A year after we launched the documentary ‘There’s no future in coal’ we’ve sold out of DVDs! But don’t worry if you missed out – it’s now available to be viewed and downloaded online here. And unfortunately it’s still as relevant as ever. Feel free to download it for screenings or to make your own DVDs.
It features interviews with people around NSW confronting the expansion of the coal industry – from farmers on the Liverpool Plains, residents from Gloucester and Mudgee, a miner from the Hunter Valley and local government councillors from Muswellbrook and Singleton.
It explores issus of coal dust pollution, impacts of mining on rivers, the loss of community, campaigns against the expansion and the potential for a just transition away from coal to renewable energy.
The documentary is available on DVD for $5. If you would like a copy email firstname.lastname@example.org
Click here to download the radio show about the Just Transition Tour, co-produced by Nick McClean and Fran Howe (20mins)
This is a speech given by someone who went on the Just Transition Tour to the Walk Against Warming rally in Newcastle, December 2009.
I was asked to speak here today as I recently had the good fortune to tour a number of coal towns across New South Wales. The tour was ostensibly focused on the idea of a just transition away from coal mining, and towards renewable energy and sustainable economies. We learnt about that transition – its realities, difficulties, and potential, and others better placed than myself are speaking about that necessary change today.
What we also learnt, however, is that the dusty, heavy metal laden, socially impoverished and environmentally debauched first link in the coal chain is complex and confronting, and that communities like Camberwell and Gloucester are being strangled with that chain.
I’m not an expert on coal or these communities, but I know an abused landscape when I see one, and I can hear the strain in someone’s voice when they’re telling you that their community is being wrenched in half by the co-ordinated efforts of a coal company. These stories need communicating, and these communities desperately want to be heard.
I grew up in the Hunter coalfields and moved away a decade ago.On visits to Newcastle I’ve seen the lengthening line of the resource theft regatta out there, and I’ve heard about the new coal loaders and the coal export boom, and I suppose I realised that that coal was coming from somewhere, from land that someone used to use for something else.
It wasn’t until I stood overlooking the ten thousand hectare footprint of Mt Arthur mine, however, and talked to people in Stroud, Singelton, Jerry’s Plains, Muswellbrook, Caroona, Mudgee, and other communities, that the bleeding obvious became clear – this coal comes from places that people live on and care for and build their communities on.
What was equally obvious, also, is that people in all these places, and many more, are not taking these impositions on their lives lying down, and that their struggles and hopes are crucially important to any attempt to stop the damage we are doing to our planet. Some people in these communities are motivated by climate change, and some arn’t. A few don’t even believe in it. But without slowing or stopping the expansion of mines, and equally, without showing that this can make our communities richer, in the true sense of the word, we will struggle to fix the planet.
The resilience and complexity of coal communities, and the emotional distress caused by mining, is probably best illustrated by the story of someone we met in Jerry’s Plains, west of Singelton. Paul was a stock auctioneer by trade, and his family has lived and run cattle in Jerry’s for a couple of generations. As mines have swallowed grazing land, so coal has crushed agriculture. The dwindling of the cattle industry has been assisted by situations such as transnational mining companies inheriting cattle companies on land they acquire, and running it as a sideline, a plaything to squeeze a few more dollars from.
Paul is an articulate spokesperon for his community. He’s a very reasonable person – all he and his community are asking for is a little distance between their town and a planned mine. A few metres to keep the dust out of their kids lungs at the primary school, and with luck the chance to keep a few healthy cows unaffected by the same dust. And he works constantly in any way he can come up with to keep the mine out.
He still does auctions once a month, but in order to keep his family fed, he’s turned to the only alternative available to him. For the last 18 months he’s been driving a truck at a coal mine just down the road – a mine that portends the fate of Jerry’s Plains, having destroyed a community in the process of its development.
It’s a crime that people are forced into these situations. I can’t imagine what its like staring at thousands of tonnes of crushed rock everyday and wondering whether your town and land and life will end up as little pieces of rock just the same.
The kind off sacrifices that we must make invidually in towns and cities to wean us of coal seem trifling in comparison to living with that. One common refrain we heard was “Tell the people in the city that it’s them that’s doing this to us” And thats true. Our lifestyles are moving people from their homes and damaging their lives irretrievably.
