Hope ‘sweeps’ Australia’s renewables industry, but coal remains major export | world news

Behind a sparse row of eucalyptus trees, a monstrous pit has split the countryside in two.

Mountains of slag line the edges of a black hole and the biggest trucks you’ve ever seen remove layers of earth to reach the precious subsoil: coal.

We are in Australia’s Hunter Valley, an area rich in natural resources.

It is also at the heart of a debate on the country’s future climate change policy.

A new labor government came to power with the audacious ambition to turn Australia’s reputation for climate denial and backwardness into an international role model.

It pledges to cut Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by 43% – a cut considerably bigger than the previous Liberal coalition’s 26-28% target.

The work also aims to convert more than 80% of the country’s electricity to renewables by 2030 and spend more than £11billion to upgrade the national grid.

We came to the Hunter Valley to find out how Labor’s plans could affect a community that has depended on fossil fuel extraction for generations.

Nathan Dennis works in the mines, just like his father. When we meet him, he’s just finished four night shifts and grabs a bacon and egg roll on the way home.

The Hunter Valley is rich in natural resources
The Hunter Valley is rich in natural resources

Mr Dennis says he is not overly concerned about the future of mining despite the election results, as coal is one of the country’s most important exports.

“I’m pretty sure we’ve got about 80 years of coal in the ground, so it’s going to get us out of me and my son,” he says.

It’s not an unusual sight in a place like Singleton with its population of 25,000.

Mining is the biggest employer: driving trucks into the pit can earn you up to £100,000 a year.

Without the industry, Singleton would be a “ghost town”, says Mr Dennis.

“A lot of people wouldn’t have what they have without mining,” he explains. “We wouldn’t have Pizza Hut, McDonald’s and seven pubs.”

Brian Craighead says
Brian Craighead says ‘hope is sweeping’ the renewable energy industry

In most rural towns, there is hardly any traffic at seven in the morning. But the rush hour in Singleton could be Sydney.

Mining trucks, tractor-trailers and the ubiquitous Australian Utes (utility vehicles) bumper to bumper drive in and out of town as the night shift ends and the first day begins.

It’s the ebb and flow of life in a mining town.

But some young people, exhausted from long shifts and worried about job security in an ever greener world, are beginning to jump ship.

Nathan Berryman grew up in Newcastle, a city with a proud industrial history.

After working as a mining electrician, he turned to the renewable energy industry, taking a job with electric battery manufacturer Energy Renaissance.

“I remember when I started, a lot of traders who were in their 50s and 60s were saying you don’t want to be here when you’re our age,” he says.

“They know what the industry is like. It’s a tough life but it’s rewarding and they were concerned about (the job’s) longevity and locality.”

Nathan Berryman (left) didn't want to work away from family and friends
Nathan Berryman (left) didn’t want to work away from family and friends

Mr. Berryman did not want to end up as a fly-in worker, working away from his family and friends in an isolated camp in the middle of the desert. So he took his future into his own hands.

Its boss Brian Craighead, founder of Energy Renaissance, proudly says his industry is about to change.

“For many years we felt like we were in the desert (but) now hope is sweeping the land,” Mr Craighead said.

“We’ve been blocked all along by politicians denying basic science, so now I think voters have spoken pretty clearly, and they want it.”

As Australia charts a new course, tackling the great challenge of our lives, those still working in the resource sector may wonder: what’s next?

And in cafes and pubs in distant cities, you hear talk of a transition to renewable energy.

And if the winds of change are coming, some might do better by getting ahead of them.

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