Arriving back in my electorate from Canberra last Friday I encountered two unusual things happening simultaneously. A thick haze of smoke had turned our streets dark and streetlights had lit-up in response. Overhead the sun shone strangely with red hues rarely seen. Helicopters buzzed and sirens could be heard faintly in the hot winds.
Meanwhile, my mobile phone was buzzing with complaint from people upset with a photo I’d posted on Twitter the night before, following a meeting with the Resources Minister, Matt Canavan, and the CEO of the World Coal Association. According to my Twitter friends, the Shadow Minister for Resources holding a meeting with the Minister and an industry leader is now a crime punishable by abuse.
Some qualified their abuse, justifying it on timing grounds. A day when fires were raging was the wrong day to post, some claimed. Maybe I should have refused the meeting? Plain silly. The fires are distressing for us all. Later that day I was on the fire-line thanking our fire fighters, so I know. But sadly, if Tony Abbott had not recklessly repealed Julia Gillard’s so-called “carbon tax” six years ago, the fires would still be with us. If Kevin Rudd had secured Parliamentary approval for his CPRS ten years ago, the fires would still be raging. Our climate is changing adversely. Long hot and dry spells are creating a tinder box. Back-burning is becoming more difficult because moist and cool windows of opportunity are becoming fewer. Scientists tell us greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) are contributing to changes in our weather patterns and the global community should play safe and adjust behaviour.
But Australia is only responsible for 1.3 per cent of global emissions, and acting alone we can make no practical difference. However, we must do enough to give us the credibility needed to preach to the big emitting countries which are not doing enough. People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. That’s why we should honour the commitments Scott Morrison’s Government made under the Paris Agreement. We must all do our bit and share the burden. But we need not – and should not – forsake our coal mining jobs, not one of the 75,000 it creates in region of Hunter.
The path to lower GHG emissions is to help the big emitting countries reduce theirs. China for example, is responsible for almost 30 percent of global emissions. We must reduce emissions in Asia and India, or fail. To modernise and clean-up their economies, developing countries need a lot of energy and a lot of coal to build wind turbines and solar panels. Indeed it takes 200 tonnes of metallurgical coal to build one wind turbine.
Australia produces relatively clean and efficient coal. Exporting it to nations coming out of poverty helps them develop their economies and offsets the dirtier, less-efficient coal they’d otherwise be forced to buy elsewhere – coal which often comes from mines where there is no care for health, safety or fair wages. It is worth noting that 60 percent of the world’s electricity production still comes from fossil fuel sources.
Blaming and demonising our coal miners for the current fires is not just silly, it’s insulting and unfair. Arguing the region’s 12,000 coal miners can “transition” to the renewables sector is just as silly. It’s certainly confronting for a coal miner with a family and a healthy mortgage. It’s time for some common sense and past-time my mainly capital-city-based Twitter friends did their homework. Next they’ll be campaigning against our farmers and their belching cows.