That some guy in an Australian mine has somehow managed to run over his own truck, in another truck that kinda deserves a different name entirely (I mean… who builds these things anyway, and how would you even get it to the mine in the first place?)… seems a fitting analogy of Australia’s economic muscle, and also what it might have inadvertently done to itself.
In about 2003, China (mostly) upped its expansion so rapidly that certain mineral resources required (iron ore, coal etc.) rose in value by up to 500 percent. Not far south of there, Australia said, ‘Hang on, we’ve got a shitload of that stuff…’, and digging it up as fast as possible became the new national obsession. The mining boom changed the face of Australia, not just in the sense that it was pocked with impressively large holes.
The already wealthy land down under, known colloqially as The Lucky Country, got wealthier. There were stories of doctors and other professionals quitting their jobs to drive trucks in the mines. It paid more. Eventually the Australian dollar climbed to a ludicrous (for me, as an Australian abroad) US$1.10. Housing prices skyrocketed, but everyone was making money. Everyone was happy because, you know, everything lasts forever.
A bit has changed. The boom is over. The boom towns have died. The Australian dollar is currently worth $0.67. Home prices have dropped. People are falling into default while household debt is nudging the world’s highest.
Still, by all the usual metrics Australia remains one of the richest nations on Earth, but here on this new and scary planet the dialogue is changing. The submerging nations of the South Pacific are enraged at Australia’s political views on the global climate crisis, with the Fijian Prime Minister recently calling Australia’s Prime Minister “…insulting and condescending” (among other things).
Back at home, social media is (largely) similarly disgusted by the actions of Prime Minister Scott Morrison (often given the deliberately unflattering nickname ‘ScoMo’), who made international headlines just weeks ago for threatening to criminalise climate boycotts and other climate-change activism. He was talking to mining industry representatives at the time.
The party line is basically that Australia is responsible for only about one percent of the world’s carbon emissions, so it’s not a problem (Australians account for 0.3% of humans and are among the world’s highest emitters of carbon dioxide). Many Australians are infuriated by ScoMo who, while not an outright climate change denier, appears to be doing everything possible to boost the nation’s highly profitable coal mining industry.
What many might not realise, whether ScoMo believes his own rhetoric or not, exporting coal and other planet-destroying minerals is about the only thing sustaining the Australian economy. Literally and figuratively, Australia has dug itself into a hole.
With increasingly alarming headlines like, ‘Australia is Rich, Dumb and Getting Dumber’, a reminder of the true nature of the Australian economy does make for a disturbing read. A recent study out of Harvard University ranked 133 nations’ economic complexity. Australia came in at 93, between Senegal and Pakistan, and is projected to continue to decline. Basically, about 70 percent of total Australian exports are minerals and energy. The rest (wool, food, alcohol etc.) are not in keeping with the innovation required to remain in the top tier of countries globally.
Apparently the current Australian Prime Minister sees no alternative but to keep selling that coal for as long as possible, and the planet can go and fuck itself.
Of course, eventually (if we’re still around) the coal will be worthless because to continue to burn it will basically ensure the end of our species. In the meantime, we Australians should probably start figuring out how to do other shit.