Cop a load of this

I’m not sure this week’s COP26 achieved as much as it hoped. What was abundantly clear, though, was the dismal performance by the Australian government. With no real strategy for combatting the crisis, it was obvious they didn’t even want to be there. For those not familiar with what’s going on in Australia, you might be surprised to hear that even arguing about the existence of a climate crisis is still an actual thing in government circles. Pretty incredible in 2021. The current prime minister, Scott Morrison, bluffs his way through most things, hoping that others will take the initiative but happy to take credit for anything that works.

One of the reasons for Australia’s unenlightened stance is coal. This is a country of fabulous mineral wealth and along with iron ore, coal is its biggest export. It means Australia has become the world’s dodgy dealer, happy to supply so long as there’s demand. Ethics don’t come into it, even if it means losing natural wonders like the Great Barrier Reef and killing off farming with longer droughts and fiercer fires.

Cronulla beach in smoke-haze, January 2020

Coal always makes me think of my birthplace, South Wales. The coal mining valleys were quite close to our little market town but felt like another planet. When the terrible disaster at Aberfan happened, with a school obliterated by a slipping slag heap, killing all the kids, my school clubbed together to buy a doll for a girl whose cousin had been killed in it. I remember thinking what an ugly doll it was. Everyone had coal fires in those days and I suspect the town air was quite poor at times. Every classroom in my infant school had a big coal burner in it, surrounded by a metal guard on which wet coats were hung to dry on rainy days, the steam rising from them. The days of the famous London pea soupers were over but the buildings of cities were still grimy with soot.

When we moved to Yorkshire, you had to close the car windows when driving through the Sheffield area, famous for its steel. There was a constant yellow cloud hanging over the city that stank of sulphur. Further north, near Durham, there was the belching smoke of huge iron and steel works at Consett. All of that has gone: British industry is more or less dead. The cruelty of simply shutting down entire communities in the 1980s without giving them much hope for a future probably led to the Brexit mindset and a harder north-south divide in Britain. That might be a lesson for Australia, too. The air is clearer, though.

I encountered shocking air pollution in two countries that are still among the world’s top coal users. The first was in India when I was staying in the gorgeous city of Mysore (Mysuru) in Karnataka. There was an on-going energy shortage so electricity was cut for a couple of hours every evening. I was already enthralled by India but walking along Mysore’s dark streets, the ramshackle shops lit only by battery-torches or small braziers, the smell of burning cow dung heavy in the air, I felt as though I was in Dickensian London. Dipping into it as a tourist is one thing, living like that is quite another.


Some years later, I visited one of the sacred mountains in China, Wutaishan in Shanxi province. It was a beautiful place set at the end of a long valley filled with temples and had a remote, vaguely Tibetan atmosphere. By day the sun shone on its golden roofs but at night it was different. Shanxi province is one of China’s biggest mining regions. That evening, after dinner, we wandered through the streets of the tiny town, enjoying the silhouettes of pagodas and mountains, but gradually became aware of the acrid smell of burning coal. A kind of smog was travelling up the valley and then pooling over the town, pressed down by the cold air flowing from the hillsides. Quite quickly it became so choking that we had to hurry back to the hotel. The next day we travelled to the city of Datong, passing endless coal trucks and numerous factories belching out steady streams of smoke. It was hard to believe any of this would ever come to an end.

China is cleaning up its act but it’s a long process. While its streets were full of electric motorbikes back in 2015 and are doubtless filled with electric cars today, they are mainly charged using electricity from coal-generated power stations, some of them burning Australian coal. Despite that, there is in China a sense of moving towards the future. There are wind and solar farms everywhere, just as there are in Europe.

Australian comedian Dan Ilic had a series of fantastic posters put up in Times Square and in Glasgow itself…

Meanwhile Australia, with its na-na-not-listening Prime Minister, took displays of new schemes to COP26, most of them, rather incredibly, sponsored by fossil fuel companies. It clearly showed that coal still rules this country. They talked of other fossil fuels that might be used when the coal industry finally grinds to a halt. By then, though, I suspect it will all be too late. The government ministers responsible for this lack of action will be gone but not, I think, forgotten. Like coal smoke, it brings tears to the eyes.

What’s the most polluted place you’ve been to?

