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Dust flies over PM’s coal comments

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A group of doctors have lambasted Prime Minister Tony Abbott over his endorsement of coal as “good for humanity”.

The group, Doctors for the Environment Australia, has written to Mr Abbott to voice its strong objections to the comment, which it said ignored a mountain of evidence that burning coal to produce energy poisoned the atmosphere and was contributing to climate change.

Opening a $3.9 billion coal mine in central Queensland, Mr Abbott said that “coal is good for humanity”.

“Coal is good for prosperity, coal is an essential part of our economic future, here in Australia, and right around the world,” the Prime Minister said. “Coal is essential for the prosperity of the world. Energy is what sustains our prosperity, and coal is the world’s principal energy source, and it will be for many decades to come.”

Mr Abbott’s endorsement of coal as an energy source has drawn a sharp rebuke from environmentalists and others who accuse his Government of undermining local and international efforts to tackle climate change.

Earlier this year the Abbott Government succeeded in ditching the unpopular carbon tax introduced by Labor, and has sought to wind back support for renewable energy.

Doctors for Environment Australia Chair Dr Kingsley Faulkner said the Prime Minister’s comments about coal directly contradicted “all available public health evidence”.

In a letter to Mr Abbott, Dr Faulkner said there was “ample evidence” about the harm caused by coal, including estimates in the United States that 23,000 people a year die prematurely because of air pollution from burning coal.

He said coal had been “incontrovertibly linked” to climate change, which “is now recognised as the greatest threat to our health this coming century”.

“If we are genuine about acting in the best interests of humanity, then our focus must be to assist developing countries with renewable energy technology and rapidly de-carbonise our economy.

“In light of these facts, it was very disturbing to health professionals to hear the statements made by you regarding coal,” Dr Faulkner’s letter to Mr Abbott said. “It is unacceptable to trade Australia’s public health for short-term economic benefit…Yet this is exactly what your Government is promoting.”

Adrian Rollins