Empire of the Dead: The Fossil Fuel Order and the clean-energy rebellion

It has been another busy seven days for the empire of the dead. Leaders have been sacked and anointed; lackeys have convened; pressure has been exerted and profits have been counted, all while the ripping, drilling, burning and polluting goes on. On 6 April, former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull was removed as chair of the NSW government’s Net Zero Emissions and Clean Economy Board just a week after being appointed, having called for a moratorium on new coal mines.1 On 8 April, NSW Deputy Premier and National Party leader John Barilaro used Glencore’s Ravensworth coal mine as the image-defining setting for launching the by-election campaign for the seat of Upper Hunter.2 On 9 April, former Origin Energy CEO and clean-energy critic Grant King was appointed to head up Australia’s Climate Change Authority, the independent statutory body that advises the national government on how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.3 On 12 April, Guardian Australia covered the revelation that fossil fuel multinational Shell does not expect to ever pay any resource tax on Gorgon, the biggest gas project in the country’s history.4 Later the same day, Four Corners reported allegations that the federal government had been unduly pressuring experts who dared to question Scott Morrison’s so-called ‘gas-fired recovery plan’.5 Surveying recent events, science writer Ketan Joshi remarked that no one was ‘even bothering to pretend that the fossil fuel industry isn’t in total control’.6

Going the wrong way for a reason

What makes these incidents so surprising and obviously perverse is that they mark a direction of political and economic travel that is precisely the opposite of where the nation and the world should be heading. Australia is a signatory to the 2015 UNFCCC Paris climate deal and, in order to be consistent with our obligations under the agreement, needs to achieve zero net emissions by 2035 or sooner.7 The technical and policy solutions already exist to enable Australia to achieve this great goal and, if done properly, could also enable a host of social and environmental co-benefits.8 An enormous popular mandate exists to support these reforms, with around 80 per cent of Australians now supporting greater action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.9 The scientific consensus, the legal basis, the technical solutions and the public support for urgent action on climate change are all in place; there is even the teleological vision of our rise as a clean energy ‘superpower’, a term popularised in this context by professor Ross Garnaut.10 All that is shackling Australia’s unhindered progress is the systemic functioning of sectorally based, but hegemonically influential, vested interests within our democracy. What we might term the Fossil Fuel Order is an array of power that functions to maladjust Australian politics, economics, law and society to enable the ongoing exploitation of coal, oil and gas despite the consequences: an empire of the dead holding the prospects of the living to ransom. 

The power of coal, oil and gas is literally a kind of ossified spirit of death. Fossil fuels are the remains of dead plants and animals, transformed by the application of heat and pressure over millions of years into hydrocarbons that can then be released through the chemical process of combustion. At one stage in human history the necrotic vitality of hydrocarbons was harnessed to an unprecedented rise in life spans and living standards, but that moment has now passed. Renewable energy is innately superior to fossil fuels: clean and limitless, the technologies are now there—and still improving all the time—to deliver more cheaply, reliably and at scale. Meanwhile, what comes from the dead has now become the greatest bringer of death. Air pollution from fossil fuels is the greatest source of early morbidity globally,11 and fossil fuels are the number one driver of the climate emergency that is already responsible for the catastrophic killing of life on land and sea.12 Between 2016 and 2020, more than half of the corals of the Great Barrier Reef were killed in three great bleaching events.13 In early 2019, more than a million fish were annihilated in a mass event in the Murray–Darling that was ultimately attributable to climate change conditions.14 Approximately 90 per cent of Australia’s great southern kelp forests off the western coast have been destroyed.15 The fires that immolated more than 35 million hectares over the spring and summer of 2019–20 are estimated to have slain more than three billion creatures and to have killed or led to the premature deaths of 445 people, with the hospitalisation of thousands of others, through the fires and effects of smoke inhalation.16 

The carnage is incidental but not an accident. The process of burning the dead in the form of coal, oil and gas is enabled by an extensive and complex set of political, economic, institutional, social, cultural and ideological structures that function as an order of power. Typically how the fossil fuel industry functions as a system is characterised more narrowly (though not inaccurately) as a set of economic vested interests that act through organisational apparatuses and networks of influence. The sway of the sector is most evident in the cartoonish behaviour of venal politicians, of which Tony Abbott announcing ‘coal to be good for humanity’17 and Scott Morrison holding up a piece of coal in the federal parliament and declaring that there was nothing to fear, are probably the most infamous in this country.18 It is true that the Fossil Fuel Order has had no shortage of prominent useful idiots in Australia and elsewhere, in some ways both epitomising and yet drawing attention away from the overarching system of power. 

