It is coal miners not hoaxers like Jonathan Moylan who are costing us the Earth, says Doug Evans. He says it's time for us to connect the dots between climate change and extreme weather events.
WITH CLIMATE CHANGE blogging, sometimes it's hard to separate out the important themes from the general deluge of bad news — then suddenly there's so much to write about, you don't know where to start.
Just at present, the dominant overarching issue for Australia is our unprecedented heatwave, its accompanying bush fires and just what these might have to do with climate change.
So extreme are the maximum temperatures produced by the dome of hot air stalled over the Australian interior, the Bureau of Meteorology has had to add a new colour to its temperature contour maps – 'hot pink' – for maximum temperatures between 52ºC and 54ºC.
In the following night time NASA satellite image of Australia, the lights of the various State capital cities and main towns can be seen where you would expect to find them, but the other patches of light – especially those in the sparsely inhabited outback of Western Australia – show the locations of the more than 140 wildfires raging at the time of the photo.
Always keen for an opportunity to display their lack of knowledge, our conservative politicians, have more than once obliged by speaking out. This time, the generally amiable, but ineffective and dull-witted National Party leader, Warren Truss, has rushed to decry the Prime Minister's linking of our current weather predicament with climate change as 'simplistic'. Climate experts have been quick to dismiss his ignorance of the facts. One of these, Professor David Karoly, has prepared a report for the Climate Commission entitled 'Off the Charts'.
Its key messages are:
- The length, extent and severity of the current heatwave are unprecedented in the measurement record.
- Although Australia has always had heatwaves, hot days and bushfires, climate change is increasing the risk of more frequent and longer heatwaves and more extreme hot days, as well as exacerbating bushfire conditions.
- Climate change has contributed to making the current extreme heat conditions and bushfires worse.
- Good community understanding of climate change risks is critical to ensure we take appropriate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to put measures in place to prepare for, and respond to, extreme weather.
But is Truss listening? Is Australia listening?
Right into the middle of all this comes the hoax perpetrated by climate activist Jonathan Moylan.
Whitehaven Coal has received NSW State Government permission to proceed with developing one of the world's largest coal mines at Maules Creek near Gunnedah in New South Wales. One of the backers of this environmentally disastrous project is the ANZ Bank, which proposes to put $1.2 billion into the development.
Moylan emailed a fake press release purporting to be from the ANZ Bank to journalists announcing that the ANZ was about to withdraw its money from the project. The contact details supplied on the fake media release were Moylan's so had any of the journalists bothered to check, they would have found themselves in touch with a climate activist rather than the ANZ Bank and that would have been the end of the matter.
But the geniuses of the Australian financial press didn't bother, instead falling over themselves to rush to their blogs and websites with the news. The immediate result of this, according to Ben Cubby and Peter Ker writing for The Age, was as follows:
The company's price dropped about 8.8 per cent and Whitehaven was put into a trading halt. It resumed trading in the afternoon after news of the hoax spread, and shares closed at $3.50, just 2¢ lower than Friday's closing price.
Who then is responsible for any losses incurred by Whitehaven investors — Jonathan Moylan or the brain dead financial journalists who didn't think to check their sources?
Peter Ker penned a thoughtful piece for The Age, that includes the following [IA emphasis]:
While the bogus news was reported by some media - including Business Spectator, The Australian Financial Review's website and wire service Australian Associated Press - it was never published through the ASX's official platform. ''It is always risky business to trade on information that is received through the internet, blogs or some other fashion that is not a formal release through the ASX,'' [former ASX executive and now legal affairs director for the Australian Corporate Lawyers Association Tony] de Govrik says.
The ASX's chief compliance officer, Kevin Lewis, reiterates that point, saying people whose investments are guided by official ASX announcements would have escaped Monday's losses.
''Markets often trade on the basis of rumour, speculation and other unofficial sources of information. Sometimes that information turns out to be correct and sometimes it doesn't,'' Lewis says. ''People who trade on the basis of information that they read online and don't verify with official sources like the ASX market announcements platform should not expect to be able to turn around and say that the information was not correct and therefore 'I should be able to walk away from my trade'.
''You have to differentiate here between investors and traders. Investors hold for the longer-term and aren't generally going to be impacted at all by these types of short-term price spikes,'' he says.
