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Living Lightly column

Leave fossil fuels in the ground

By Lauriston Muirhead

Australia has made a great deal of money from mining an incredibly useful family of compounds for use locally and for export.  The industry created large numbers of jobs in mining, transport, processing and marketing for example.

Unfortunately, solid scientific research indicated significant damage to environmental and human health through many aspects of the industry.  The evidence has grown and cannot be reasonably contradicted.

Just like the tobacco companies, this industry has tried to deny, smother and confuse the science.  Sometimes they even produced fake evidence in order to put financial gain ahead of global health.

Clever people have found far safer alternatives.  Alternatives that create just as many, if not more jobs, with all the benefits of the past and none of the disadvantages.  Many people beg that the old sources be left safely in the ground.

Luckily for Australia we eventually all agreed – I am, of course, referring to the asbestos industry.

We can mine many compounds relatively safely with careful restoration of environments after the minerals are extracted.  However, no one has yet found a way to safely mine asbestos on a large scale.  Yes, it can be done at enormous cost, in extremely controlled environments, but not at scale.

The same issues, outlined above, apply very closely to to the group of compounds we refer to as fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas.  Some readers may even have thought that these were being referred to at the start of this piece.

The fossil fuel industry has produced enormous wealth for Australia as well as significant numbers of jobs.

However, the science has shown that extracting and burning these products creates major health impacts for humans.

Despite the industry trying to deny, smother and confuse the overwhelming evidence, nearly everyone now understands the many harms created by the mining and burning of fossil fuels.

Yes, we can capture and store the resulting carbon dioxide and methane, at enormous cost, in extremely controlled environments, but not at scale.

Not only is our health and our environment damaged in multiple ways, but also those of millions of other species.  There have already been extinctions because of man-made climate change.

We’ve done it with asbestos; we have to do it with fossil fuels.  For earth’s sake, leave them in the ground.