If the end of coal is near, it’s hard to see it among the open pits and billowing cooling towers of Victoria’s Latrobe Valley and the Hunter in NSW. Canyons of brown and black coal, set between green paddocks and sloping hills, loom large in these mining districts and dominate their economies as a source of great wealth, just as they have for a century or more.
A global push is accelerating to eliminate the use of thermal coal — the worst-emitting source of energy — to restrain the planet’s rising temperature and avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change.
But the mines in Latrobe and the Hunter are still operating around the clock. White steam still rises from the nearby power plants as they burn coal to supply more than two-thirds of Australia’s electricity needs. And, at the ports, huge volumes of coal are still being loaded onto cargo ships bound for Asia, bringing in billions of dollars of export revenue a year.
“The coal industry is just so damn important to the regional centres,” says Peter Jordan, a Cessnock local and mining union official who worked in the sector for more than a decade.