OPINION: Coalface workers plead for environment

VOICES across the Hunter and NSW have been speaking out this week against the far-reaching consequences of Environment Minister Tony Burke’s recent decision to approve two large coalmines in the state’s north.

From the communities bearing the brunt of the local coalmining impacts to those already coughing along the train lines that will carry out the additional 20 million tonnes of coal every year, the decision has major consequences.

It is not only the devastating regional impact causing concern, but impact felt around the world from the extra coal that will further stoke the climate change fire.

These mines have impact at the local, regional and global level.

They don’t just destroy local koala habitat and create a serious community health problem – although those impacts are important and should  be reason enough for our governments not to approve them.

These mines will affect communities everywhere, by contributing to Australia’s already disproportionate responsibility for climate change effects.

The Boggabri and Maules Creek coalmines that are set to carve out Leard Forest will create enough emissions to be comparable to the total emissions of an OECD country. Further, each new coalmine approved risks yet more of our water and ecological security. 

Through increasing carbon pollution they threaten the natural icons forming part of our living heritage, from our southern ocean marine life to our northern savannahs, our beaches, forests and alpine environments.

Even the groups often representing big energy companies are up front with the changes required and the need to move away from coal and other fossil fuels. 

In its World Energy Outlook 2012 report released in November 2012, the International Energy Agency advised that two-thirds of all proven fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground if the world is to avoid dangerous climate change.

It can be a difficult point to make in the Hunter Valley, but coal is quickly becoming an outdated energy supply that we are now learning is costing our water security and our health, destroying once pristine lands and tearing apart communities, while adding serious fuel to the fire of climate change across the globe.

A difficult discussion perhaps, but not one unique to those who typically raise the alarm about environmental issues.

Over a late afternoon beer in Muswellbrook, coalminers still in uniform shake their heads at the proposals to tear open the Liverpool Plains and Gunnedah Basin.

Coalminers in the Hunter have quietly pleaded with me not to let the Liverpool Plains be destroyed by open cuts such as those that have devastated the Hunter Valley.

Now, we see yet another government tick in the face of growing unrest about the true cost of coal on our communities and the planet.

The battle is far from over. The move by local community members to move swiftly to legal action against these  mining companies and their Maules Creek and Boggabri mining developments is the best option in an untenable situation.

This week, after yet more mining approvals rife with controversy and community concern, residents who may once have looked to the federal government for support are turning their heads.

It will be up to all of us to protect our land and water, and to apply public pressure for the development of renewable energy supplies that don’t cost the earth.

Our governments certainly can’t be trusted with the task.

Naomi Hogan is the campaign manager for The Wilderness Society Newcastle.

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