Understanding the Fossil Fuel Order: domains of power

The impact of the fossil fuel corporations on Australian democracy can be understood as a form of institutional corruption.19 However, a broader analysis illuminates these vested interests as embedded within a hegemonic array of power consisting of a set of aligned actors both functioning within (and constantly shaping to their advantage) a complex of institutional arrangements, all undergirded by a range of legitimising ideas, norms and practices. At the centre of the Fossil Fuel Order are the corporations themselves, whose business profitability depends on the continued extraction and burning of coal, oil and gas. By one measure just 100 corporations are responsible for more than 70 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988.20 These firms—and all of the smaller fossil fuel businesses—are commercially enmeshed with lenders, insurers, lawyers, accountants, and service providers of all kinds (even as these outfits often simultaneously tout their social and environmental credentials in other contexts). International management consultants McKinsey, for example, boast of ‘helping oil and gas organisations capture value through operational improvements and digital transformations’.21 Australia’s largest law firm, Herbert Smith Freehills, lists ‘advising on the establishment of Yancoal Australia’s 51:49 JV with Glencore in relation to Hunter Valley operations’ as one of its ‘experience highlights’.22

The tendrils of the Fossil Fuel Order extend outside of the business world both through the functioning of political economy and the reproduction of hegemonic norms within civil society. Across the divide of capital and labour, fossil fuels enjoy what US political scientist Matto Mildenberger terms a ‘double representation’. Whatever else may divide them, a future for coal, oil and gas is supported both by the big businesses that run them and some of the labour unions that represent the workers in the industry (as distinct from the union movement per se), giving the sector an enormous strategic advantage in Australia’s two-party political system.23 In another context, while Australia’s Indigenous peoples have borne much of the brunt of the destruction of land and waters and the exploitation associated with fossil fuel extraction, the advent of statutory land rights in the 1970s and the recognition of native title in the 1990s belatedly created some purchase for agreement-making. Using such leverage as was available within the statutory framework, Indigenous polities negotiated to achieve highly valuable economic concessions from fossil fuel companies, with the terms of the arrangements defined in private deals.24 These contracts may run for decades, enmeshing First Nations communities and fossil fuel companies in a complex set of social, economic and legal relationships, all of which are predicated on the continuation of the extraction of fossil fuels. Ironically, what may once have been lauded as ‘best practice’ native title land-use agreements now function to help lock in resource exploitation that is consistent with an emissions trajectory congruent with the epic devastation of traditional Country.

Numerous community, sporting and arts organisations receive direct sponsorship from coal, oil and gas companies. AGL, for example, is Australia’s single largest greenhouse gas polluter, responsible for around 8 per cent of the country’s domestic emissions—more than double the next largest contributor.25 AGL also purports to be ‘proud supporters of the things you love’, including sports teams—the West Coast Eagles and Melbourne Victory—as well as Zoos South Australia, Foodbank WA, the Midsumma Festival and the Mardi Gras Film Festival.26 The last two in particular demonstrate the messy reality that the Fossil Fuel Order is capable of overtly and rhetorically embracing a form of socially progressive agenda as perfectly consistent with the core business goal of extracting and burning fossil fuels, as profitably as possible, for as long as can be: a kind of emissions-intensive corporate progressivism that is ultimately inimical to the future of every social cause because the severe impacts of global warming are universally deleterious.27 ‘We celebrate diversity and inclusiveness’, says AGL, and the company’s website features a host of forward-looking commitments that could be considered laudable on their own terms.28 Yet none of AGL’s awards, accreditations, goals, programs or inclusive language in any way alters the basic physical reality that the company is making the single largest domestic contribution of any Australian business to destroying a safe climate for all. These multifarious undertakings create the patina of progressive legitimacy for the company (as well as, it must be genuinely hoped, bringing real value at least in the short term to relevant people and communities who are in some way favoured by the programs).   

