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Christians arrested at coal protest call on Church to recognise climate impact

Protest: Faith in Climate Action protesters staged an anti-coal protest in Brisbane on November 13. Photo: Malcolm Paterson

POLICE made three arrests as the group Faith in Climate Action staged an anti-coal protest in Brisbane on November 13.

Protesters kneeled and prayed outside the office headquarters of Aurizon – Australia’s largest rail freight operator – concerned at the company’s mammoth coal-hauling operations.

“I’m here today because I can’t sit back while the future of my little boy is at risk” Erin Kennedy, a Catholic, artist, teacher and mother from Logan, said.

Faith in Climate Action called on Aurizon management to be transparent about the climate change-causing emissions from the thermal coal they haul as a major part of their multi-million-dollar business.

Aurizon has the largest coal haulage rail fleet – 300 locomotives and 8500 coal wagons – carrying coal from basins in Queensland and New South Wales bound for export to global markets including India, China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

The company transports about 200 million tonnes of coal a year – about half of Australia’s total coal exports.

Mark Delaney, a 53-year-old Christian protester, said Aurizon acknowledged the coal it hauled contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, but did not take responsibility for it.

“A recent company report ‘Climate Strategy & Action Plan’ focuses almost entirely on its one million tonnes of emissions directly connected with its own operations such as running its locomotives (known as Scope 1 and 2 emissions),” Mr Delaney said.

“However, the report is virtually silent on the 250 million tonnes of emissions released when the thermal coal they haul is ultimately burnt (known as Scope 3 emissions).

“It’s a bit like having a tobacco factory with a ‘no smoking at work’ policy, or a weapons factory with a ‘no bullying at work’ rule.”

“We’ve had talks with Aurizon management, and while they acknowledge the emissions, they say they are not legally required to report on Scope 3 emissions, so won’t do so.

“Other companies like BHP, are doing this already so why can’t Aurizon?”

Mr Delaney and two others – Jason MacLeod and Franz Dowling – were arrested and taken into custody charged with disobeying a police directive and later released on bail.

“Our gripe is with Aurizon only,” Mr Mac-Leod, a Quaker from Inala, said as the group blocked Aurizon activities but allowed employees from other companies in the same building to go to work as usual.

“We don’t want to inconvenience other workers, just make our point to Aurizon.”

Mr Delaney said he did not like confrontation, but had lived and worked with the poor in India for almost 20 years and seen first-hand the impacts of climate change on the poor.

“I realise that, as a privileged person of faith, I have a responsibility to use my privilege to try to limit the climate change-induced suffering of the poor around the world,” he said.

“They are already facing unbearable temperatures, sea-level rise and more difficult farming conditions.”

Mr Dowling, a 23-year-old disability support worker and member of the Catholic Worker community, said many Catholics resonated strongly with Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ that called for “swift and unified global action” from within the Church to face the climate crisis head on.

“With the head of the Catholic Church denouncing consumerism and the environmental destruction of our ‘common home’, it has long been time for Christians and all people of faith to come together in recognition of our obligation to the sacred Earth on which we live,” he said.

“We are calling those within the Church to step up and act before it’s too late, to put our bodies on the line and recognise the climate emergency for what it is; the biggest threat humanity may ever face.”

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