Australian Prime Minister Says Coal Is ‘Good For Humanity’

CREDIT: AP/ Andy Wong

Speaking at the opening of a coal mine in Queensland on Monday, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott called for an end to the demonization of coal. “Coal is good for humanity, good for prosperity,” he said, adding that “coal is an essential part of our economic future here in Australia, and right around the world.” The new mine will produce 5.5 million tons of coal annually.

Abbott has been less than progressive on the issue of climate change, doubting the legitimacy of climate science several times, and nominating climate change deniers to key positions in his government. The Australian PM was also one of a few leaders of heavy carbon emitters who declined to attend the United Nations Climate Summit that took place in New York City in September.

“These are comments that may have been forgiven in the ’70s, before the global scientific community had learned about impact of coal on the planet,” Senior Climate Campaigner for Greenpeace Nic Clyde told Mashable. “The comments are completely out of touch with the global scientific community and Australians. There is massive support in Australia for renewable energy.”

In 2009, then-opposition leader Tony Abbott was widely criticized for saying on record that “the climate change argument is absolute crap.” His position has not evolved much since he became Prime Minister. On taking office, Abbott made the repeal of Australia’s carbon tax his “top legislative priority,” a goal which he achieved in July. Abbott has also significantly cut funding for the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, putting 190 renewable projects at risk.

Furthermore, the man Abbott chose to review Australia’s renewable energy policy, Dick Warburton, is a vehement climate change denier. Abbott’s top business adviser, Maurice Newman, is a climate conspiracy theorist. In an interview for The Australian, Newman shared his belief that the sole goal of the “the climate change establishment” is to “exploit the masses and extract more money.” He also accused the IPCC of “dishonesty and deceit.”

Abbott himself has said some pretty egregious things on the subject of climate change. In his book titled “Battlelines,” he repeatedly discredits climate science with arguments like “in Roman times, grapes were widely grown in Britain” and “in medieval times, Greenland supported agriculture.” He also wrote that cold weather in North America and Europe has made climate science “less plausible.”

“I always regarded him as sort of the resident nutter on the other side,” said former Australian PM Paul Keating in a candid interview during Abbott’s first run for the nation’s highest office. Keating went on to call Abbott an “intellectual nobody,” with “no policy ambition.”

Abbott’s denial of the reality of climate change ignores extreme climactic changes affecting Australia right now. Australia experienced its hottest year on record in 2013, with the upcoming summer set to once again break records for high temperatures. Sydney experienced its two hottest consecutive days on record three weeks ago. Australia was also victim to its worst natural disaster in history in the summer of 2009, when bushfires raged across the state of Victoria, claiming the lives of 173 people and injuring 414 others in what is now known as Black Sunday.

Joaquim is an intern at ThinkProgress.