Early on Monday morning, Lazy Jack and crew passed Abbot Point just north of Bowen. It was still dark at first, so we saw only bright orange lights. But as we went further north and the sun rose, we saw the terminal – a huge pile of black coal by a long jetty; offshore gigantic barges waiting to be loaded.
The Abbot Pt coal terminal is owned by the Indian corporation Adani, and is where the coal from Adani’s controversial proposed Carmichael mine in central Queensland would be exported.
As far as ports go it is small, but it represents something huge – the conflict between warnings of the consequences of continued carbon emissions on one hand, and the ongoing political and economic desire to extract and sell fossil fuels on the other.
Adani owns other, much bigger, ports in India which have also been sources of controversy. The Mundra port in Gujarat is on land effectively given to Adani by now Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Gujarat government, who also gave it special tax-exempt status. The port displaced thousands of local fisherfolk who relied on the bay for survival. His port at Dhamra in Odisha cleared 300 hectares of mangroves and turtle nesting habitat.
Much has been said about the role of the Adani mine in the recent federal election, with media claiming Queensland’s swing to the coalition should be taken as support for the mine and its supposed jobs bonanza. Since the election it has gained the explicit support of the state government too.
Every election has winners and losers beyond the opposing political parties. Gautam Adani and his company have emerged as big winners in the Australian election, as well as in India where Modi’s Bharatya Janata Party has just been re-elected.
The unseen losers, in this case, are those most affected by climate change. UN human rights special rapporteur Philip Alston last week published a study warning of a “climate apartheid scenario where the wealthy pay to escape overheating, hunger and conflict while the rest of the world is left to suffer.”
Like those fishing villages cleared out of the way for the economic progress of Adani’s Mudra port, but on a much bigger scale. Plus of course, the countless species threatened by the biodiversity effects of climate change, including the spectacular coral reefs we are sailing past on the Queensland coast.
The other unseen losers of the federal election are sitting on Manus Island. The slimmest remnants of hope being held on to there were doused with the election, and the result has been a shocking number of suicide attempts. Behrouz Bouchani reported from Manus that he had never seen spirits as low there as following the election.
Their presence on the island in the first place was the result of another election – Kevin Rudd’s capitulation to the “stop the boats” rhetoric of Tony Abbott and the Murdoch media. His unsuccessful attempt to salvage political power has led to immeasurable misery for so many people, not to mention the extraordinary amount of money spent on the detention centre that could have gone elsewhere.
This is what we call democracy in our current society – those who can afford it wage propaganda wars to try to win government power, while those on the bottom pay the price. An alternative is surely possible – a world where the rights of all people and species are taken into account before decisions that affect them are made. Where power can’t be simply bought, and vision extends beyond opinion polls and three year election cycles.
The journey to get to that point is slow, full of unexpected obstacles and involves a lot of hard work. It also includes plenty of moments of joy and beauty along the way. A lot like sailing then, which is good to remember as we travel onwards towards our destination.