Saturday, October 26, 2013

Big Coal: Australia’s Dirtiest Habit, by Guy Pearce, David McKnight and Bob Burton.

Staff Review by Chris Saliba

Guy Pearce, David McKnight and Bob Burton lift the veil on Big Coal to reveal an enormously powerful industry that does much harm, not only to the environment, but also to communities, democracy and the economy. If you want a sharp, concise book to explain all facets of the coal industry, then this is the one for you.

That coal mining is a big part of Australia’s economy is something we pretty much taken for granted. Despite our professed modernity, this dirty energy source provides most of the nation’s power, fuelling our computers, televisions and smart phones. But how much do we really know about this industry? The three authors of this excellent book are well known for their expertise and knowledge in the areas of environment, energy, politics and public relations spin. Together  Pearce, McKnight and Burton perform a forensic examination of every aspect of the coal industry.

The main areas they cover are: the environmental and human costs of coal mining (a fascinating short history of coal is provided in this first chapter); the main business players and financial backers of Big Coal; the millions the industry spends on PR spin; the incredible political influence Big Coal has; and finally, a long chapter on Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), demolishing this technology as a form of wishful thinking that in reality doesn’t have much of a chance of getting off the ground (which is probably why we never now hear it spoken of much in the media).

Another uncomfortable fact the book highlights is that Australia’s expanding coal exports make a travesty of its emission reduction targets at home. Coal dug up and sold abroad will be burnt nonetheless, making huge contributions to global emissions. It seems Australia wants to have its cake and eat it too.

Big Coal
makes for depressing reading. On the bright side, it brings a foggy subject into crystal clear focus and liberates the reader (this reader, anyway) out of ignorance on such an important issue.

Big Coal: Australia’s Dirtiest Habit, by Guy Pearce, David McKnight and Bob Burton. Published by New South Books. ISBN: 9781742233031 RRP: $34.99