral-reef-growth-thrives-in-warmer-waters/story-e6frg8y6-1226261278615

    So, it appears the reefs are thriving, I wish they would get their “settled science” right …

    Other References:

    Detailed article about the Townsville study in the AGE:
    http://www.theage.com.au/environment/conservation/great-reef-catastrophe-20121002-26vzq.html

    Regarding the lack of change in bad weather around Queensland:

    Power 2010 shows a downward trend in land falling tropical cyclones since the 1850s.

    http://www.cawcr.gov.au/meetings/fd/SPCZ_workshop_Apia_presentations/Power_SPCZ_wshop_Apia_2010.pdf

    Speaking of the period since 1970 the CSIRO report: “No significant global trends have been detected in the frequency of tropical cyclones to date, and no significant trends in the total numbers of tropical cyclones, or in the occurrence of the most intense tropical cyclone, have been found in the Australian region.”

    http://www.csiro.au/en/Outcomes/Environment/Australian-Landscapes/Tropical-cyclones/Frequently-Asked-Questions-FAQs.aspx