Beyond the direct relationships is the more general social replication of the norms of the Fossil Fuel Order, which imply a deep social licence to operate. The role of the media company News Ltd in particular is epiphenomenal to the persistence of the Fossil Fuel Order. The specific and baleful role of News Ltd is now amply documented as a deeply significant force in frustrating progress on tackling emissions reduction seriously and with urgency.29 Taken as a whole, News Ltd has given a platform to climate change denialism, minimised the impacts of global warming (and the causality of events) and downplayed the scale of the threat. Even as terrible fires consumed Australia, elements of the News Ltd media attempted to shift attention to fake claims of arson epidemics as being the cause of the fires.30 While Guardian Australia, the various Black Inc. publications and numerous independent news sites leave readers in no doubt about the malignancy of coal, oil and gas, and sometimes explicitly challenge the editorial inclinations of News Ltd, with some notable exceptions, the discourse of fossil fuel use as the inevitable normal—at least for now—remains ambient across much of the rest of mainstream commercial and government media.

In the broader society, widespread legitimation of the fossil fuel industry through corporate logos on football jumpers, art exhibitions, community occasions, careers events and corporate summits shades into paid advertising for coal, gas and oil companies and associated products like petrol-driven cars, and then further into quotidian assumptions about the ordinary way of things. Discourse functions to promote and reproduce atavistic assumptions about the inevitability of fossil fuel use and the ongoing role of coal, oil and gas in society, the community and the economy. The business model of the fossil fuel sector is the greatest threat that people and nature face, already killing human beings and laying waste to ecosystems, with the capacity to bring about the downfall of civilisation, yet on an everyday basis knowledge and ideas about the future continue to be circulated and replicated as if this were not so, across policy areas, organisational visions, showbiz and entertainment fantasies, individual life plans, and the expectations for our kids: the children and grandchildren of the world. The reality is that none of our cherished futures are possible if the burning of coal, oil and gas remains business as usual; the fond horizon will be a bitter mirage for as long as the Fossil Fuel Order stands.

Existing institutional arrangements are also a key element conducive to the ongoing power of the Fossil Fuel Order. In Australia, the existence of a land tenure system that creates and privileges a set of private rights to extract minerals and energy reserves (known as tenements) ahead of other property rights is foundational to both the clout and the incentives associated with fossil fuel businesses. The power of the Fossil Fuel Order is then entrenched and enhanced in multiple ways by the ‘rules of the game’, including weak political donation disclosure laws;31 the absence of  mechanisms for assessing tenement applications against the overall public interest; an inadequate legal and administrative framework for assessing, preventing and redressing the environmental and social impacts of fossil fuel energy extraction, and the lawful ability of fossil fuel extraction and production companies to externalise a majority of the public costs of their activities, which include carbon pollution, nature loss, health impacts and site rehabilitation; restrictive anti-protest laws; rural and regional electorate vote-weighting; international trade rules that enable global fossil fuel commerce; favourable taxation laws and regulations; legal and affordable (or free) access to the necessary land and water to enable the extractive activity; and very large-scale public subsidies for businesses engaged in fossil fuel extraction.32 All of these are vigilantly defended and opportunistically reshaped by the coal, oil and gas corporations and their attendant lawyers, accountants and lobbyists, as well as those within the parliament and public service who are subject to their effective suasion. All of this is bulwarked and cossetted by a set of operative assumptions about ‘how business gets done around here’: what Cameron Murray and Paul Frijters memorably dubbed ‘the game of mates’ in their book of that name.    

Nonetheless, illuminating the systemic function of the Fossil Fuel Order as an array of power with hegemonic tendencies is not to assert that there is some kind of grand conspiracy in place that extends across all actors. It is most definitely the case that narrower conspiracies to pervert and thwart decent public policy on reducing emissions have been very real, as documented by Naomi Oreskes, Clive Hamilton, Guy Pearse, Marian Wilkinson and others.33 In these instances a small number of policy influencers acting on behalf of certain fossil fuel interests have worked together more or less clandestinely to cast doubt on the science of climate change, exaggerate the costs of action and generally stall the transition to clean energy for as long as possible. However, the broader Fossil Fuel Order is far more complex, extending as a system of power across actors who are not ‘working together’ in any sense and may not even be remotely ideologically aligned. Even among those with a direct economic interest there is not unanimity, inviting a pluralistic approach to what interests are at stake at a more granular level. New market entrants in the fossil fuel extraction business have different angles to established players; diversified contractors have greater flexibility than pure-play advisers to coal or oil, and so on.

