September 19, 2007 12:00am
IN The Inconvenient
Truth, Al Gore speaks of his family's struggle to come to terms with their history as tobacco farmers.
When faced with the evidence of tobacco's harmful affects,
the family's initial instinct is to ignore it - until Gore's sister is herself stricken with lung cancer and the charade of
business as usual is crushed forever.
The scene struck a chord with me - the national leader of
Australian coal miners - who is charged with looking after both short term interests of wages and conditions - as well as
long-term job security.
How do I do justice to my members and their communities by
ignoring the evidence of global warming and resisting change in the industry, or by intervening before the prognosis is terminal?
For the CFMEU mining union, the answer has always been to face reality. As far back as the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 we have
been active participants in the global discussion to deal with the impact of humans on the environment; and of the fossil
fuels our members mine, in particular.
This is not some position cooked up by a political secretariat
- it is driven by our membership in coal mines.
Whenever I speak to coal miners, it is climate change - rather
than short-term issues like wages and conditions - that are at the top of their agenda.
They want to understand the science and get an honest appraisal
of the action required to safeguard the planet.
They want to talk about ways the coal industry can clean up
its act; they are excited about new ideas like geo-sequestration and clean coal technologies; and they want to see their government
supporting these initiatives in practical ways.
They are also aware that their legitimate fears about their
own job security risk making them political pawns in a scare campaign - and the membership won't be made anyone's fools.
Don't get me wrong; coal miners are not martyrs - they view
those calling for the overnight closing down of the Australian mining industry as dangerous extremists. But they see the climate
change deniers as potentially more dangerous; because long-term inaction will be the precursor to a crisis that may well leave
such radical measures as the only practical response.
This is why my members took the extraordinary step of voting
to spend $1 million on a TV advertising campaign calling on the Federal Government to get serious about climate change, warning
of the dangers to Australian industries if we continue to do nothing.
It's why my members have passed resolutions calling on the
Howard Government to ratify Kyoto and set binding clean energy targets.
It is why my members are prepared to work with the environment
movement and mining companies to build a blueprint for our industry that reduces emissions while continuing to meet the nation's
My members accept the reality of climate change and see it
as their responsibility to be part of the solution.
They want their kids to be proud of the work they do and the
role they can play in making the world safer.
So when Don Henry from the Australian Conservation Foundation
suggested that apply to be part of Al Gore's Climate Project Leadership program - which commences in Melbourne this week -
I was happy to step forward.
Inviting a miner to be part of the program shows how far we
have come. We are not, as some imagine, interested in only profiting from the earth. We don't seek employment without responsibility.
We aim to work with the earth, not against it.
Being part of Gore's program will not only give me a broader
perspective on the issue; it will give the CFMEU greater credibility to speak out.
To me this is more than learning how to work a Powerpoint
It's actually a chance to learn from the experiences of a
true world leader, someone whose personal story has driven his political crusade and finally is pushing the world to act.
And that resonates with Australian coal miners, who have dived
into the deep end of the climate change debate.
We have chosen to swim with the tide on climate change rather
than struggle against it.
Like those southern US tobacco farmers faced with their own
Inconvenient Truth, we know that waiting for the shouting to die down is just not an option.
The world is changing. We are changing with it. Because those
who don't are doomed.
FORMER US vice president Al Gore is speaking today at a luncheon
event at Darling Harbour. The event is a sell-out. News Limited, publisher of The Daily Telegraph, is a part sponsor of the
event through The Australian.)
* Tony Maher is general president of the CFMEU's mining division.