On Thursday, I awoke to the disturbing news that a deal has been signed to build two massive new coal-fired power stations just minutes from my family’s vineyard in the Hunter Valley.
My immediate thought was that this is terrible news for our family, who have grown grapes in this region for five generations.
And a split-second later, it hit me that new coal in the Hunter would actually be a disaster for all farmers, and the region as a whole.
How would coal projects be bad for the Hunter? Let me count the ways.
First, coal power stations guzzle millions of litres of water - potentially up to seven million litres a day.
This would be deadly for our region, which is already bone dry after months of unrelenting drought.
The Hunter River is so low that I’m worried irrigation could soon be stopped.
Second, it would spew pollution over neighbouring towns and regions, including my farm.
Some of the small particulates that will rain down on us have been proven to cause asthma, respiratory illnesses, and strokes.
In fact, research shows that people who live within 50 kilometres of coal-fired power stations are three to four times more likely to die prematurely than people who live further away.
Third, we know that burning fossil fuels is the single biggest contributor to climate change, and we’re already seeing the impacts of global warming now.
We’ve just had the hottest summer on record, and are bracing for a hot, dry autumn ahead.
This is bad news for all farmers, but especially so for winegrowers.
Grape vines are particularly sensitive to temperature changes and heatwaves.
We’re seeing the fingerprints of climate change all over the fact that harvest dates are getting earlier each year and our water supplies are shrinking.
I am already losing sleep over how we are going to adapt to a warming climate, and I’m sure fellow winegrowers are doing the same.
Our family is doing what we can to adapt, our winery is carbon neutral and we have invested in a solar array on our farm to reduce our footprint.
But a coal project down the street would wipe out any gains, and lock in more warming.
If we don’t keep temperatures within two degrees, what happens to Australian grape growers when we can no longer adapt to rising temperatures? It’s a stomach-turning prospect.
If we don’t keep temperatures within two degrees, what happens to Australian grape growers when we can no longer adapt to rising temperatures?
It’s a stomach-turning prospect.
The worst part of this whole debacle is that all the destruction is just so unnecessary.
We don’t need new coal projects in the Hunter for energy, or for the economy.
Renewable energy and storage can power the Hunter without any of the pollution and water depletion of coal, and our region, with its abundant energy expertise and infrastructure, is in pole position to exploit the economic opportunities that the renewables boom offers.
In addition, large-scale wind and solar energy are already cheaper than new coal plants; business experts are sounding the alarm about the financial and legal risks of climate inaction; and coal is falling out of favour as an energy source.
We should not even be considering these projects.
While I’m baffled about why two new coal power stations are even being proposed, I’m also furious that our policymakers haven’t delivered the immediate slapdown the project deserves.
We shouldn’t even be considering new coal power stations.
It would be political negligence and an insult to farmers and young people to allow them to go ahead.
No matter how you look at it, new coal in the Hunter is a terrible idea, and investors and politicians would be foolish to support it.
I don’t say these things as an activist.
I say them as a 27-year old farmer who wants to work on the family vineyard for the rest of his life; and as a young person who will have to deal with an increasingly hostile, difficult climate in the years to come.
I say them as a voter.
I don’t know what’s going to happen with this coal project, but I can tell you that I’ll be doing what I can to stop it.
And so will thousands of farmers, doctors, businesspeople, and everyday Australians - we’ll raise a glass to that.