AFR: Don’t demonise coal – embrace its many benefits

In his address to the Minerals Council of Australia’s annual Parliamentary Dinner last Wednesday night, the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, summed up the unfashionable truth about fossil fuels in a few striking phrases.

The Prime Minister said it was “particularly important that we do not demonise the coal industry”, adding that the government wants to keep mining strong because “it is our destiny in this country to bring affordable energy to the world.”

In a luncheon address earlier the same day, the Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, also expressed strong support for Australian coal sector.

Yet, as the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader affirmed the national and global benefits of fossil fuels, an Australian investment fund announced that one of its funds will now exclude companies with “material fossil fuel exposure” in order to suit the “social conscience” of its clients.

The trend isn’t new. In the late 90s it was alcohol, more recently it has been Israel. Now coal is the latest focus.

Let’s take a closer look at the intellectual and moral underpinnings of these propositions. The first is that coal is neither acceptable nor necessary.

It is a claim easily made by those who are comfortable, well-lit and warm.

Nearly half the world has no or limited access to energy. More than 1.3 billion people have no access to energy. In Africa, 1 billion people use roughly the same amount of electricity as 34 million Canadians. In sub-Saharan Africa 90 million children go to schools without electricity. In Malawi and Uganda as many as nine out of 10 people lack access to regular electricity as do 300 million people in India.

Yet those with a social conscience want to deny poor nations’ access to the cheapest and most abundant energy source available.

Never mind that an average Australian refrigerator will use nine times more energy in a year than an average Ethiopian citizen.

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