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Galilee Basin
Cancers in China

Is Australia's biggest export death?

The World Health Organisation has estimated that air pollution causes seven million deaths each year; one in eight deaths were attributed to air pollution. Much of this is due to coal burning. Australia produces 5.5% of the world's coal and exports more coal than any other country; 38% of the world's total coal exports. Making the conservative assumption that only two million of the deaths are due to coal burning we can calculate that Australian coal causes 110 000 deaths per year.

In January 2018 Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced his intention of greatly boosting Australia's arms industry, exporting even more death.

Written 2014/05/31, modified 2018/02/02
Contact: email daveclarkecb@yahoo.com (David Clarke) – ©

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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 WHO 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:

  1. the burning of forests in wild-fires or for clearing;
  2. the liquid fuels burned in motor vehicles, airplanes and ships;
  3. the burning of coal, lignite and peat for things like steel-making and power generation;
  4. the burning of rubbish: anything unwanted that will burn.
The main sources of air pollution in homes are coal smoke and wood smoke.

In this page I will deal mainly with the burning of Australian coal for power generation, called thermal coal; the burning of high-grade coal, called metallurgical coal, while not generally so polluting does add to the problem.

In Australia our governments, federal and some state governments, cannot see past the profits that they believe can be made by digging up and exporting millions of tonnes of this killer commodity.

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.

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."
Ex-Prime Minister Abbott and those with similar disregard for the world's future would like to export even more coal and death, for the sake of short-term profits, and they will do so if the Australian people allow them to. Mr Abbott, who calls himself a Christian, has not the slightest conception of morality.

US President Barack Obama said in late May 2014:

"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."
In 2018 Mr Abbott has little political influence, but he and others obsessed with coal, of whom there are still many with great political influence in Australia, want to keep the coal-cash-cow going and want minimal, if any, action on climate change and ocean acidification.

How much CO2?

In 2012 Australia mined about 430 million tonnes of coal. This was about 14 tonnes each second. When these 14 tonnes were burned they produced 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, should they ever eventuate

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.)

A Net site called Facts and Details provides a shocking summary of the air pollution situation in China; India is similarly polluted.

China's cancer rates "exploding"; ABC

Black lung returns to Australia
Pollution kills millions
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."