I was already pretty astounded when Australia's biggest utility carbon polluter turned its back on coal. Still, when the Australian Labor Party's plans for 50% renewable electricity by 2030 were announced last month, I was by no means prepared for who was going to be backing it—namely, the country's largest coal mining and energy union.
As reported over at ABC, the CFMEU appears to know which way the energy sector is headed. And the miners' union representatives are showing their support for clean energy, in exchange for a promise of significant support for adapting to the clean energy economy.
Interestingly, similar maneuvering may be going on in the US too. Alongside the promises of shiny solar panels Hilary Clinton's renewable energy plan launch included a nod to the energy producers of the past, as reported by the LA Times:
“It’s important that we help them transition to a new economy,” she said. “I want to do more to help people in coal country and other parts of our nation that are not enjoying the kind of growth and development and prosperity we’re seeing in a place like Story County,” where the rally was taking place.
Research already suggests that the decline in coal brings a net growth in jobs, but that the gains don't necessarily happen in the same communities where job losses are felt. And we know that coal mining communities have often faced the worst of King Coal's environmental externalities, such as chemical and coal slurry spills.
As Australian coal miners get behind clean energy, maybe it's time for the US green movement to forge new alliances too.