As the planet warms from fossil fuel pollution, climate catastrophes grow. In Australia, record floods caused by unrelenting months of rain are threatening the nation’s economy, with global repercussions. Global manufacturers have been shocked by the shutdown of Queensland’s rich coal mines, with as much as 10 million tons of high-grade metallurgical coal taken off the market:
BHP, Rio, Macarthur Coal Ltd. and Anglo American Plc are among producers that have declared force majeure, a legal clause invoked by companies when they can’t meet obligations because of circumstances beyond their control. Record rainfall has spread floods across an area the size of France and Germany, forcing the evacuation of towns, closing mines and spoiling crops.
About fifty-nine percent of seaborne metallurgical coal comes from Queensland, bound for steelmakers in Japan, India, and China. The price of metallurgical coal may surge by 33 percent to $300 a ton, a price not seen since before the global recession.
“In many ways, it is a disaster of biblical proportions,” Queensland Treasurer Andrew Fraser told reporters in the flooded city of Bundaberg. “The extent of flooding being experienced by Queensland is unprecedented and requires a national and united response,” Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said. ”Australia recorded its third-wettest year on record in 2010,” and the torrential rains are “set to last another three months.”
The floods are powered by the hottest atmosphere and oceans in recorded history, which have been warmed by the very coal extracted from Australia’s mines. Although these rains are devastating on a national scale and have global repercussions, the shutdown of Queensland mines for a few months — and the 29 million tons of carbon dioxide that won’t be released — is only one one-thousandth of the 29 billions tons of carbon dioxide pollution produced globally each year.