The idea of digging up fertile farmland for lignite coal was “100% stupidity,” an Australian farmer told a Southland meeting today.
Rob McCreath was addressing the “Keep the Coal in the Hole” summer festival in Gore. The Queenslander told the 150-strong gathering how his community group, Friends of Felton, stopped a large coalmine and petrochemical plant from going ahead on prime agricultural farmland on the Darling Downs.
He has been in Dunedin and Southland for the last few days and was struck by the beauty of the farmland in the area.
“It’s hard to imagine a more productive farming area as I’ve seen in Southland. In Australia we are peppered with New Zealand’s 100% Pure adverts. It’s disgraceful that you have a government-owned company and they’re allowing it to dig up this beautiful farmland. That’s 100% stupidity,” said McCreath.
Five years ago, coal company Ambre Energy was set on digging a 2000ha opencast mine that would produce 8 million tonnes of coal a year from the Felton Valley and building a petrochemical (coal to liquids) plant there.
Friends of Felton occupied the state premier’s office, marched to parliament, erected giant billboards along roadsides, and established a local food festival as part of their successful five-year battle against the coal miners.
Just last week Ambre Energy admitted it would no longer be pursuing its mining plans in the Felton valley.
This year’s Keep the Coal in the Hole festival was organised by the Southland Coal Action Murihiku group, and had a more local focus, with many people from the local area coming to the three-day gathering.
“We face the very same threat here with the Southland lignite proposals still in Solid Energy’s sights,” said Tim Jones of Coal Action Network Aotearoa. “We can learn from our Aussie neighbours how to work together to safeguard our food producing farmland.”
The meeting also heard the latest on climate change from science writer Gareth Renowden, who told the members of the audience that anybody under 36 years old had not experienced a year below global average temperatures. The real impacts of climate change were yet to come.
“We’re hitting the climate bell with a very big hammer and it hasn’t really begun to ring yet.”
He warned that, in a climate-changed future, coal could be deemed a liability in the future, rather than the “asset” it is seen as today.
This year’s festival has been celebrating the success of the coal action movement over the last year, where a number of new groups have sprung up around the country, with a big boost in membership.