Friday, 30 October 2015

What if we were talking about cocaine, rather than coal?

Australian prime minister Malcolm seems-like-Jesus-after-the-last-guy Turnbull has just decided to keep shipping coal, and ignore suggestions to stop digging any new mines. (World's largest coal exporter) Australia takes over 400 million tonnes of coal out of the ground each year, exporting over 300 billion tonnes and earning AS$37 billion last year.  

Let's pretend this was the president of Columbia talking about cocaine and re-analyse his arguments. 

You may think it's flippant to compare coal to cocaine but there are a few important similarities. First, they are both addictive. Coal creates dependencies. Once you build those power stations, you need to feed the habit. You can try putting other stuff in there instead, but it just doesn't give the same kick. Switch it off, and all those connections down stream will hit serious lows, and you'll get cravings and yearnings. Actually this is sounding more like heroin. 

Second, coal, like cocaine, will increase your productivity. It will give you extra power.

Third, coal, like cocaine, is a highly profitable item that can only be produced in certain parts of the world.

So let's translate a few of Turnbull's arguments and see how they sound. Words with an asterisk have been change.


"If *Columbia stopped exporting *cocaine, the countries to which we export it would buy it from somewhere else ... there is absolutely quite a lot of *cocaine around ... so if *Columbia were to stop all of its *cocaine exports it would not reduce *drug use one iota. In fact, arguably it would increase ... because our *cocaine, by and large, is cleaner than the *cocaine in many other countries."

He points out: "*Cocaine is a very important part...the largest single part of the global *drug mix and likely to remain that way for a very long time. "

He also uses the moral argument, which basically goes along the lines that we have been using *cocaine, it has helped us get where we are, so it would be unfair to deprive the rest of the world. As his predecessor said, *cocaine is "good for humanity".

"You have to remember that *drug poverty is one of the big limits on global development in terms of achieving all of the development goals, alleviating hunger and promoting prosperity right around the world – *drugs are an absolute critical ingredient. So *cocaine will play a big part in that."

He goes on that it's "important to take the ideology out - just approach it in a very clear-eyed, cool-headed, rational way".

*Farmers, *cartel bosses and other people involved in the *cocaine industry are applauding his decision.

Reading what he says, I don't think Turnbull even really believes this. He's just being pressured by people in the right wing of his party, and the billions of dollars income from exports. 

He'd much rather see people just surviving on sunlight. And I'm sure people in Australia would be able to help show them how to do that!


Read more
in the Guardian

Cocaine is not actually the same as coal in a couple of crucial ways:
1. Cocaine comes from plants, and is therefore a renewable source. Exporting a lump of cocaine this year does not stop you from exporting it next year.
2. Using cocaine has impacts on the users, but these are mostly confined to the user, and perhaps those in the immediate vicinity. As well as producing local pollution, coal leads to global warming, so has global consequences. You can safely export cocaine, and if you're not doing any of it yourself, there will be few ill effects. Coal, on the other hand, will affect your climate, wherever in the world it is burnt, and if you export it, people will burn it. I mean, they're not using it for rock gardens, are they!
3. It's difficult to get precise figures, but Columbia probably earns around US$4 billion from cocaine exports. Around a tenth of what Australia gets for coal. Somewhere around 200 tonnes is exported, although it's very difficult to know how much, because it seems to fall off the boat. This is less than a millionth of Australia's coal exports. Something the Australian government should seriously consider. Or start exporting whatever drugs they're taking!