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Climate change dividing coal communities

Climate change is presenting a unique challenge to Australia’s coal sector.

南宁桑拿

SBS’ reporter Keith Breene looks at how this issue is dividing communities across the country.

Muswellbrook in the Hunter Valley is, by any definition, a coal town. There are very few people there who aren’t directly or indirectly associated with the industry.

So perhaps it’s no surprise that when it comes to the issue of climate change the community is sharply divided.

Jeff Drayton, a miner and a life long resident of Muswellbrook, is also the town’s deputy mayor. He doesn’t think getting rid of coal is an option.

“I’m not sure phasing coal out is the answer – not only does it underwrite our community in the Hunter Valley but it probably has – certainly recently – underwritten the whole country’s economy,” Mr Drayton said.

“I don’t think probably in my lifetime we’re going to see a life without coal. Absolutely I think there has be a life with cleaner coal – better technologies. But not a life without cleaner coal, no.”

Pete Kennedy is a miner too, like four generations of his family before him. He is one of a small, but growing, number of people willing to criticise the way the industry is dealing with climate change.

“They talk about it. They’ve employed the world best spin doctors as far as that’s concerned but I don’t believe what they’re saying,” Mr Kennedy said.

“They say yes we’re worried about climate change and all this but the way that the mining industry is expanding I don’t think they give two hoots about it.”

He is so disillusioned he has told his children not to follow him into the industry.

“I believe I’m one of a small bunch of people that are slowly coming around to realising that climate change is here and now and there is evidence that if we don’t do something about the burning of fossil fuels which is directly linked to this climate chaos we’re seeing the situation is going to get slowly worse and we’re heading for a worldwide disaster.”

Given the how much people depend on mining in Muswellbrook, Pete Kennedy’s is still the minority view.

“With three in four people earning a living out of the coal mines you’re probably not going to walk down the street of Muswellbrook or Singleton and some of those places and not get the answer that I’d probably give you which is that obviously people still do support he coal mines predominantly because that’s where we earn our living – that’s why I live where I do here”.

“It is how I support my family as do 70 or 80 percent of the local population”.

The industry is a powerful economic force on which many livelihoods depend. But concern over climate change does appear to be growing – even in communities that depend on coal.

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