''The people who are affected are the day-traders and those trading in the short-term. If you are that type of trader, you need to understand the risks you are taking.''
Buyer beware perhaps?
John Quiggin, himself a noted economist, added some perspective to the matter, commenting as follows:
Continuing on silly claims about the Whitehaven hoax, the figure of $300 million is being bandied about as the cost to Australia’s Mums and Dads. … But, ever vigilant on behalf of Australia’s Mums and Dads (I’d like extra bonus sympathy as a Grandad!), I thought I would check to see if any such outrages are continuing. It turns out that the All Ordinaries index has fallen 16 points, or about 0.4 per cent, since 10am. Assuming a market capitalization of 1.2 trillion, that’s nearly $5 billion ripped from our parental pockets in the course of a single morning. Almost certainly, some of this due to spurious rumors, some of which may have been deliberately spread.
In other words, while its political impact may be great, the economic impact of Moylan's hoax can be argued as quite minor.
Other economists query the economic basis for proceeding with the Whitehaven - Maules Creek mine project at all. Rod Campbell, director of Economists at Large had this to say in his piece for Fairfax media:
While investors are upset about this week's hoax, the NSW Department of Planning and Infrastructure has been accepting economic fiction about the Maules Creek project for years.
The 2011 economic assessment is by coal industry favourites, Gillespie Economics. Economic assessment is supposed to establish whether the project is in the interests of the people of NSW and Gillespie Economics trumpeted a net benefit of $8.7 billion for the Maules Creek project. This was accepted by the planning department without scrutiny.
But our assessment of the review is scathing. Gillespie Economics has overlooked the foreign ownership of the project and presented profits to overseas interests as benefits to the NSW community. Other blunders include valuing the project at an exchange rate of $0.76 and using coal prices well above long-term averages.
Assessment of non-market values was equally ham-fisted. No consideration was made of the coal dust from mining on health, despite medical groups and NSW Health expressing concern. Greenhouse gas emissions warranted only a minor mention.
Campbell concludes as follows:
Jittery private investors are ready to act on every piece of information available about the Maules Creek project and are angry when they've been mislead. But the NSW planning department seems unconcerned if the information it is given is fact or fiction. Economic assessment needs to play a greater role in planning decisions and be subject to the same scrutiny that emails purporting to be from ANZ are now sure to receive.
Greens senator Lee Rhiannon tweeted her approval of Moylan's action and Greens Federal Parliamentary leader, Senator Christine Milne described Mr Moylan’s hoax as being
...part of a long and proud history of civil disobedience, potentially breaking the law, to highlight something wrong.
As usual not bothering to think before he speaks, and frothing with indignation, Liberal Federal senator Eric Abetz rushed out to describe the Greens as:
… the 'epitome of extremism' for the party's support of the anti-coal hoax.
… Abetz also said the Greens had a 'disrespect for the rule of law' for congratulating an activist being investigated for a hoax that temporarily wiped more than $314 million off the value of a coal company. 'It's taken less than a fortnight after supposedly revising their platform for the Greens to again reveal their extreme political tendencies, Senator Abetz said in a statement. He linked the Greens to extreme elements with 'communist connections'... With the Greens it is always a case of the ends justifying the means.
Abetz, of course, is a hypocrite of the first order, and one who knowsa thing or two about hoaxes, understands perfectly that the end always justifies the means, when the end is one you support and, moreover, has a close family link to extremism — with his own uncle Otto being a convicted Nazi war criminal. You couldn't make this stuff up! And this is the man who occupies the number one place on the Liberal Party's senate ticket for Tasmania.
Clive Hamilton, Professor of Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at Charles Sturt University, in his piece for 'The Conversation', highlighted a similar hoax perpetrated in the U.S. by Timothy DeChristopher, who was jailed for two years for his efforts. Hamilton ends his piece as follows:
As Tim DeChristopher said, in an eloquent address to the court before his sentencing:
The reality is not that I lack respect for the law; it’s that I have greater respect for justice. Where there is a conflict between the law and the higher moral code that we all share, my loyalty is to that higher moral code.
