The effects of coal mining are not only physical, they’re also emotional, writes Dr Bob Vickers. In the Hunter Valley, thermal coal mining is creating an adversarial culture in coal communities as both those against and for continued mining advocate for a future that they believe will best look after themselves and their families.
The workforce employed in the mining of thermal coal in the Hunter has become much more casualised; we are seeing a global shift away from thermal coal; and the call to transition workers from coal mining to reduce greenhouse gases is yet another cause for concern for many coal workers. On the other hand, the lack of a just transition plan for the Hunter Valley creates anger and anxiety for those who want to avoid the climate catastrophe. Farmers are also anxious that the ongoing drought and its link to worsening climate is not only hurting their financial security, but in some regions, food and water security. Towns in the Upper Hunter Valley have already run out of water.
The other major concern with open cut thermal coal mining is air pollution which in the Hunter Valley is consistently breaching national standards. Families have left town fearful of the damage the air pollution will do to their children.
While coal workers’ concerns are understandable, the Hunter Valley cannot continue to expand the lifetime of existing mines or to open new thermal coal projects. Climate change induced extreme weather events, such as the past week’s bushfires in NSW and Queensland, are already having an impact on Australians and people across the world.
The lack of leadership on these issues needs to be addressed urgently. A transition from coal won’t be easy, but we have the solutions, let’s implement them.
Dr Bob Vickers is a Singleton GP and a member of Doctors for the Environment Australia.
Read the full article published on 12 October 2019 in the Newcastle Herald