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Time to end the paradox in BHP’s response to global warming

The federal election in May relegated the prospect of ambitious carbon emission targets. But there’s been no slowdown in business planning for a post-carbon future; the strongest confirmation has been the speech by Andrew Mackenzie, CEO of BHP, the world’s largest mining company.

Mackenzie said on July 23 in London, “The evidence is abundant: global warming is indisputable.” If that was not an emphatic rejection of climate change denialism his next comment was a lightning flash: “We see this period as an escalation towards a crisis.”

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With such language Mackenzie showed that heads of mining companies can’t separate themselves from what’s happening to our planetary home. And it might be that Mackenzie, with degrees in geology and chemistry, brings a scientist’s sensitivity to headlines about the melting of arctic permafrost, until now locking up an estimated 1.8 trillion tonnes of carbon, more than twice as much as currently suspended in the earth’s atmosphere. If the permafrost thaws it might release methane which Mackenzie would confirm – enlisting his PhD in organic chemistry – is 34 times as potent a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide.

But in the week that Mackenzie delivered his speech, leaked documents confirmed a coalition called COAL21 went to tender for an advertiser to mount a $4.5 million campaign to stall climate action. BHP is one of 26 corporate members in COAL21, ostensibly a body involved in researching carbon capture and storage. Now, it is funding an advertising blitz aimed at making Australians feel “proud about coal”, according to an ABC reportand is funded by a levy based on members’ coal production. The implicit message: keep incinerating carbon because it’s the Australian way.

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