Explaining his motivation, DeChristopher said he acted to highlight the threat that climate change poses to the planet:
If the government is going to refuse to step up to that responsibility to defend a livable future, I believe that creates a moral imperative for me and other citizens. My future, and the future of everyone I care about, is being traded for short term profits. I take that very personally. Until our leaders take seriously their responsibility to pass on a healthy and just world to the next generation, I will continue this fight.
With runaway climate change now jeopardising the stable, prosperous and civilised community that our laws are designed to protect, some are now asking whether the time has arrived when their obligations to their fellow humans and the wider natural world entitle them to break laws that protect those who continue to pollute the atmosphere in a way that threatens our survival.
When talking to young climate activists it soon becomes apparent that they feel they have been abandoned by their elders, whom they see as bequeathing them a world no-one would want to live in.
Katherine Wilson, herself the perpetrator of a notable hoax, reckons we should thank Moylan rather than victimize him.
Jonathan Moylan was spectacularly successful in getting the issue of prevention on our newspapers' front pages. Moylan pulled off an elegant hoax. By issuing a fake media release saying ANZ had pulled its $1.2 billion loan from Whitehaven Coal mines on ethical grounds, he disrupted markets and invited public scrutiny of an industry that is driving the climate change that has led to a new category of emergency.
If letters pages and social media are any indication, there is widespread support for Moylan's hoax. … But officially, instead of being hailed as a hero, Moylan has been labelled an extremist. In concert with the current trend to criminalise protest of all kind, he faces the prospect of jail and crippling fines. ASIC has already seized his laptop and phone.
Former Greens leader Bob Brown points out the bleedin' obvious with the title of his opinion piece for Fairfax 'It's coal miners not Moylan who are costing us the earth.'Brown began with a startling but incontrovertible quote from James Hansen, speaking to the US Congress in 2008.
"CEOs of fossil energy companies know what they are doing and are aware of long-term consequences of continued business as usual. In my opinion, these CEOs should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature."
Brown ends his piece as follows:
James Hansen's reasonable scientific assessment is that business-as-usual in coal mining is a high crime against humanity. But here in Australia in 2013, while Whitehaven's mine will help cost us the Earth, it is Moylan's actions that have excited outrage and may cost him his freedom.
Anyone feel like arguing with this?
It is time for Australia to wake up!
It is time for Australians to join the dots linking more and more extreme heatwaves and bush-fires with climate change.
If this is what we can expect at one degree of global warming — what can we look forward to with the four degrees of warming confidently and authoritatively predicted by century's end?
It is time for Australians to make the connection between climate change and our current extreme, life threatening weather, with coal combustion and the massive profits anticipated by private – largely foreign-owned – mining companies, from the projected massive expansion of Australia's already massive coal exports.
While the suits are in a mood to lynch Moylan, public sentiment is strongly behind him. The ANZ Bank is a signatory to The Equator Principles, which are described as follows:
About The Equator Principles
The Equator Principles (EPs) is a credit risk management framework for determining, assessing and managing environmental and social risk in Project Finance transactions. Project Finance is often used to fund the development and construction of major infrastructure and industrial projects.
The EPs are adopted by financial institutions and are applied where total project capital costs exceed US$10 million. The EPs are primarily intended to provide a minimum standard for due diligence to support responsible risk decision-making.
It would be very interesting to know just how the ANZ has understood, assessed and proposes to manage environmental and social risk in this instance. The ANZ's membership of this group was previously used to shame it into withdrawing funding from Gunn's, the voracious timber company determined to wood-chip as much of Tasmania's forests as possible.
It may be that, if enough pressure is applied this time, they might just withdraw their $1.2 billion from Whitehaven's Maule Creek mine and, by so doing, save the Leard Forest and its endangered fauna, and save the planet from the impact of burning an extra 12 million tonnes of coal annually for the next thirty years.
The ANZ's Facebook Page can be found here.
Go there, and tell them what you think of their hypocrisy in supporting this environmental vandalism.
The 'We stand with Jonathan Moylan' Facebook Page can be found here. Go there and find out what you can do to support this brave activist.
Here is the petition from Sum of us.org. Add your name to the list of those protesting ANZ support of this obscene project.
Now is the time. JOIN THE DOTS. Stand up for our future.
(You can read more by Doug Evans on his Earthsign blog.)
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License