By Stephen de Tarczynski
"Our people are the only people from this country," said the young Murrawah, whose name means rainbow in the Gubbi Gubbi language. "That's what we are, it's our identity, our culture, our songs and our dances," he said in a dialogue with IPS.
The Wangan and Jagalingou people, numbering some 500, regard the Carmichael mine as a threat to their very existence, and have repeatedly rejected the advances of the Adani Mining Company.
The traditional owners argue that the mine would destroy their lands, "which means that it will destroy our history, and also us as a people and our identity," observed Murrawah, spokesman for the Family Council of his community.
Adani Mining is a subsidiary of Adani Group, the Indian multinational with operations in India, Indonesia and Australia, which operates in different sectors, from natural resources, through logistics, energy and agribusiness projects to real estate. In March, the company announced its first foray into defense.
The Carmichael project spans 40 kilometers, would have a 10-kilometer-wide mine and six open pits, as well as five underground operations, over six years.
The company is committed to transporting coal to India to meet its electricity needs. According to the International Energy Agency, 244 million people, 19 percent of the more than 1,200 million inhabitants, lack electricity in that country.
If completed, it would be the largest coal mining project in Australia, which is already a major producer and exporter of the mineral. In addition, this country would be among the largest in the world with a production of about 60 million tons of thermal coal per year, at its maximum capacity.
But in the context of heightened awareness of the effects of global warming, the Carmichael mine generated significant opposition. Since the announcement of the project, in 2010, there have been more than 10 appeals and legal proceedings against the initiative.
Greenpeace Australia activist Shani Tager has no doubt that the coal Adani wants to extract must remain underground.
Coal-fired power plants emit large amounts of carbon dioxide, one of the gases that contributes the most to heating the atmosphere, which generates the phenomenon of climate change, aggravated by human activities.
The Australian Institute concluded in a report in 2015 that Adani's project would release more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than many large cities in the world, and even some countries.
The document estimates that the 79 million tons of polluting emissions that the mine will release per year are three times more than those of New Delhi, six times more than those of Amsterdam and twice that of Tokyo. Furthermore, it would exceed Sri Lanka's annual emissions and would be similar to those of Austria and Malaysia.
However, both the Queensland and Australian state governments are in favor of the Carmichael mine. In addition, rumors spread that the central government would support the project with a loan of US $ 722 million.
In addition, the Queensland government, which anticipates rising employment, improving the economy and revenue to its own coffers from royalties, announced in October that it would grant the project 'critical infrastructure' status to speed up its approval. .
“The government is serious about starting operations at the Adani mine. We want it to happen ”, declared then the Minister of Mines, Anthony Lynham.
In early December, Adani received what the state government called "great final approval": the company's rail line to the Abbot Point port, from where the coal will depart for India.
In 2011, Adani signed a 99-year lease with the Abbot Point coal terminal, located next to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, which is the world's largest coral ecosystem and is among the most diverse and rich in the earth.
In November, scientists from James Cook University in Queensland confirmed the worst loss of coral on that reef after massive bleaching suffered earlier this year. Heat stress, derived from high temperatures, is the main cause, and the phenomenon of coral bleaching is forecast to become more frequent and more severe with global warming.
Adani plans to expand the Abbot Point terminal to ship large quantities of coal, which involves dredging the seabed off the Great Barrier Reef.
"The Carmichael coal mine will have a domino effect of negative impacts on the reef, from installing the need to expand the port and carry out more dredging and dumping to increasing the risk of accidents" on the reef, said Cherry Muddle, of the Australian Society. of Marine Conservation.
In the tourism sector, which generates some 65,000 jobs, numerous operators have also recently complained about the mine and the port expansion works.
The guarantees offered by Minister Lynham that the "200 rigorous conditions imposed in the legal processes" will protect the reef, do not convince his detractors.
"Adani has a really worrying record of environmental destruction, human rights violations, corruption and tax evasion," explained Adam Black of GetUp, a movement active on various social issues.
Accusations brought against Adani's operations in India, detailed in a 2015 report by Environmental Justice Australia, include destruction of mangroves, failure to anticipate intrusion of salt water into underground reserves, iron ore exports illegal and bribery, the use of political relationships to buy cheaper land, and obtaining illegal tax deductions.
In addition, Adani's Australian CEO Jeyakumar Janakaraj was in charge of a copper mine in Zambia owned by Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) when in 2010 he dumped dangerous pollutants into the Kafue River. The company was found guilty and had to pay the equivalent of about US $ 2,900.
Some 1,800 Zambian citizens sued KCM and the parent company, Vedanta Resources, in a London high court, accusing them of causing them health problems and destroying their farmland for 10 years starting in 2004; Janakaraj worked at KCM from 2008 to 2013.
As Adani prepares to lay the foundation stone for his project in mid-2017, critics are preparing to continue his so far successful campaign to dissuade would-be capitalists from contributing between $ 11,500 and $ 15,800.
"If they don't get the money, they won't be able to build the mine," said Murrawah Johnson.
The Wangan and Jagalingou people recently created what they called a "legal line of defense" against Adani and the Queensland government, which includes the filing of four lawsuits, in addition to their plans to take the matter to the Supreme Court, if necessary. .
For Murrawah, this struggle is about maintaining a relationship with the past and the future. "I refuse to be the broken link in that chain," he asserted.
Translated by Verónica Firme