Overheating in the Queensland coalfields
Researcher: Thomas Hylland Eriksen, Principal Investigator
Australia is the world's fourth largest producer of coal, and more than half of the coal mined is exported, mostly to China and Japan. Some of the largest coal ports in the world are located in eastern Australia.
While coal generates wealth and employment, it is also the cause of numerous local conflicts and dilemmas. It is no coincidence that the concept of solastalgia, referring to the existential distress caused by dramatic changes in the physical surroundings, was coined in a study of the local responses to coal mining in the Hunter Valley in New South Wales.
This project will be based in Gladstone, a major coal port in Queensland, but it has a regional scope and aims to follow the coal from the mines to the port and beyond, ultimately placing the Australian mining industry in the context of neoliberal global capitalism.
Many conflicting interests are involved around the coal industry. Government, both state and federal, is generally positive to mining, but has recently proven sensitive to environmental concerns. In August 2013, a plan to dredge a section of the Great Barrier Reef to make way for the world's largest coal port at Abbot Point in central Queensland, was postponed following pressure from environmentalist groups.
Aboriginal organisations, who represent traditional owners in mining areas, are involved in negotiations with mining companies, and are often highly critical of what they see as the destruction of the landscape. There is also criticism coming from the tourist sector, seeing mining and its side-effects (such as waste ending up in the sea) as detrimental to their interests. Conflicts over mining operations also involve farmers and other locals.
The project explores these local conflicts and tensions and links them to a fundamental dilemma, or double-bind, of contemporary civilization, namely the opposition between ecological sustainability and economic growth.