But that’s only 20% of the story. The other 80% is the coal that goes out that port there and across the world. And thats a function of the lifethreatening addiction to coal that our state government has, and of the rapacious greed of coal companies.
Its true that coal creates jobs. But the streets of Muswellbrook and Singelton should be paved with gold, and they most certainly arn’t. Childhood diseases and social disfunction are a poor prize for back breaking labour and the loss of the bucolic lifestyle that a local pensioner described to me as life in Singelton before mining.
To protect the planet, coal must stop. The coal companies can see the writing on the wall, and the rapidly expanding landscape destruction in the Hunter is testament to their desire to wring every last drop from coal.. But it won’t last forever. Coal communities will require post-mining solutions in 10, 20,30 years. This beggars the question, why not now?
There is a sorely needed place for large scale solutions to replace the employment generated by coal mining. We met an extraordinary group of people in the Mudgee region, some of whom have been campaigning on climate change since I was in kindergarten. They are trying to stop expansion of the Ulan mine, a behemoth with threatens unique riverine landscapes and entire communities. And they’ve come up with a workable solution for local employment and a supportive and experienced international company who are backing them to build a solar thermal plant. All the company needs is government assistance to get started on the project.
Replacing coal mining jobs in the Hunter, and elsewhere, is not a simple task. Far from it. But it is a necessary one. The clash between the desperate calls of 88 nations this week to restrict global temperature rises to 1 5 degrees and the imperatives of providing a functioning local economy are real.
But this is the situation where real leadership is required. It is pure delusion to continue the expansion of coal. I’m 28 years old. A future where we continue our coal expansion is inconcievable to me. But what is conceviable , and achievable, is a future where coal is replacced by the existing viable, real alernatives. We all know this is possible. It’s a matter of political recognition that this is possible, and pressure to make it happen.
We are still a long way off. We shouldn’t be too disheartened by the expected failure at copenhagen. Or the new premier we have. The more our leaders fail us the harder we have to work. And the more communities like Jerrys Plains, and Gloucester, and Caroona struggle to look after their communities, and the harder they fight to maintain those communities, the more inspiration we have that we are all links in a chain that can halt this coal fired devastation.
Listen to an interview with Zane Alcorn from the Just Transition Tour on Beyond Zero Emissions radio
Leaving Canberra Tuesday afternoon, after an exciting visit to see cutting edge solar dish technology (very impressive indeed), we travelled to Lithgow. Arriving later than expected, the small group of concerned Lithgow environmentalists we were to meet kindly waited.
A detailed presentation showed us the horrifying extent of the long term environmentally impacts from coal mining and coal-fired power stations here. The legacy of Lithgow’s industrial heritage is more than the communities shared identity from being a mining town – Lithgow’s environmental problems need to be framed as part of this same history.
Around Lithgow there are warning signs pointing out the dangers of mine subsidence. However, some warnings on public land are nothing more than a piece of paper; an A4 sheet acting as a supposedly valid ‘warning sign’ to be careful of subsidence in the area. Some photos showed these ‘signs’ can become almost illegible from weathering – this is a clear public safety issue. The photos we saw of the subsidence showed massive cracks running through cliffs, rock and including in roads. The next day we were taken to see this for ourselves. These are permanent scares on Lithgow’s landscape.
Lithgow is riddled with mine subsidence and now some houses have to built in accordance with specific safety considerations to the possibilities of the ground underneath giving way. Some older homes are perpetually in danger from cracks opening up. The subsidence cracks run through surrounding national parks. Rocks crumbling, mountain-sides giving way – what look like land slides of sorts.
It was suggested to us that a build up of salt in the local river ways and creeks is a result from both the mining process of long-walling (underground mining as opposed to open cut mining) as well as from the water ‘recycling’ of the power stations. Coal fired power stations are particularly thirsty, needing huge amounts of water to run. Lithgow’s major coal-fired power station, Mount Piper, owned by Delta, have extraction licenses for the water and buy what water they need.
One example of the affects increased salinity levels in the waterways and creeks is the destruction of the biodiversity of what was a natural swamp. This it was explained was a result of reverse osmosis. This includes the dramatic loss of species, from 100 or more to now 20ish. It was also shown to us there is resulting algae build up in the local creeks.
Another effect from the salt in the area is the rusting of the water pipes in the town. The residents we chatted with said they drank from tap water, but mostly it’s filtered first. However the long term damage to water infrastructure is an issue here.