Beyond the individual

Understanding the Fossil Fuel Order as a system has important implications for how we conceptualise the role of the individual in tackling climate change. The most obvious point is that single persons taking action to reduce their own carbon footprint will not be remotely close to being sufficient to bring climate change under control. To quote an axiom from prominent US climate scientist and author Michael Mann: ‘changing the system requires systemic change’.34 In his recent book The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back our Planet,Mann also notes that one of the principal deflectionary tactics of fossil fuel interests has been to try to make reducing carbon emissions a matter of individual action, rather than corporate and political decision-making.35 Personal action on consumption is not only insufficient in terms of scale of carbon pollution abatement (emissions are overwhelmingly produced by businesses, government instrumentalities and other institutions) but also politically inadequate, leaving the power complex of fossil fuel interests unchallenged. Individual action is no bad thing (naturally we should all try to lead good lives according to our values), but alone it is both insufficient and potentially diversionary of the collective action that is essential to turning the ship around. 

The hegemonic tendency of the Fossil Fuel Order also means that well-meaning individuals may be easily or unwittingly co-opted towards ends that support the maintenance of the status quo. Within companies, government agencies, universities, contractors and sponsorship entities are countless individuals who are bound into the functioning of the Fossil Fuel Order through economic networks, institutional arrangements and ideological reproduction. Paradoxically, part of the value of understanding the Fossil Fuel Order as a system is to depersonalise things and to recognise that the greatest contribution an individual can make is often to take such steps as are within their power to work collectively to challenge and overturn the status quo. For many people this capability will derive from their participation within a workplace, community organisation, or some other form of institution. 

Overturning the imperium and bringing to life the Clean Energy Order

Fundamentally, the objective ahead is counter-hegemonic: a clean-energy rebellion to overturn the Fossil Fuel Order. The contours of the new are there in the core of the environment and climate groups in CANA; in the masses of school strikers; in the 100 Australian local councils who have declared a climate emergency;36 in the emergent impact-investing community; in the clean-energy businesses; among entrepreneurs, managers and workers determined to make the shift; in unions taking on a fair and rapid transition to clean energy as core business; and in community groups everywhere demanding change. Deep and continuing collaboration across non-state organisations and communities is fundamental to overturning the Fossil Fuel Order.  Australia Beyond Coal is one vital partnership of seven groups working together to secure the closure of all Australian coal-burning power stations by 2030, while the Climate Action Network Australia (CANA) provides the umbrella for many of the outfits dedicated to avoiding disastrous global warming. 

In order to be effective, the rebellion against the Fossil Fuel Order must be a campaign of position to shift the status quo. There has been heavy focus on banks and insurers to cease engaging with fossil fuel businesses, with particular emphasis on coal. Pressure has also been applied to major business groups, from both within and without, to cease reflexively opposing climate action and instead commit to the clean-energy agenda. Taking an institutional view, it is possible for every workplace to play a systemic part by withdrawing participation from the Fossil Fuel Order. Over the last twelve months Greenpeace has been campaigning to shift major Australian businesses to committing to only buying clean electricity by 2025. The results have been striking, with major firms like Bunnings, Telstra, Aldi, Coca-Cola Amatil, TPG, Woolworths and Coles all agreeing to shift to 100 per cent renewables by 2025, or earlier. These commitments are systemically important not only because of the scale of the demand shifting from coal to new wind and solar—Woolworths and Coles between them account for 2 per cent of the whole Australian National Electricity Market—but also because they are rapidly changing the national narrative, undermining the legitimacy of the Fossil Fuel Order. When Coles and Woolies are saying, in effect, that coal is too dirty for them to use for their electricity the implied pronouncement sends a wave of discursive influence across the nation. In each of these businesses and others, advertising spend and internal communications are now supporting the transition to clean energy—with the commitment that the rhetoric is to be matched by business purchasing decisions.

While it is fair to give credit when a major business adopts appropriately ambitious clean-energy targets, this does not expiate other environmental wrongdoing. None of this is to take a dewy-eyed view of businesses, which, under legislative fiat, are generally rendered as amoral profit-maximising entities. However, at the scale of the individual firm, the case is now clear that shifting to clean electricity makes sense, particularly when a bit of an external push comes from Greenpeace and the broader community. As more than one CEO has privately told me, employee, community and stakeholder expectations now are that every responsible business should make the shift to 100 per cent renewable energy. Yet the role of environmental groups like Greenpeace in this dynamic remains crucial as contributing to market conditions and helpful in determining priorities, particularly as speed is so critical in the context of climate change. Multiple highly placed corporates have now said to me something like: ‘We’ve never doubted the science and would probably have got there in the end, but because of your campaign we have got there now’. What is striking too is that when you engage with middle managers and staff in these major corporations, they clearly don’t want to be part of the Fossil Fuel Order any more. The hard work and willingness of technicians inside these businesses is crucial to concretising the new clean-energy way of things. Overwhelmingly, people would rather be genuinely contributing to the solution—and all over Australia, corporate sustainability teams are now rapidly putting together plans for how they can avoid being left behind in the rush that, to be clear, requires meaningful commitments to decisively move from fossil fuels to clean energy, not greenwashing to perpetuate the status quo. These decisions are not confined to businesses. In 2019 Albert Park Kinder became the first preschool in Australia to achieve net-zero emissions.37 This year, the University of New South Wales moved to 100 per cent renewable electricity, with plans to divest completely from fossil fuels by 2025,38 while the University of Sydney has committed to buying 100 per cent clean-energy electricity by 2025.39

The corollary to refusing to buy from fossil fuel companies is determining to withhold goods and services and, albeit on a lesser scale for now, the clean-energy insurrection is also evident in the growing number of businesses that are refusing to supply commercial services to fossil fuel companies. It is now some seven years since Desmond Tutu called for a boycott of fossil fuel corporations similar to that once applied to apartheid-era South Africa.40 Since then an increasing number of individuals and businesses have heeded the call, often in increments, with giant lending and investing institutions among the most prominent in taking steps.41 Others are more emphatic. The group Comms Declare, for example, represents communications professionals who have vowed to not support any activities, organisations or individuals that promote:

  • the growth of fossil fuels;
  • high greenhouse gas pollution as ‘business as usual’
  • deception, distraction or spin around science or climate actions.42 

Other forms of participation in the Fossil Fuel Order can also be refused. The Wangan and Jagalingou people, who are the Traditional Owners of the land in Queensland’s Galilee Basin, have become renowned for their staunch refusal to agree to any deal on new coal mines that will bring ruination to their traditional Country.43 In January 2020 the Wyong public hospital turned down a $15 million offer of sponsorship from a coal company.44 In the same month the Guardian newspaper became the first major global news organisation to institute an outright ban on taking any advertising or promotional revenue from companies that extract fossil fuels.45 Like the Fossil Fuel Order, the emerging clean-energy insurgency is not uniform and comprises a wide range of interests and competing ideological standpoints; the unity lies only in the commitment to release our future from the dead hand of coal, oil and gas.

Conclusion

The great obligation of our historical moment is to secure the conditions for the future flourishing of people and nature in the face of climate emergency and global ecosystemic crisis. Although our predicament is now dire and damage is already occurring on a terrible scale, there is great comfort and purpose to be found in the knowledge that if humanity acts with sufficient haste and will, we are in possession of all the scientific understanding and technical and policy solutions necessary to escape the trap of cascading consequences, and to secure an earth capable of nurturing life in all of its magnificent diversity. The principal impediment to achieving all that remains possible is not technical but political: the persistence of the Fossil Fuel Order, which, in the substance of its operations and object, is intent on civilisational and ecological annihilation. The empire of the dead stands in the way of the yearnings and aspirations of the living; all hope lies in a new alignment. The clean-energy rebellion is rising, but there is not a moment to lose.

Note: The author wishes to thank Kate Smolski, Nic Seton and the numerous other colleagues who contributed to this understanding over time.

1  M. Kean, ‘Statement on net zero emissions and clean economy board’, NSW Liberal Party, 6 April 2021, available at: https://nsw.liberal.org.au/Shared-Content/News/2021/STATEMENT-ON-NET-ZERO-EMISSIONS-AND-CLEAN-ECONOMY; D. Kozaki, ‘Malcolm Turnbull dumped from role on NSW government clean energy board after “media backlash”’, ABC News, 6 April 2021, available at: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-04-06/malcolm-turnbull-dropped-as-chair-of-climate-change-board/100050254

2 NSW National Party, ‘NSW Nationals announce David Layzell as candidate for Upper Hunter’, 7 April 2021, available at https://www.nswnationals.org.au/nsw-nationals-announce-david-layzell-as-candidate-for-upper-hunter/; A. Raper and K. Nguyen, ‘NSW Nationals choose David Layzell for Upper Hunter by-election’, ABC News, 8 April 2021, available at: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-04-08/nsw-nationals-choose-david-layzell-for-upper-hunter-by-election/100054872

