by Thomas Klikauer & Meg Young

coal plant

Unlike rather known concept of “climate” justice, the idea of “carbon” justice is so advanced that it does not even have a Wikipedia entry, yet. One of the countries that might serve as a near perfect example for carbon justice is Australia. With its massive coal export, Australia is one of, or perhaps, “the” worst country polluting our world. Its coal export contributes substantially to global warming. Unmatched by others, Australia is poisoning our environment, not so much at home, but abroad.

If one would combine emissions from Australia’s exports with its local emissions, Australia contributes a colossal 3% to 4% to the world’s entire emissions. With a population less than the city of Shanghai (26.4 million), Australia (25.69 million) remains the world’s 6th largest emitter behind super-polluters like the USA, China, India, Russia and Japan.

Globally, 76% of all emission are from fossil fuels to which corporations operating in Australia make a sizable contribution. Some of these corporations are what the philosopher Jeremy Moss calls carbon majors: BHP, Glencore, Yancoal, Peadbody, AngloAmerican, Chevron, Whitehaven, Woodside, ExxonMobil, and Santos. Combining their emissions results in them being the world’s 8th biggest contributors to global warming.

This alone challenges the idea of an Anthropocene in favor of Capitalocene, as a handful of capitalism’s major corporations alone have the power to change our climate. Beyond that, around 63% of all global emissions over capitalism’s main period –1854 to 2010 – are traceable to the activities of just 90 global corporations. Capitalism has been creating global warming since many decades.

Yet, inside Australia, these carbon-intense corporations lobby Australia’s (mostly) neoliberal government. In this, they are kindly assisted by Australia’s corporate media (e.g. Murdochracy) winning election after election. In terms of propaganda, the triangle of ecocide – (1) mining corporations and corporate lobbying, (2) corporate media, and (3) Australia’s Liberal Party – largely define Australia’s debate on global warming.

They engineer PR slogans like, “we export coal we do not burn it, it is not our problem.” Hidden behind tabloid-slogans remains a dark fact. Just as tobacco corporations selling cigarettes to children, it is not their problem when children die of cancer.

Of course, Australia’s neoliberal Prime Minister (an ex-marketing manager) – commonly known as Scomo – likes to carry coal into parliament to show how harmless coals are. He also likes to fly to Glasgow’s blah-blah-blah Greenwash festival where he spoke to an empty room.

Unlike many Australians, the world has realized that Scott Morrison’s climate change policies are pure propaganda designed for his audience back home, which remains shielded from much of international news through Murdoch’s near-monopoly media apparatus owning 70% of print media, and up to 100% in Queensland. Only North Korea has a higher monopoly. Thankfully, Australia is called a democracy while North Korea is called a dictatorship.

Meanwhile, the tripod of corporate media, neoliberal politicians, and carbon majors (multi-national corporations) assures that most Australians are kept ignorant to ideas such as carbon justice. Key principles of carbon justice are concepts such as historical responsibilitypolluter paysinherited debt, and Utilitarianism’s no harm principle. Virtually all of these rely on a connection between contributing to a global harm (e.g. global warming), and being liablefor the consequences these corporations and countries (guided by neoliberal governments) have caused. Someone will have to pay for all this, eventually.

Key to carbon justice is an acute awareness that climate change is a truly global problem. As a consequence, solutions also need to be global. This means that major emitter like mining corporations and countries that enable these corporations to pollute, can no longer claim, we just export coal – not our problem.

Worse, the disproportionally large contributions of these corporations to global warming assure that a global response can no longer be to simply focus on delivering benefits to mining corporations and a handful of countries that allow their business to flourish to the detriment of humanity.

One of the most serious problems in all that is the allocation of benefits (corporate profits) and burdens (the public and the environment) during an impending transition away from fossil fuels. In many countries, this has started several years ago. This transition might result in the potential bankruptcy of mining companies. It also creates what is known as stranded assets – oilfields and coal mines becoming worthless. Beyond all that, there is likely to be a loss in royalty revenues.

All this indicates that corporations might quickly vanish or that neoliberal governments will shield them from liability under the ideology of de-regulation, i.e. pro-business regulation. In short, the public might be left with un-rehabilitated mines, vast geographical areas that look worse than the dark side of the moon, and with potentially debilitating impacts on entire regions and local communities.

Set against this is the idea of fault-based justice which means that companies and corporations that are at fault are liable to repair the harm they have done. But before that, there needs to be an awareness on what coal corporations and other polluters do is harmful.

The business of coal corporations has to be a contribution – or at least a very likely contribution – to environmental harm. Creating greenhouse gas emissions obviously contributes to global warming. It does so independently of, where the coal is burned or dug up. And, so is the supply of coal extracting equipment, materials, tools, finances, etc. making dangerous emissions possible.

