Hogsback and the previously untold parable of coal

HAVE you heard the story about the millionaire, the politician, and a pile of coal, because if you haven’t it’s a yarn which needs telling because it rivals any of the great parables, those sometimes fanciful stories which contain a hard core of truth.

Staff Reporter

What you’re about to read is about the modern, rich, and comfortable Western world versus the old, poor and harsh Eastern world which is desperate to uplift the living standards of people trapped in poverty, where even an electric light is a luxury and running water a dream.

And if you’re in the coal business and think such a yarn has nothing to do with you then listen carefully because it’s got everything to do with you.

Once upon a time, they’re the words which start the best parables, there was an Australian businessman who made his fortune developing a dot.com business which he sold last year for around $140 million.

His name is Graeme Wood and he was the man behind Wotif.com, a website now part of the Expedia empire.

Graeme has a well-developed social conscience and cares deeply about the environment, so deeply that it has been reported that he is helping to fund the Australian edition of a left-leaning newspaper, The Guardian, and an Aboriginal group opposed to the plans of two Indian companies wanting to develop coal mines in Queensland’s Galilee Basin

On the other side of world there’s a recently elected Prime Minister of India who sees it as his duty to lift hundreds of millions of his people out of a life of privation and suffering and he is determined to start that process by giving them electric power.

Narendra Modi is the Indian go-getter who has launched the world’s most heavily populated country on a pathway to modernisation partly because he knows it has to be done and partly because he also knows that India has fallen a country mile behind its great rival, China.

So, in order to get power to the people Modi has embarked on a three-pronged campaign of building power stations, modernising an archaic government-controlled business called Coal India, and encouraging some the country’s top businessman to go forth and find coal deposits elsewhere that can be imported to ensure a reliable supply of fuel.

Modi has his enemies and some of those are people with views similar to those held by Australians such as Graeme Wood.

So, last week the Indian PM did the opposite of the Wotif-com founder. He started to attack environmental groups opposed to his modernisation campaign.

Greenpeace is one of the targets for an Indian crackdown designed, it seems, to force the organisation out of India because of a belief that its activities (and those of other environmental groups) are costing the country up to three percentage points of growth – a loss of 0.3% from an economy growing at around 7% a year.

The primary target of the environmental campaigners is Modi’s policy of building up to 600 new coal-fired power stations across the country, roughly half of all currently-planned coal-fired power stations.

As a morality tale this epic. Graeme Wood is convinced that the Galilee coal projects of the Indian companies, Adani and GVK, must be stopped.

He told the Australian Financial Review newspaper earlier this week that he was “totally passionate” about stopping the coal mines: “because it’s an absurdity, it’s the destruction of the world as we know it, it’s about greed versus the future of the natural world”

That’s about as crystal clear as you get environmental views these days and Graeme Wood is allowed to hold them and The Hog respects that point.

However, there is a flaw in the crusade against the Galilee mines and that lies in the comment about “greed versus the future of the natural world” because people, as well as animals, fish and plants, are part of the natural world – quite an important part actually.

And that’s Modi’s point. The Indian Prime Minister is looking beyond trees and coral reefs which might (but probably will not be) threatened by increased coal shipping movements along the Queensland coast to see what his people need, and that’s economic development.

For most Australians, comfortable with their electric powered homes, their electric powered offices, electric powered factories and, in some cases, electric powered cars it’s hard to imagine life in an Indian village where houses have dirt floors and life expectancy is 20 years less than in Australia, and even 10 years less than China.

The natural world has primacy in the eyes of environmental campaigners. People come first for many others and one of those people who has signed up for a “people first” campaign is Narendra Modi and his push for a modern, coal-powered, India.

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