CARE should always be taken when speaking in terms of the “national good” or the “national mood”.
But when it comes to coal and climate change, there is no doubt that the national mood has swung substantially towards the acceptance and promotion of renewable energy, and away from the industry that has been the backbone and lifeblood of this region since colonial times.
As a news outlet, the Newcastle Herald has to react to this change by reporting – in depth when necessary – on issues that the coal industry might wish would go away.
To report on things like hostile submissions to mining applications, or training camps for mine protesters – as is the case today – is not to be anti-mining. In covering these subjects, we are acknowledging that a substantial and growing part of the Hunter’s population is no longer comfortable with much that the coal industry represents.
Even the industry’s usual fall-back in these situations – that most of our coal goes overseas to meet international demand – is no longer an acceptable answer for many.
At the same time, it needs to be remembered that the industry has a right to exist.
Yes, there are hostile headlines, but progress is being made on a range of operational fronts, and the income that coal provides to tens of thousands of Hunter workers makes a substantial contribution to this region’s economy.
And despite the gains in renewables, the domestic electricity industry will still need the baseload stability provided by our coal-fired generators for some years to come.
While some in the renewable camp recognise this inconvenient truth, it is perhaps harder to find voices in the pro-coal camp who will accept the march of progress as an inevitable thing: the federal Coalition’s failure to come to grips with climate policy is an example of this, and a sign of how far the conservative side of politics has shifted away from the broader electorate, when public opinion about climate change and renewables is polled.
There was a time, not so long ago, when climate campaigners were on the radical fringe, but the 500 people descending on Newcastle this week will come in all ages, and from all walks of life.
With a belief that history is on their side, they are the enemy, personified, for an industry that is struggling to retain its once unquestioned social licence.
But that industry is still very much part of who we are, here in the Hunter.