Categories: Australia, TravelTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. This is such a great round up and analysis of what is going on with responses to climate change. People are so black or white on things like electric cars, but until we solve the coal problem we are nowhere. On the other hand, incredible how well traveled you are! I have never been to India or China, but I did visit a toxic waste treatment plant in Italy once that was pretty scary. I was working for a Canadian environment agency at the time and we did a video shoot at 3 different plants; one in the UK, another in Germany and the last one in Italy. The Brits had some sort of patented scheme to detoxify the waste, the Germans treated it so cleanly you could eaten off the floor but the Italian plant was basically open vats and cesspools they called treatment tanks. 🤫

    • Yes, not black and white at all. I plan to get an electric car but only when I can charge it from my own solar-powered battery at home, which we don’t yet have… How interesting to see how different countries deal with it. Knowing what the mechanic’s garages for German car brands look like, I’m not surprised by the German version. We once visited the waste incinerator in Hiroshima and it was all sparkling white, not a whiff of anything at all. Cultural differences, indeed… I take heart that more young people are motivated to act as they see what the old farts are willing to throw away just for money.

  2. (I’m belatedly catching up with some of your postings.) Australia’s so called ‘leaders’ are turning our country into world wide embarrassment, but I feel, at least, that most of the rest of us actually see the reality of climate change, even though unbelievably it probably still won’t change the way some people vote.
    I remember being in Los Angeles, city of freeways, in the mid 80’s and no matter where you were you could not see the horizon. There was just a blur of brown at the point where sea and sky, or land and sky met, no horizon line, just a layer of brown. Residents would say ‘oh that’s just the summer haze’. We were too polite to contradict them but thought privately, er nope, that’s definitely pollution.

    • I do hope you’re right. I fear there’s a general apathy – a coal mine opening in Queensland seems so far away. It’s great to see how quickly car manufacturers are transitioning around the world, maybe even clearing LA’s skies, but it looks like Australia will be the dumping ground for the old technology, with its low-grade fuel and lack of infrastructure for electric vehicles. Time for some leadership…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

La petite musique des vendredis

Le blog culturel d'Hélène Cascaro- arts visuels, cinéma, patrimoine, artisanat d'art, architecture,...


This site is the bee's knees

Avisha Rasminda

Hi, I'm Avisha Rasminda Twenty-Two years old, Introduce Myself As A Author , Painter , A Poet.

Ananda Only

an empty space between silence & stillness

A r e w e t h e r e y e t ?

Diversions, detours and discoveries

Nick Alexander

Author of Perfectly Ordinary People, From Something Old, The Road to Zoe, You Then Me Now, Things We Never Said, The Bottle of Tears, The Other Son, The Photographer's Wife, The Half-Life of Hannah, the 50 Reasons Series. And more...

Dr David T Evans, OBE NTF PFHEA RN(T)

Sexual health matters! It really does!

Dr. Eric Perry’s Blog

Motivate | Inspire | Uplift

Cole Moreton

Writer and broadcaster, Interviewer of the Year for the Mail, winner of Radio Academy gold with BBC Radio 4

British Wildlife & Photography

Place, Plots and Plans

The PlaceMatt Blog

viewer site

Barbara Heath & Malcolm Enright - our viewer site blog

kirilson photography

the stories behind the pictures, and vice versa

Not-So-Modern Girl

Thoughts of a twenty-something girl navigating her way one blog post at a time

Anthony Hillin

Training, Facilitation and Policy development

Notes from the U.K.

Exploring the spidery corners of a culture and the weird stuff that tourist brochures ignore.


T.V/Movie News & Reviews

SAVING OUR TREES - Marrickville municipality

Community Tree Watch - working to protect healthy public trees in Marrickville municipality from inappropriate removal


Film Score Reviews by Jonathan Broxton since 1997

A life in books

Book news, reviews and recommendations

150 great things about the Underground

An unofficial birthday salute to a public transport titan

Mistakes & Adventures

What I've always wanted


Literary Geography

UNSW Built Environment's Blog

Information from students and staff at Built Environment at the University of New South Wales, Sydney Australia.

joe moran's words

on the everyday, the banal and other important matters

The Back Road Chronicles

Curious soul...and it makes me wanna take the back roads!

At Home in France

My occasionally weird life in France

Wee Notions

Notes on a napkin

Philip Butler Photography

Architecture & Observations

Susie Trexler

Secret Knowledge of Spaces

Rebecca Renner

Welcome to Gator Country

kidlat habagat

Portraits of Urban life


DynamicStasis is basically an attempt to think about and discuss integrity, beauty, and delight - in architecture and elsewhere.

%d bloggers like this: