Open-cut coal mining and Australia have a long history that is all about resource extraction in the hopes of short-term gain. The nation’s long history of reckless destruction seems to be coming to an end since a court recently ruled that a mining operation will not be allowed to open. The reasoning is that the coal industry is too carbon intensive and will actually worsen the planet through it’s emissions.
In his ruling, chief judge Brian Preston said the project should be refused because “the greenhouse-gas emissions (GHGs) of the coal mine and its product will increase global total concentrations of GHGs at a time when what is now urgently needed, in order to meet generally agreed climate targets, is a rapid and deep decrease in GHG emissions.” In January, Australia experienced its hottest month on record. Meanwhile, extreme weather events have caused major destruction in large parts of the country — fires have burned about 3% of Tasmania and northern Queensland has been inundated by rain, causing unprecedented flooding. Extreme weather events are forecast to become more frequent in many parts of the world as a result of climate change.
Back in 2014 China decided it was sick of producing so much pollution and decided to do something about it. China started to close coal plants, spent $120 billion cleaning air in cities and launched similar initiatives throughout the country. The results have been longer life spans for people in impacted areas and a more efficient economy. The rapid pace of change is impressive even for China as no other country has been so quick to reduce pollution, that being said China has a long way to go to reach WHO standards seen in the rest of the world.
Although most regions outpaced their targets, the most populated cities had some of the greatest declines. Beijing’s readings on concentrations of fine particulates declined by 35 percent; Hebei Province’s capital city, Shijiazhuang, cut its concentration by 39 percent; and Baoding, calledChina’s most polluted city in 2015, reduced its concentration by 38 percent.
To investigate the effects on people’s lives in China, I used two of my studies (more here and here) to convert the fine particulate concentrations into their effect on life spans. This is the same method that underlies the Air Quality-Life Index that can be explored here. These studies are based on data from China, so they don’t require extrapolation from the United States or some other country with relatively low concentrations of pollution.
For years Germany’s transition from coal to sustainable energy has impacted communities. Many feared that jobs would be lost during this transition so plans were put in place to help workers and communities transition too. Throughout the Rhine valley coal plants have been closed down and their place new sustainable energy jobs have popped up alongside new places for arts and culture. The removal of coal power has brought a tourism boom amongst other successes.
The mines themselves have even become a cultural stage. A museum and gallery at Zollverein attracts over 250,000 visitors a year, and several other mines host music concerts, food and cultural festivals. In the nearby city of Bochum, an old industrial plant — now the site of the German Mining Museum — is surrounded with stately homes flanked by lush gardens. The change hasn’t gone unnoticed; the Ruhr was officially named Europe’s cultural capital in 2010.
The Ruhr also has become attractive for businesses to invest, say Switala. Zollverein, like many former mines, is now also home to several businesses. Artists, jewelry designers, choreographers, design firms and tourism companies are just a sampling of those who have made the trendy industrial space their home.
Globally, coal is on the way out and in America small towns are suffering because coal demand is dropping. The predictable plight of coal-backed small towns in the USA has some politicians trying to bailout the coal industry in order to protect jobs, which is obviously the wrong approach. Instead, what those backwards-looking politicians should do is look at Tonawanda, New York.
Tonawnada had a coal power plant that recently shutdown due to lack of demand. The community was going to be hurt by the closing with lost jobs and tax revenue. Instead of bailing out the power plant they provided a plan to transition to a post-coal economy – and it’s working!
“Instead of spending millions on propping up coal plants,” Schlissel says, “we need to spend money to help communities make an economic transition.”
The Huntley Alliance took its cues from other communities forced to evolve beyond heavy industry. Members traveled as close as Appalachia and as far as Germany, where they were amazed to witness how the German government funded worker retraining programs and recycled old production plants, as renewables supplanted fossil fuels.
If the end of coal wasn’t obviously upon us, it is now. The Kentucky Coal Museum has switched to solar power for energy and cost savings. Yes, in what might be a wonderful display of irony, the museum centred on celebrating the region’s coal culture has switched to a green energy source.
“It’s a little ironic or coincidental that you are putting solar green energy on a coal museum,” said Roger Noe, a former state representative who sponsored the legislation that created the coal museum. “Coal comes from nature, the sun rays come from nature so it all works out to be a positive thing.”
The museum is in Benham, once a coal camp town whose population peaked at about 3,000, according to 85-year-old Mayor Wanda Humphrey. Today, it has about 500 people, and Humphrey says she is the mayor because no one else wants the job.
“The people here are sort of in awe of this solar thing,” Humphrey said.