king coal con...
Tony Abbott might be our global coal ambassador but it appears he is increasingly out of step with the rest of the world, writes Mungo MacCallum.
Last week the world-renowned American environmentalist, Bill McKibben, declared that our Prime Minister now apparently saw his principal role in international affairs as the global ambassador of coal, his only real concern being to protect Australia's own coal industry.
The immediate cause of McKibben's description was the television image of Tony Abbott being presented with an over-sized Stetson hat by some of America's biggest oil barons, to which our man responded with a somewhat embarrassed "yee ha".
Now McKibben is himself a global ambassador against coal, which he regards as the dirtiest and most polluting of all fuels, and the greatest driver of climate change: he is hardly an impartial observer. But he has a point. In Texas Abbott spruiked the need to prevent the ostracising of any particular fuel source and earlier in Canada he had warned that we should not clobber the economy in order to reduce emissions and combat climate change.
So it is clear that he sees the environment and the economy as fundamentally opposed, with the economy being paramount. The idea that both can be developed in harmony is dismissed as wishful thinking, a fanciful utopia. This approach is totally consistent with Abbott's goodies versus baddies view of the world, but it is increasingly being left behind by his more sophisticated global peers, and not just the political ones.
Last week the GetUp organisation announced triumphantly that four major financial institutions - Deutsche Bank, HSBC, Credit Agricole and now the Bank of Scotland - had withdrawn their financial support from the Abbot Point coal loader, whose construction may be detrimental to the Great Barrier Reef.
The UNESCO World Heritage Commission had warned of the dangers when giving the Australian Government a year to act or the reef would be added to the list of protected sites considered "in danger".
GetUp understandably attributed the rejections to the public campaign, which it said was now being extended to Barclay's Bank, among others; but a dispassionate observer might consider that cold-hearted economics had something to do with it as well. The world price of coal is now in decline - European prices are the lowest for five years and there is no expectation that the trend will be reversed.