On Wednesday we thought trying to go on a public tour of Mount Piper power station would be a good learning experience. Trying was the giveaway – when we arrived the police had been called and we’re waiting to explain to us we weren’t welcome.
We turned back into town and instead spent the afternoon on the main street handing out information pamphlets about supporting a just transition away from the dirty coal industry to renewable technologies. This was a positive experience and people were interested in talking with us about the just transition ideas.
In the late afternoon we enjoyed hot chips and said goodbye to some goats who lived by the camping ground we stayed at. We left Lithgow tired but happy.
Bus tour takes on coal industry
A bus-load of climate change activists made a seven-day journey from Newcastle through coal communities in the Hunter Valley, Gunnedah and Western coalfields over November 20 — 26.
The Just Transition Tour met coalminers and their families in mining towns, strengthened ties with local environmental groups and visited farming communities fighting to stop big coal companies from degrading prime agricultural land.
On the final day of the tour, the activists gathered outside NSW parliament house in Sydney, calling on the government to support a just transition away from coal.
Speaking at the protest, tour participant Warrick Jordan told Green Left Weekly two things stood out for him most.
“One was travelling to Mount Arthur outside Muswellbrook and seeing the extent of coalmining and the extent of what was planned for the future, which was quite shocking”, he said.
“The other thing was visiting a small community at Jerrys Plains who are threatened by a large coalmine. Many have had to move from other areas that have been swallowed by coalmining. I was struck, at times, by the desperation, but mostly the strength, of these people and largely by the lack of support they are getting.
“The response we got was extraordinary and the generosity was very strong. It made me realise that there should be other groups that are helping these communities much more.”
Tour co-organiser and Socialist Alliance activist Simon Cunich said the purpose of the tour was to begin to form an alliance between the climate movement and the people who live in coal-dependent communities.
“We wanted to go out to communities where a lot of people are employed in the coal industry and say that there are alternatives”, he told GLW. “The science of climate change demands that we do transition away from coal, but it must be done in a way that doesn’t leave people without employment and doesn’t leave communities without livelihoods.”
Cunich said the tour also stressed that the participation of affected communities in planning the transition was essential. “We wanted to emphasise that coal communities and workers in [fossil-fuel based] industries need to be involved in the process of transitioning away from coal and need to be part of the decision-making about these changes.”
“To a man and a woman they all said coal was destroying their lives and our country’s future”, he said. “What we’re seeing now from all those people is a joining together of forces that we haven’t seen before.”
Tour participant Lindal Richards told GLW the mining industry exacts a heavy toll on local residents.
“We met one man who owns a dairy farm with his wife”, she said. “The mines have encroached onto their lands up around Jerry Plains so much so the groundwater is being taken, their land is being degraded, there is coal dust in the air and they just can’t make enough money from their farm any more.
“The only thing he could do to hold his family up was to then go and get a job in the mine. He was watching his community being eaten up and absorbed into this industry in a way he thought was wrong, but then he had to go work for this industry.”
tour participant Bronwyn McDonald told GLW: “An overarching memory that will stay with me is the women in these communities. In Singleton, they talked about being so tired from fighting a faceless bureaucracy about the toxins in the air from [coalmining] and their children’s health.”
Tour member Rob Martin said the seriousness of climate change meant “the government should be looking to change their attitude. They can’t just say we need the money from coal and that our economy depends on it, because if we don’t look for another option, we’ll be in a very big mess. With climate change it’s something we shouldn’t be using and should be phasing out.”
Newcastle university student Cass Byrne told GLW she was impressed by the farmers blockading at Caroona, who were “really inspiring and passionate about protecting their land” from coalmining.
She said the tour had demonstrated there were “definitely ways that we can move forward to greener jobs and people can still keep their employment”.
Tour member Alain Ashman told GLW the tour had reinforced that solutions to the threat of climate change were within reach. “Just by doing this tour, you can see the options are there and it’s just a lack of political will. I think that the willpower has to come from the people. People should tell the politicians what they want rather than the coal industry.”
Cunich said building alliances with workers and farmers in affected communities was a non-negotiable requirement for the climate movement.
“There is not going to be a transition away from coal unless it’s pursued by a movement composed of the kind of groups we’ve met on the tour, as well as people in the coal industry who are looking towards the future.
“The transition won’t happen either if it’s left to the private sector.”