A Climate Change Letter for Everyone

7 February 2020

4.8 MINS

I read yet another climate article in The Sun Herald early this year by Jacqueline Maley, and saw the same rhetoric that is being poured into our minds from the media everywhere. But not once is anyone looking into why it is so. That is, why are these politicians seemingly slow to act?

Everyone is pushing the economic wagon, but from my reading of the situation, the leadership is stuck between a rock and a hard place. I’m from Newcastle. Yes I know, huge coal exports! Don’t get those knickers in a knot though, because this coal is unique. This coal is metallurgical coal, is called anthracite, is double burning, and is the hardest and most efficient in the world.

What has that to do with climate control, you ask? Well, it is required for blast furnaces to process metal. So? you ask. Well, think about what is necessary for clean, green energy: Solar panels, wind farms, wiring for equipment for the energy to be conveyed, electrical cars, in fact all of those technologies that are being cried out for, for the betterment of our climate.

Think of that computer on your desk, the iPhone you use, the printer, even the paper clips and staples, including the kitchen sink — they all started life in a blast furnace. Next time you slip that jewellery on, please think. It’s metallic too.

The other material requiring this quality of coal is glass. As you look across the city, really look, see how often this product is part of our world. As you switch on the windscreen wipers to clear that smoke dust from those terrible fires look what’s there — you guessed it, glass! Recycling metal and glass requires metallurgical coal too! Isn’t that interesting?

After Greta Thunberg spoke angrily at the UN about the older generation “doing nothing for thirty years” in her synthetic blouse with plastic buttons, I was very concerned about her knee-jerk outburst as no-one seems to be seriously looking at this from an individual perspective as to how each of us — that’s you and me — are not ready to do our part.

Petroleum byproducts are in the fashionable clothing, swimsuit, exercise gear, stockings and socks (if you wear them). What about the commercial packaging producers, and excess plastic used to contain products, like bottled drinks?

Rather than attacking the politicians, how about addressing the source of the problem: the supermarkets and packaging producers? What about the use of synthetics and industries like the fashion industry? If councils can have bags made from cornflower starch, why isn’t an enterprising scientist investigating ways to bring change to packaging generally?

Oops! I wonder what is required to produce those bags? A steel wind turbine perhaps? Metal machinery? Electricity must be there too, so wiring’s involved.

Walking and biking seem a much better idea than driving. Make that walking only, because that bike has both metal and petroleum byproducts as its source.

What about that fashionable clothing? Recycle it. After all, if we are genuine about this, we should be wearing natural silk, wool, linen, bamboo and hemp. Cotton’s out, because pesticides are necessary in its production. As for colour, only natural dyes will do, and natural mordents (urine was favoured in the past) to fix those dyes.

Then there are those fleece hoodies, dressing gowns and blankets. Did you realise they are causing more microplastics than anything else in our oceans? But wait, to weave this material we require machinery made from metal, and electricity to run it, and wind turbines and solar panels to “make it green” “and a partridge in a pear tree” — metallurgical coal.

This is starting to sound like that song: “There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza, there’s a hole in the bucket dear Liza, a hole … well fix it, dear Henry, dear Henry fix it …

Think of all those things that you use each day derived from petroleum products: your toothpaste, shampoo, hair dryer, tooth brush, comb, the detergent in your dishwasher and washing machine, the petrol and diesel in your vehicle, that insect spray for those pesky mosquitoes, the cleaning solution you use to clean your desk and keyboard, the computer and keyboard itself, the furniture if it’s made from plastics, the pod in the coffee machine, the TV screen you observe for news and fire updates, come on now, we are the criminals here and need to be a lot more informed and sensitive to what we are doing as individuals to affect the environment.

Population has grown rapidly as well, compared to my childhood (I’m in my sixties in case you were wondering). At the end of the war (WWII not WWI – I’m not that old!), Australia’s population was roughly 7 million.

Now we have about 24 million, I believe. It’s not only those cows producing CO2. Over 7.8 billion people are living on our planet today, compared with a little over 3 billion in 1939. Hold your breath and save the world!

As to the carbon footprint and food, this means no meat, fish, or poultry, and this includes meat substitutes from soy (after all, this grows in farmers’ fields and requires pesticides and machinery to harvest the beans, trucks to transport to processing plants, where more energy is used in canning and packaging).

No imported food, because of the negative effect on the climate and environment. And absolutely no coffee from Brazil, no tea from Kenya and India … is this making you think outside that blinkered world you’re living in?

As for flight to get away from it all: No planes, as aircraft are more heavily polluting our planet than any other form of transport. No ships unless they are wind-propelled. But oops again! No planes, or ships, or trains or cars, or motorcycles, or bikes — they are all made from metal, and metal requires a blast furnace, and the best coal in the world for this is metallurgical coal called anthracite from Newcastle.

There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza, there’s a hole in the bucket dear Liza a hole. Well fix it dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, well fix it dear Henry, dear Henry fix it. With what shall I fix it dear Liza, dear Liza?” … I think by now you may be getting an idea that this needs to begin with us!

The late Ian Kiernan of the “Clean Up Australia Campaign”, and Craig Reucassel, who drew our attention to waste with “The War on Waste” program on the ABC, were both individuals who passionately practiced what they preached, and didn’t merely scream their angst at the world without really thinking about solutions and acting on them.

These men were visionary and on the right track. This whole issue is extremely complex, and will require a huge rethink. How do you eat an elephant? A bite at a time. But each bite will have to be a considered and a quality one.