In a wider understanding, this will – or better “will have to” – include corporate lobbying as well as the neoliberal policy outcomes enabling mining corporations to be harmful to nature and its final consequence: threatening the very existence of humanity. Carbon justice sees to prevent this from happening.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change or UNFCCC which has 197 countries as signatories, calls this a Scope 3 Justice in its Corporate Value Chain (Scope 3) Accounting and Reporting Standard. All this sounds very technical and complicated. Yet, it boils down to the fact that:

Scope 1+2: emissions are polluting discharges produced within a country’s borders from things such as, for example, mining, transport, power generation, agriculture, etc.

Scope 3: are emissions produced outside a country’s borders. These emissions result, for example, from products that are exported, such as, for example, coal.

In short, the concept of carbon justice not only includes harmful emissions made “inside” a country but also those created “outside” of a country when polluting products of a country – used elsewhere – are still harmful to the environment.

In other words, a cigarette produced by a tobacco corporation in country “A” and sold to children in country “B” is still harmful and causes cancer. A tobacco corporation in country “A” remains liable for the cancer it causes in children in country “B”. The neoliberal excuse that “cancer-causing tobacco is just an externality” does not bite, not legally, and not morally. It never has and never will be.

Here is how it works in the case of global warming: when a mining corporation digs up coal and sells it, these are scope 1+2 emissions (domestic). It is produced by extracting coal (e.g. dynamiting, running mine trucks, machinery, miles of conveyor-belts, etc.). Its scope 2 emissions come from products and goods (electricity to power the site), but also services (banking, corporate finance, insurance, etc.) that enable harmful mining operations. These are all responsible for the environmental harm they have created.

Scope 3 emissions are not only the responsibility of those countries and companies that use coal. They are also the responsibility of those producing coal. In short, burning coal elsewhere does not diminish the responsibility of those corporations that have contributed to carbon emission by producing coal in the first place. This is carbon justice.

To make sure that people do not become aware of the global environmental vandalism, the aforementioned tripod – 1. Neoliberal governments, 2. Corporate media, and 3. Corporations and their corporate lobbying – work very hard.

One of the top corporate lobbyists in all this is the Koch family who, incidentally, have very significant fossil fuel interests. The Koch brothers have spent over $127 million during 1997–2017 in lobbying for their cause: unhindered capitalism, neoliberal deregulation, and profit-making.

The Koch Machine support groups such as the non-scientific but highly neoliberal-free-market Ayn Rand Institutewhich is devoted to attacking climate science. The $127 million over ten years is a whopping $12.7 million per year – every year. It comes from just the one family – the Kochs!

By contrast, the entire budget of the United Nations’ The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or IPCC for 2018 was a meagre 7.7 million. In other words, just one family spends 1.7-times more money on destroying science than the IPCC can muster. No wonder we face the Uninhabitable Earth.

Back in the world’s largest coal-producing country, its very own corporate lobbying group – the Minerals Council of Australia – had spent A$22 million to defeat the Rudd government because it had dared to introduce a modest mining tax on corporate super-profits – the Minerals Resource Rent Tax.

It paid off handsomely. The incoming neoliberal government abolished the tax. This system is called democracy. Some call it, Media Capitalism. Noam Chomsky called it, The Spectacular Success of Propaganda.

Of course, much of the anti-global warming propaganda is dedicated to disconnect global warming from, for example, bushfires even though global warming has led to an 800% increase in bushfires. There is a more or less direct link between:

+ mining corporations and their corporate lobbying; and

+ supportive corporate media broadcasting anti-environmental propaganda; and

+ winning elections and the resulting neoliberal government that support mining corporations.

This triangle (1-2-3) of environmental annihilation assures that in Australia’s 2019/2020 bushfires, 1.5 billion animals were killed and 5,900 homes were destroyed. The estimated cost of all that was A$100 million. Yet, neoliberal governments work hard to eliminate the “coal / global warming” link. The calculation of mining corporations and neoliberal governments is that this would assure that the contribution model of carbon justice is delayed as long as possible. For obvious reasons, neoliberalism-loved “user pay” model is not applied here. Those who use coal to make profits are excused.

To fight such neoliberal hallucinations, the carbon justice model says that if companies and corporations contribute to harm climate change by knowingly impacting in a manner that could be avoided, then these corporations are liable for the harm and damages they have caused. To avoid any awareness of this, there is a relentless attack of neoliberal governments on climate science, scientists, and scientific institutions.

One of Australia’s prime apostle of neoliberalism is ex-PM Malcolm Turnbull who said in 2015,  “if Australia stopped exporting coal, the country to which we export would buy it from somewhere else.” A masterpiece of propaganda. It is a bit like saying, I will rob a bank because if I do not do it, someone else will.

