6 – Noah C.

Hey everyone, my name is Noah Carlson and I’m a Junior majoring in Environmental Engineering with a minor in Entrepreneurship and Innovation. I grew up in Ada, Michigan right outside of Grand Rapids. All my life I’ve known I wanted to attend MSU, I even went to my first football game here when I was only 2 weeks old. I enjoy hiking, camping, snowboarding, going to concerts and love being outdoors. I’m pursuing Environmental Engineering because I want to help preserve our natural environment and I am interested in sustainable sources of energy. After I get my bachelors degree I plan to move to Colorado for a while before getting my Masters degree. Australia sounds amazing and I’ve always wanted to travel there. I’m excited to learn about the sustainable initiatives Australia has implemented and how it compares to the U.S.. I really hope to use this experience for my future career plans, but I’m mostly excited to learn about a different culture and witness everything the land down under has to offer. I can’t wait to meet and chill with you all!

While in Australia, I researched the controversial coal mining industry. Ever since the 1700s, when the black rock was first discovered in the coastal cliffs near Sydney, coal mining has been one of the most lucrative industries in Australia. The continent is endowed with fossil fuel reserves. It possesses roughly 10% of the global black coal reserves, sufficient to continue production at the current rate for about 125 years. Australia is also the leading exporter of coal, responsible for over one-third of the world’s exported coal (“Coal giants: The world’s biggest coal producing countries,” 2014). Employing over 28,000 people and generating AUD 54.6 billion from annual exports, coal mining has notably contributed to the development of the nation (Palmer, 2018). The continent is also rich in renewable resources, including the highest average solar radiation in the world. Australia is capable of being completely reliant on renewable energy, and is moving towards that reality (Riduna, 2019). Even if the nation chooses not to depend on coal for its own energy demand, there is too much revenue being generated from exportation to abandon the industry altogether. The future of coal mining in Australia is uncertain; the impasse caused by economic benefits and environmental costs can only be solved by the decisions of the voting majority, provoking my analysis of public opinion on the industry’s fate. 

While in country, I had the opportunity to speak with family farmers, city council members, Aboriginals, entrepreneurs in the tech industry, and many other passionate individuals about how they interpret the word sustainability, especially in relation to their personal endeavors. More specifically, I was able to ask locals for their opinions on how coal mining correlates to their interpretation of the word. The comprehensive theme of the program was sustainability, which influenced the demographic we were exposed to and may have presented a bias for our understanding of the population’s opinions as a whole. Aside from speaking with local Australians, I also read newspaper articles and observed publicly displayed propaganda that related to the industry. This gave a more well-rounded view of the people’s values. An election took place during my time abroad, which also gave great insight into the priorities of the majority. Collectively, these methods enabled me to establish findings that present a better understanding of the future of coal mining within Australia.

Generations of Australian citizens have had careers working within the coal industry, and even more of the nation’s people have benefited from the business for hundreds of years. The looming question is how long the industry will remain viable in the country. There are many benefits to coal mining, but there are also many costs. During my research, I attempted to find out if these costs outweigh the benefits. What I learned, however, is not so straight forward. I talked with citizens who support fossil fuels, and I talked with others who oppose them. I learned about a solar energy farm construction company that is helping install renewable sources of energy in the country, but I also learned that the largest coal mine ever constructed in the nation, the Carmichael coal mine, was recently approved by the federal government. Climate change is real, there is sufficient information and enough studies have been conducted to prove that humans greatly impact our environment. The effects of climate change can severely disrupt human society if action is not taken soon, particularly in terms of emissions and fossil fuel usage. Action must be demanded by voting citizens and put in place by elected officials.

The recent election that took place in Australia was expected to be one that gave power to officials eager and willing to enact laws and policies that would combat climate change, but this was not the case. Instead, Scott Morrinson was reelected as Prime Minister and across the nation other coal favoring candidates were also elected. The new administration, that was voted in by the majority of Australian citizens, has vowed to continue mining projects and has supported the construction of new mines. The government has acknowledged the need to move away from coal power eventually, but does not plan to do so immediately; they are opening cleaner transitional coal power plants. Australia exports most of its coal to China, and recently the government’s relationship with China has deteriorated. This impaired relationship is affecting the market and has great potential to impact the demand for mining in Australia. Overall, I believe coal mining will continue in Australia, but slowly production will decrease due to lower demands and greater push-back. It seems that more and more people are beginning to oppose coal in Australia, it is only a matter of time before the nation reaches a tipping point and the majority of people will begin to favor environmental stewardship over short term economic gains.

Clean Energy Australia Report 2018
Figure 1: The chart compares the different forms of energy generation on a percentage basis between Australia and the total global capacity, most notably that Australia generates more energy from fossil fuels (“Australian Ethical Investment”, 2019).

Anti-mining protesters gathered in Melbourne in the wake of Carmichael project approval, 4 December 2016. POhoto: Jessica Longbottom / ABC News
Figure 2: This photograph shows Australians protesting the approval of the largest coal mine ever in the country, the Carmichael coal mine, which will be constructed relatively near the Great Barrier Reef (“Adani Group approves massive Carmichael coal mine in Australia”, 2019).


“Adani Group approves massive Carmichael coal mine in Australia.” (2017, June 15). Retrieved from https://desdemonadespair.net/2017/06/adani-group-approves-massive-carmichae.html 

Australian Ethical Investment. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.australianethical.com.au/news/australia-transition-renewables/ 

Coal giants: The world’s biggest coal producing countries. (2014, March 3). 

Guidolin, M., et al. (August 2019). Transition to sustainable energy generation in Australia: Interplay between coal, gas and renewables. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S096014811930196X 

Louvel, Y. (2019, July 2). Carmichael coal mine project. Retrieved from https://www.banktrack.org/project/carmichael_coal_mine_project#_ 

St John, A. (2013). Australian non-renewable energy resources. Retrieved from https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/BriefingBook44p/EnergyResources 

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