That will require visionary scientists who don’t only invent solutions, but really consider all the ramifications of their scientific breakthroughs, unlike many of their predecessors whose inventions, like plastics, have brought us to this point.

Also, we have to look to our own actions. Excessive consumption. When is enough, enough? You can point the finger at political leaders, and not always remember that when you point that finger, there are three fingers pointing back at you.

[Photo by David Rodrigo on Unsplash]

Updated 26/02/20: correction – anthracite, not lignite.

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  1. Camilla Hubbard 7 February 2020 at 6:38 pm - Reply

    Climate Change is a fact! (God’s creation organises it all the time!) But Global Warming is NOT. And I have often wondered why those who commend us to SSolar Panels, Wind Turbines, Big Batteries and Electric Cars haven’t realised the prooblems with these. They have to be made with cheap reliable electricity! AND they have limited life spans and will make very huge garbage dumps in the years to come! Coal and/or nuclear are the best way for us to go.

  2. Me 9 February 2020 at 12:23 am - Reply

    Umm, yes…well..yes perhaps we should umm..well..you know..er think all, or..some of…um all? these points through…….
    I,ll get back to you on this, or these aforesaid points….yes…that’s what we, I mean I will do….

  3. Olivier 9 February 2020 at 10:53 pm - Reply

    Dear Author,
    there is a slight difference if a blast furnace is being used to produce materials for let’s say a windmill or solar panels or when that material is being used to build another coal plant. Thunberg can be a bit of a drama queen but the general idea is to use materials to produce sustainable products. If someone is going to buy a bicycle to go the 5km to work i think we can all agree that this is a better solution than if that person is buying a car. Some climate activists are spreading fear, please don’t counter this by being overly hypocrit.

  4. Lindy Piper 11 February 2020 at 9:27 pm - Reply

    the assumption here is of course that we cant possibly make iron without coking coal…. never limit human innovation. apart from this the article is spot on in many ways. The trick is to transition to low emission technologies without losing our standard of living. Thats the challenge, hope we are up for it otherwise our kids are really up that creek!

  5. Dr Hugh D Campbell 14 February 2020 at 10:24 pm - Reply

    Actually, the coal exported through Newcastle is not lignite, which is brown coal, but black coal. All coal exported from NSW is black coal. And for what reason, may I ask, do you use a photo of a lignite (brown coal) open cut pit near Gaville in Italy when you are talking about Australia?
    Furthermore, all your negative carping seems oblivious of the fact that a number of advanced European countries have already declared their intention of becoming completely carbon neutral by 2050. All of them have already made considerably greater progress towards that goal than Australia has! No doubt this is connected with the long time climate change denialism of many of our senior political leaders and their obstruction of all constructive initiatives.

    • Jean Seah 16 February 2020 at 12:44 pm - Reply

      Hi Dr Campbell, we used the photo from Italy because it was open source; I have been unable to locate a non-copyrighted image of an Australian mine. Thank you for your comment.

      Doesn’t Newcastle produce various grades of coal? https://www.rba.gov.au/publications/bulletin/2019/sep/the-changing-global-market-for-australian-coal.html
      I do note the footnote: “Although brown coal is used for some domestic electricity generation in Australia, brown coal is typically not exported. Globally the use of brown coal is less common due to its lower energy content and higher levels of carbon emissions.”

      Interesting development in Japan: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/05/bucking-global-trends-japan-again-embraces-coal-power

    • Staar 17 February 2020 at 1:40 pm - Reply

      Whether your comments are accurate or not, what happens in 70-75 years’ time when ALL the WORLD’s fossil fuels are totally depleted??

      • Jean Seah 17 February 2020 at 3:07 pm - Reply

        “The difficulty in attempting to construct these curves is that our discovery of reserves and technological potential to extract these reserves economically evolves with time. If we look at trends in proven fuel reserves, we see that our reported oil reserves have not decreased but increased by more than 50 percent, and natural gas by more than 55 percent, since 1995. This fact, combined with changes in rates of consumption means that predicting ‘peak fossil fuel’ is highly uncertain.”

  6. CM 27 February 2020 at 11:39 am - Reply

    Best you leave the issue of climate change to real scientists and not the faux scientists / bureaucrats from the UN who have been driving this for their own ambitions to control the globe and its resources. I have lived through many hysterical hoaxes since the 1950s and what we are seeing is more of the same. First it was global cooling, then an ice age (at that time the UN objectives were in plain sight with much of the agenda managed by the likes of Maurice Strong – look him up and watch his speeches). When that didn’t work there was a switch to global warming, melting ice (despite the ice sheets getting deeper), rising sea levels, extreme weather events and now climate change because everything else was proven wrong. Since the 1990’s we have been told that we only had 10 years to go before the situation was irreversible. Now 30 years on, things have been relatively stable. God has designed a remarkable world where balance is held. Animal / human life breathes out CO2 and plants breathe it in and convert it to oxygen. Marvellous eh? That’s why there are bumper crops and planet has greened up. fires and droughts are common and if anything needs to be done, its harvesting and storing of water (not much infrastructure has been built since Australia’s 7 mio population you mention) to alleviate drought and to better management of forests to reduce fuel loads and in so doing lessen the impact of fires. No brainer – only good stewardship.

  7. […] of which gives us a prescient preview as to what will happen if we suddenly stop using fossil fuels and there are no economically viable energy resources to use in their […]

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