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Mining and Morality


Mining activity accounts for a large percentage of Australia’s economic activity. The export of coal and gas are particularly significant. Yet, in order to avoid dangerous climate change we need to limit the amount of CO2-e that is released into the atmosphere to keep temperature rises to less than 2C. This research focuses on the ethical issues that arise for fossil fuel exporters and the states in which they operate. First, what kind of harm is caused by such exports? Second, do analogies exist between other harmful exports – medical waste, tobacco, unsafe jobs, uranium – and fossil fuels?  Third, to what extent do the kinds of harm caused by global warming differ from standard cases of harm where only two parties are involved? Fourth, does the unrestricted export of fossil fuels satisfy a 'fair shares' criterion? Finally, what does allocating responsibility for harms mean in practice?

The reserach also considers whether imposing 'supply side' constraints are the best way to restrict emissions from fossil fuels.

Coal and Climate Change

A particular focus of this research concerns the moral issues surrounding the use and export of coal. Advocates for coal claim that its use has many benefits: It provides cheap energy, is abundant and creates employment for people in associated industries. Yet even if we accept these claims, coal’s benefits come at an unacceptably high cost to those who use it and many of those who do not. Given that we know about the strong links between coal use and harms to the significant interests of large numbers of people via climate change, there are important moral issues that must be addressed. But what does it mean to say that coal is harmful and how much does that matter? This research develops a framework for addressing such questions.

This research program has also previously addressed the moral and particularly the health dimensions of 'unconventional’ gas as well as solar and wind power. See:

J. Moss, A. Coram, G. Blashki, ‘Harms Unknown: Health uncertainties cast doubt on the role of unconventional gas in Australia's energy future’, Medical Journal of Australia, March 3, 2014. DOI:

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