3 Australian Climate Change Authority, ‘Climate Change Authority thanks departing members, welcomes new members’, 9 April 2021, available at: https://www.climatechangeauthority.gov.au/news/climate-change-authority-thanks-departing-members-welcomes-new-members; J. Stephens, ‘The government has appointed a former energy executive to lead the Climate Change Authority’, SBS News, 9 April 2021, available at: https://www.sbs.com.au/news/the-government-has-appointed-a-former-energy-executive-to-lead-the-climate-change-authority

4 Royal Dutch Shell Plc., Powering Progress: Annual Report and Accounts 2020, 2021, available at: https://reports.shell.com/annual-report/2020/servicepages/downloads/files/shell-annual-report-2020.pdf; P. Milne, ‘Shell predicts free gas forever for Gorgon and Prelude LNG’, Boiling Cold, 30 March 2021, available at: https://www.boilingcold.com.au/shell-predicts-free-gas-forever-for-gorgon-and-prelude-lng/

5 M. Brissenden, A. Donaldson, and L. Day, ‘Government accused of pressuring experts who questioned its gas-fired recovery plan’, ABC Four Corners, 12 April 2021, available at: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-04-12/four-corners-gas-plan-pressured-experts/100055730

6 K. Joshi, ‘The perfect backdrop for NSW’s big ugly coal problem’, Renew Economy, 8 April 2021, available at: https://reneweconomy.com.au/the-perfect-backdrop-for-nsws-big-ugly-coal-problem/

7 J. Hewson, W. Steffen, L. Hughes, and M. Meinshausen, Australia’s Paris Agreement Pathways: Updating the Climate Change Authority’s 2014 Emissions Reduction Targets,Melbourne: The University of Melbourne Climate Energy College, January 2021, available at: https://www.climatecollege.unimelb.edu.au/australias-paris-agreement-pathways

8 C. Butler, A. Denis-Ryan, R. Kelly, and T. Yankos, Decarbonisation Futures: Solutions, Actions and Benchmarks for a Net Zero Emissions Australia,Climate Works Australia, April 2020, available at: https://www.climateworksaustralia.org/resource/decarbonisation-futures-solutions-actions-and-benchmarks-for-a-net-zero-emissions-australia/

9 R. M. Colvin and F. Jotzo, ‘Australian voters’ attitudes to climate action and their social-political determinants’, PLoS One, 16(3), 24 March 2021, available at: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0248268

10 R. Garnaut, Superpower: Australia’s low-carbon opportunity, Melbourne: La Trobe University Press, 2019.

11 F. Perera, ‘Pollution from Fossil-Fuel Combustion is the Leading Environmental Threat to Global Pediatric Health and Equity: Solutions Exist’, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health,15(1):16, January 2018, available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5800116/

12 IPCC, Global Warming of 1.5°C: An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty, 2018, available at: https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/sites/2/2019/06/SR15_Full_Report_High_Res.pdf

13 T. P. Hughes et al., ‘Global warming transforms coral reef assemblages’, Nature, 556(7702), 2018, pp 492–6, available at: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-018-0041-2

14 Australian Academy of Science, Investigation of the Causes of Mass Fish Kills in the Menindee Region NSW over the Summer of 2018–2019, 2019, available at: https://www.science.org.au/supporting-science/science-policy-and-sector-analysis/reports-and-publications/fish-kills-report

15 T. Wernberg, S. Bennett, R. Babcock et al., ‘Climate-driven regime shift of a temperate marine ecosystem’, Science,353(6295), 2016, pp 169–72, available at: https://science.sciencemag.org/content/353/6295/169.

16 L. Van Eeden, D. Ninmo, M. Mahony, K. Herman, G. Ehmke, J. Driessen, J. O’Connor, G.  Bino, M. Taylor and C. Dickman, Australia’s 2019–2020 Bushfires: The Wildlife Toll Interim Report, WWF Australia, 2020, available at: https://www.wwf.org.au/news/news/2020/3-billion-animals-impacted-by-australia-bushfire-crisis#gs.0idrxg; G. Hitch, ‘Bushfire royal commission looks to the past to show a troubling future’, ABC News, 7 June 2020, available at: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-06-07/coronavirus-derailed-bushfire-attention-royal-commission-so-far/12326360

