One of the big stories in politics and public policy last week was a plan by peak environment groups to approach Wotif founder Graeme Wood for $6 million to fund campaigning against coal mining and coal seam gas, primarily to be conducted through legal action.

There are two ways of looking at this.

The first, which the mainstream media ran with heavily, seeks to talk up conflict – Greenies versus Development. The subtext is usually jobs, which unions like the AWU were happy to write.

The second, and more interesting angle, is what this move says about the politics of the environment, of the land, and of the future.

Legislation and regulation are often blunt instruments for reconciling interests which are in conflict. We’ve covered some of the complexities of finding a pathway through the bush in research articles during Coal Seam Gas: Behind the Seams.

But there’s also a disparity in power – for farmers, Indigenous people and communities to assert the legal rights they do have is to enter an unequal contest with government and corporations. Funding barristers and legal actions doesn’t come cheap.

So, to some degree, much of the law and the legal framework remains untested, with sections of relevant acts not subjected to jurisprudential interpretation, because the law remains an instrument only those with the resources can play.

The controversy about fugitive emissions and coal seam gas – and whether CSG is a transitional or a high-emissions industry (about which we will have more to say) – also has a role in this politico-legal drama.

The logic of carbon pricing is to shift capital towards renewables and sustainable energy. What the environment groups are doing is designed to give that logic a push.

This will be a fascinating drama. It’s best appreciated through understanding what really is at stake – a seismic shift in politics towards a politics of community and energy and land use. How the last act will be written, time will tell. But the first one is being written as we speak.

That it’s not simply about Australia, but about the world, is signalled by the coincidence of the presence of UNESCO personnel researching the impact of energy exports on the Great Barrier Reef. There’s so much to play for here.

Dr Mark Bahnisch
FAQ Research.

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