Green issues now form an important part of the political scene in many western countries and green parties are exerting an increasing influence. In Australia this is notably so, as support from green MPs is crucial in maintaining the minority Labor Government of Julia Gillard. In Europe, the German green party, Bündnis 90/Die Grünen, is a regular power broker in both federal and state elections, as well as becoming a senior coalition partner in its own right following the state elections in Baden-Württemberg this year. Meanwhile, the UK got its first green MP following last year’s general election.
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Given this growth in green party influence and given the hostility of green movement has towards the coal industry, a recent report that analyses the mining-related policies of the Australian green party, The Greens, is welcome.1
These policies include opposition to the establishment of new coal mines and the expansion of existing mines, which, as the authors of the report are quick to point out, would essentially mean the end of coal mining in Australia as “a mine that cannot expand cannot survive long”.
The direct cost alone of such a policy is staggering with GDP declining by between AU$ 29 billion and AU$ 36 billion. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. The report estimates almost 200,000 jobs would be lost across the economy, while declining corporate tax receipts and rising welfare payments would knock the federal budget by a further AU$ 6 billion. And this is without considering the fact that, without its valuable and increasing coal exports during the financial crisis, Australia may well have dipped into recession with the rest of the developed world.
While it is unlikely that such a drastic scenario would ever be played out, as green parties pick up more votes, green policies are influencing mainstream politics as never before. With this comes responsibility: it is no longer acceptable for green parties to advocate policies that are so disconnected from economic reality. Coal is an economic driver: from extraction to burning it creates wealth. Rather than demonising it, green policy should be leading the charge to clean it up.
1. DAVIDSON, S., and DE SILVA, A., “Costing of The Green’s economic policies: mining” (2011). Available at: http://www.minerals.org.au/news/costing_of_the_greens_economic_policies_mining/