17 ‘Coal “good for humanity”, Prime Minister Tony Abbott says at $3.9b Queensland mine opening’, 13 October 2014, ABC News, available at: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-10-13/coal-is-good-for-humanity-pm-tony-abbott-says/5810244

18 Video available at: https://www.theguardian.com/global/video/2017/feb/09/scott-morrison-brings-a-chunk-of-coal-into-parliament-video

19 I’ve written about this here: https://independentaustralia.net/politics/politics-display/institutional-corruption-is-keeping-the-coal-fires-burning,13220

20 The figures are from 2017: P. Griffin, The Carbon Majors Database: CDP Carbon Majors Report 2017, CDP, July 2017, available at: https://b8f65cb373b1b7b15feb-c70d8ead6ced550b4d987d7c03fcdd1d.ssl.cf3.rackcdn.com/cms/reports/documents/000/002/327/original/Carbon-Majors-Report-2017.pdf?1499691240

21 McKinsey & Company, ‘Oil & Gas’, accessed on 14 April 2021, available at: https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/oil-and-gas/how-we-help-clients

22 Herbert Smith Freehills, ‘Mining’, accessed on 14 April 2021, available at: https://www.herbertsmithfreehills.com/our-expertise/sector/mining

23 The climate movement has long held a rather romantic view of coal unions. Matto Mildenberger’s work encourages a more clear-eyed view: M. Mildenberger, Carbon Captured: How Business and Labor Control Climate Politics,Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2020. 

24 See for example: https://www.pilbaranews.com.au/news/pilbara-news/woodside-signs-fresh-aboriginal-deals-ng-b881400150z

25 National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting, ‘2019–20 published data highlights’, Australian Government: Clean Energy Regulator, 25 February 2021, available at: http://www.cleanenergyregulator.gov.au/NGER/National%20greenhouse%20and%20energy%20reporting%20data/Data-highlights/2019-20-published-data-highlights

26 AGL, ‘AGL’s corporate sponsorships’, accessed on 14 April 2021, available at: https://www.agl.com.au/about-agl/who-we-are/corporate-sponsorship

27 N. Fraser, ‘Climates of Capital’, New Left Review, January/February: issue 127, 2021, available at: https://newleftreview.org/issues/ii127/articles/nancy-fraser-climates-of-capital

28 AGL, ‘AGL’s corporate sponsorships’, and AGL, ‘Diversity & Inclusion’, The Hub, accessed on 14 April 2021, available at: https://thehub.agl.com.au/categories/people/diversity-and-inclusion

29 Examples include: R. Manne, ‘Bad news: Murdoch’s Australian and the shaping of the nation’, Quarterly Essay, issue 43, 2011; B. Keane, ‘News Corp is trying to dictate a broken climate debate’, Crikey, 17 January 2020, available at: https://www.crikey.com.au/2020/01/17/news-corp-climate-debate/;  E. Watkins, ‘A snapshot of News Corp’s loudest climate change denialists’, Crikey, 14 March 2019, available at: https://www.crikey.com.au/2019/03/14/climate-change-news-corp-deniers/; Greenpeace Australia Pacific, Dirty Power: Big Coal’s Network of Influence over the Coalition Government 2019, available at: https://act.greenpeace.org.au/dirtypower; C. Knaus, ‘News Corp employee lashes climate “misinformation” in bushfire coverage with blistering email’, The Guardian, 10 January 2020, available at: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2020/jan/10/news-corp-employee-climate-misinformation-bushfire-coverage-email

30 Greenpeace Australia Pacific, Dirty Power: Burnt Country, 2020,available at: https://www.greenpeace.org.au/wp/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Dirty-Power-Burnt-Country_Report_FINAL.pdf; K. Nguyen, T. Brunero, S. Thomas, D. Keane and N. Mills, ‘The truth about Australia’s fires – arsonists aren’t responsible for many this season’, ABC News, 11 January 2020, available at: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-01-11/australias-fires-reveal-arson-not-a-major-cause/11855022

31 The Centre for Public Integrity, Money in Politics: A Flood of Political Donations, January 2021, available at: https://publicintegrity.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Money-in-politics-a-flood-of-political-donations.pdf

32 D. Coady, I. Parry, L. Nghia-Piotr, S. Baoping, ‘Global Fossil Fuel Subsidies Remain Large: An Update Based on Country-Level Estimates’, International Monetary Fund: Working Paper No. 19/89,May 2019, available at: https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/WP/Issues/2019/05/02/Global-Fossil-Fuel-Subsidies-Remain-Large-An-Update-Based-on-Country-Level-Estimates-46509

33 M. Wilkinson, The Carbon Club, Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 2020; N. Oreskes and E. Conway, Merchants of Doubt,New York, NY: Bloomsbury Press, 2011; C. Hamilton, Scorcher: The Dirty Politics of Climate Change,Melbourne: Black Inc. Agenda, 2007; G. Pearse, High & Dry: John Howard, Climate Change and the Selling of Australia’s Future,Melbourne: Penguin Group, 2007. 