Beyond that, carbon justice places mining corporations that have dug up coal in Australia and Australia’s government at the centre because that coal was mined in Australia, and not somewhere else. Cranking up the Liberal Party’s pro-coal propaganda, Turnbull’s very own predecessor – Tony Abbott – once said, coal is good for humanity.

Why do these neoliberal politicians say all that? Well, coal corporations have deep pockets. They finance elections. After all, in 2018–19, the value of exported coal and gas was A$120bn – very serious money.

Yet, the propaganda of saving jobs in the mining industry remains a mirage. The Australian Bureau of Statistics notes for 2020 that the coal industry employs about 39,000 people – a microscopic number given Australia’s 12.5 million workers. In other words, just 1-in-321 workers is employed by the coal industry – the other 320 workers are not employed by the coal industry.

Worse, mining corporations pay next to no taxes. Interestingly, in the financial year 2016 to 2017, the ExxonMobil Corporation paid no tax on its revenue of AU$8.3 billion. The Woodside Corporation also paid no tax on its A$6.5 billion in revenue.

Instead of paying taxes – like workers – mining corporations as a whole receive substantial subsidies from Australia’s neoliberal government – unlike workers. Since there are no exact numbers (for a good reason!), most estimates of tax subsidies range between $12 billion to $29 billion per year for Australia’s fossil fuel sector.

Yet, mining corporations do pay royalties on the coal, oil, and gas they extract. Royalties are not taxes. Royalties are monies paid to state governments for publicly- (or more correctly: Aboriginal) owned resources, such as coal. In one of Australia’s key resource states –Queensland– this state’s government receives a meagre 7% of the state’s budget from coal royalties – inconsequential. Among those who pay peanuts in taxes is coal giant BHP.

In terms of carbon justice, this means the following: if BHP were a country, its global warming enhancing mining emissions from its products (coal, gas, etc.) is larger than the combined domestic emissions of 25 million Australians. Yet, BHP is only “one” corporation making huge profits, paying no taxes, receiving taxpayers’ subsidies, employing next to no people, and working tirelessly to accelerate global warming.

So, what does all this mean? A 2020 report by an evil-anarchist organisation called Deloitte notes that, if unchecked, global warming could result in shrinking Australia’s GDP by A$3.4 trillion – trillion, not billion, and not million! – by 2070, with 880,000 jobs lost.

880,000 jobs is 22 times as many as currently employed in Australia’s coal industry. In other words, job losses because of global warming will outstrip coal jobs by a whopping 22-times. And this comes on top of environmental devastationin Australia and globally.

Another report commissioned by Australia’s very own oil industry lobbying body – the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association – found that the costs of decommissioning Australia’s 65 offshore oil platforms could reach $60 billion over the next thirty years. This figure does not include onshore gas, Australia’s huge coal mines and export terminals.

$60bn is a huge sum. In numbers, it looks like this: 60,000,000,000. The average house price in Australia is: $994,579. In other words, for the money decommissioning offshore oil rigs, 60,327 people could buy a house in Australia – a huge sum.

To finish up with big numbers, Australia’s fossil fuel industry employs just 0.19% of all workers but rakes in a whopping $350 billion (in 2016/17). No wonder, Australia’s prime corporate lobbyist – The Minerals Council – notes that Australia’s stable political (read: we can win elections) and legal systems (read: resulting in favourable laws), our proximity to markets and the cost of Australia’s fossil fuel resources (read: we pay peanuts in royalties and taxes) are all significant factors driving demand (read: we make money while hopefully off-loading the environmental damage onto the taxpayer).

In Carbon Justice, the philosopher Jeremy Moss suggests, “it is time to face the scandal of Australia’s true contribution to climate change.” In reality, the triangle of environmental death – (1) corporations and corporate lobbying, (2) supportive corporate media propagating supportive propaganda, and (3) frequently elected neoliberal governments – will assure that this is not going to happen.

Instead of merely facing a scandal, we face a stark choice of “socialism or barbarity” as Rosa Luxemburg once said. Between the 100 years of her murder and today, barbarity has mutated into the annihilation of planet earth – our common home. During the same 100 years, socialism has become what Hans A. Baer recently called democratic eco-socialism – pretty much the only chance we have if we want to survive.

Thomas Klikauer (MAs, Boston and Bremen University and PhD Warwick University, UK) teaches MBAs and supervises PhDs at the Sydney Graduate School of Management, Western Sydney University, Australia. He has over 700 publications and writes regularly for BraveNewEurope (Western Europe), the Barricades (Eastern Europe), Buzzflash (USA), Counterpunch (USA), Countercurrents (India), Tikkun (USA), and ZNet (USA). His next book is on Media Capitalism (Palgrave).

Meg Young (GCA and GCPA, University of New England at Armidale) is a Sydney Financial Accountant & HR Manager who likes good literature and proof reading.

Originally published in CounterPunch


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