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Galilee Basin
Cancers in China

Killer coal

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has estimated that air pollution causes seven million deaths each year. Much of this, both indoor and outdoor air pollution, is due to burning coal as a fuel.

Considering the WHO report, it would be a very conservative estimate that would place the number of deaths world-wide due to coal at less than several million each year.

Coal miners share the air the rest of us breath, they also have to accept the risk of black lung disease, coal miners' pneumoconiosis.

In the long term, the most deaths due to coal will come from the effects of climate change and ocean acidification.

Written 2017/02/02
Contact: email daveclarkecb@yahoo.com (David Clarke) – ©

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End of coal
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Air pollution purchased from Australia
Image source: FengLi/Getty Images
This wind farm produces electricity without the air pollution
Waterloo Wind Farm, 
Waterloo Wind Farm, Mid North South Australia
An article published in the prestigious health journal, The Lancet, put numbers on the deaths caused by the burning of coal to generate electricity.
The World Health Organisation report, summarised in The Guardian, states that air pollution is the world's single biggest environmental health risk.

The main sources of ambient air pollution are motor vehicles and coal burning. The main sources of air pollution in homes are coal smoke and wood smoke.

In Australia in 2017 our Liberal coalition government cannot see past the profits that they believe can be made by digging up and burning or exporting millions of tonnes of this killer commodity.

In early 2017 both Prime Minister Turnbull and Deputy Prime Minister (and head of the Australian Nationals) Barnaby Joice have made statements favourable to building new coal-fired power stations in Australia. These are not needed and not wanted by most of the Australian people; both large-scale solar and wind power are expanding and there is little increase in electricity demand from the grid. The continuing installation of solar power on the roofs of Australian homes as well as the increasing number of utility-scale solar power stations is also reducing demand for new fossil fuel power.

As Frank Jotzo, Director, Centre for Climate Economics and Policy, Australian National University, wrote in The Coversation,

"New coal plants wouldn't be clean, and would cost billions in taxpayer subsidies".

"Major Australian energy companies have ruled out building new coal plants. The Australian Energy Council sees them as "uninvestable". Banks and investment funds would not touch them with a barge pole. Only government subsidies could do it."
How absurd and unethical it would be for the Australian government to heavily subsidise the building of more coal-fired power stations for this killer industry when they are not even economically viable?

Outside Australia, people and the more progressive organisations are turning away from coal because they see its shortcomings and because they see it lacks a viable economic future. They are turning toward clean, non-polluting, renewable energy.

Coalition support for the coal industry is not new, a quote from PM Tony Abbott on 2014/05/28:

"It's particularly important that we do not demonise the coal industry and if there was one fundamental problem, above all else, with the carbon tax was that it said to our people, it said to the wider world, that a commodity which in many years is our biggest single export, somehow should be left in the ground and not sold. Well really and truly, I can think of few things more damaging to our future."
PM Abbott would like to export even more coal and death, and he will do so if the Australian people allow him to. The man, who calls himself a Christian, has not the slightest conception of morality.

Prime Ministers Turnbull and Abbott seem to be among the very few national leaders on the planet who want minimal action on climate change and ocean acidification. Tony Abbott is a man who claims to be Christian yet who seems to be motivated only by ambition and money.

US President Barack Obama recently (late May 2014) said:

"We don't have to choose between the health of our economy and the health of our children"


"As President, and as a parent, I refuse to condemn our children to a planet that's beyond fixing."

How much CO2?

In 2012 Australia mined about 430 million tonnes of coal. This is about 14 tonnes each second. When these 14 tonnes are burned they produce about 25 tonnes of CO2 every second – which goes straight into the atmosphere!

Deaths to be expected from proposed coal mines in the Galilee Basin, Queensland

Just two mines will cause around 18 thousand deaths each year

Wikipedia gives world coal extraction as 7 865 million tonnes (MT) per year and total Australian extraction as 431MT.

As discussed above, from the WHO report, it is reasonable to accept that there are two million deaths caused by coal burning world-wide each year. If we accept that the deaths due to burning the coal exported from Australian mines cause deaths at the same rate we can do some calculations.

Several mines are proposed in the Galilee Basin in Queensland. Two of the largest:

  • Gina Rinehart's, Hancock Coal/GVK, Alpha Coal mine is expected to 'produce' 30MT/year, causing more than seven thousand deaths each year;
  • Clive Palmer's China First mine, at 40MT/yr will be responsible for over ten thousand deaths each year.
(The above production figures are from Wikipedia.)

China's cancer rates "exploding"; ABC

When China started its great economic and industrian growth a couple decades ago it built many, many coal-burning power stations. At some point it started importing millions of tonnes of Australian coal to burn in these. Since then China has had shocking air pollution, and now enough time has passed for cancers to have developed.

"China's cancer rates exploding, more than 4 million people diagnosed in 2015, study says". Written by ABC's China Correspondent Matthew Carney, 2016/03/24.

"In some of the industrial provinces, lung cancer rates have increased a staggering four-fold" and the cause seems to be air pollution, largely due to coal burning.

"Cancer has been the leading cause of death in China since 2010, with lung cancer causing the most deaths."


A number of links are scattered through the text.

The Turnbull Coalition government tells us that exporting coal to India is a wonderful thing because it lifts so many people out of "energy poverty", but the air pollution from the burning of that coal also kills 1.1 million Indians each year (as you can see if you follow the links in the main text, on the left). You can't enjoy having electric lights if you are dead.

We'd be doing the Indian people a much bigger favour if we were to help them develop renewable wind and solar power to lift them out of energy poverty without the pollution from coal-burning.

Think Progress; India's polluted air now kills 1.1 million people per year. This referred to the State of Global Air report: below.

State of Global Air/2017: A special report on global exposure to air pollution and its disease burden.

The State of Global Air has an interactive Net site (although, when I tried it on 2017/02/16 it was not working well).

A Net site called Facts and Details provides a shocking summary of the air pollution situation in China. Another site, Urban Emissions, shows that India is similarly polluted.