34 This is a theme found across all of Mann’s climate advocacy and writing; for example, M. Mann, ‘Lifestyle changes aren’t enough to save the planet. Here’s what could’, Time Magazine, 12 September 2019, available at: https://time.com/5669071/lifestyle-changes-climate-change/.

35 M. Mann, The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back our Planet, Melbourne:Scribe Publications, 2021. 

36 Climate Emergency Declaration and Mobilisation in Action, ‘Global Council and Government CEDs’, April 2021, available at: https://www.cedamia.org/global/

37 L. Sales, ‘Australia’s first carbon neutral kinder’, ABC: 7:30,28 October 2019, available at: https://www.abc.net.au/7.30/australias-first-carbon-neutral-kindergarten/11647840

38 UNSW, ‘UNSW flicks the switch on 100% renewable electricity’, Inside UNSW, 23 February 2021, available at: https://www.inside.unsw.edu.au/innovation-and-engagement/unsw-flicks-the-switch-on-100-renewable-electricity.

39 The University of Sydney, ‘University of Sydney commits to climate action, sustainability’, USYD News, 26 August 2020, available at: https://www.sydney.edu.au/news-opinion/news/2020/08/26/university-of-sydney-commits-to-climate-action-sustainability.html

40 D. Tutu, ‘We need an apartheid-style boycott to save the planet’, The Guardian, 11 April 2014, available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/apr/10/divest-fossil-fuels-climate-change-keystone-xl

41 For example, R. Kerber, ‘Investors BlackRock, Vanguard join net zero effort’, Reuters, 29 March 2021, available at: https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/investors-blackrock-vanguard-join-net-040631920.html

42 Comms Declare, ‘Declare Now’, 2021, available at: https://commsdeclare.org/declare/

43 Wangan & Jagalingou Family Council, ‘Stop Adani destroying our land and culture’, Our Fight, available at: https://wanganjagalingou.com.au/our-fight/

44 A. Carey, ‘Wyong Hospital rejects donation from coal company due to “public sentiment”, health concerns’, news.com.au, 31 January 2020, available at: https://www.news.com.au/finance/business/mining/wyong-hospital-rejects-donation-from-coal-company-due-to-public-sentiment-health-concerns/news-story/0abddae5a6ec537ce69d5def8c14d133

45 M. Waterson, ‘Guardian to ban advertising from fossil fuel firms’, The Guardian, 29 January 2020, available at: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2020/jan/29/guardian-to-ban-advertising-from-fossil-fuel-firms-climate-crisis

Fracking on Trial in the Northern Territory

Lauren Mellor, 19 Nov 2020

As carbon dioxide in our atmosphere pushes 410 parts per million, fuelling a dangerous climate emergency, the world simply cannot afford to let the Northern Territory become the fossil-fuel industry’s next fracking frontier.

About the author

David Ritter

David Ritter is the CEO of Greenpeace Australia Pacific. David’s most recent book is The Coal Truth: The Fight to Stop Adani, Defeat the Big Polluters and Reclaim our Democracy. David also holds affiliations with the University of Western Australia and the University of Sydney. Before joining Greenpeace, David was one of Australia’s leading Indigenous land rights lawyers.

Twitter: David_Ritter; Instagram: davidrittergpap; https://www.greenpeace.org.au

More articles by David Ritter

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Comments

This is a very compelling essay David; the vertical integration of big coal into other sectors of industry and society; and the extension of its lobbying tentacles into our mainstream political parties is truly frightening. But international scrutiny and emerging political and economic pressures seem to be escalating, maybe supranationalism has an upside? Might I recommend David’s chat with Phillip Adams on LNL on Wednesday 17 June 2021 https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/latenightlive/the-fossil-fuel-order/13391386 as an exemplar of how to make a powerful argument about a critically important policy issue in a short time! Thank you David and Greenpeace.

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