THREE teenagers, three women, a priest and an academic drew a climate change line in the sand in searing heat outside a Singleton coal mine pit on Saturday as Australia burned and the world watched in horror.
Glencore's plan to expand and more than double coal production at its Glendell coal mine until 2044 is the project they say the Australian public must stop - because governments won't - to signal a cultural shift in the nation's attitude to coal at the start of a decade when urgent action is needed to reduce carbon emissions.
"That the NSW Government is even considering this mine expansion given the crisis we're in now is absolutely insane. People are dying. Animals are dying. I'm frightened and angry and I think we all should be, because our country is burning," said student Luka McCallum, 15, of Newcastle.
"We can't expand this mine and other mines because the world has to reduce carbon emissions now. That's what we need to focus on right now, the future, and how to limit the damage instead of opening new mines."
The Glencore proposal to remove 140 million tonnes of coal from a new area between Singleton and Muswellbrook until 2044, once coal is exhausted in 2022 at its existing Glendell mine, is on public exhibition until January 31. Glencore says the expansion will provide job security for 300 workers and "in isolation, is unlikely to materially influence global emission trajectories".
Environment Minister Matt Kean - who broke ranks with Coalition colleagues in December and said doing nothing on climate change "is not a solution" - said in response to questions about the Glendell expansion that coal "will continue to play an important role for the foreseeable future in NSW".
But Anglican priest Rod Bower said expanding mines was "not morally justifiable", and Edmund Rice Centre director and advocate for threatened Pacific Island nations, Phil Glendenning, said the Glendell expansion was "long-term economic and moral lunacy".
Ms McCallum and Hunter students Campbell Knox, Abby Manning, Sean Bryant, Alexa Stuart and Caelan Doel want Australians to send a message to state and federal governments by making submissions against the Glendell expansion.
As part of the Student Strike for Climate Action movement they are also calling on Australian governments to develop a transition plan for the Hunter for the next decade to support the region's economy, mine workers and businesses that rely on coal, while reducing emissions in line with Australia's obligations under the Paris Agreement.
"Should people make a submission on Glendell? Yes, of course. Everyone needs to step up," said Mr Knox, 17.
Ms Manning, 17, said the "business-as-usual" message from the Glendell application, recent government moves to block the linking of exported coal emissions from NSW mine assessments, and the "utter denial of what climate change is doing" by some state and federal politicians forced young people to speak.
Ms Manning accused Prime Minister Scott Morrison of "horrible leadership" on climate change and said governments in general had demonstrated "a refusal to understand or listen to the people who are being affected by this the most".
"It's offensive for Scott Morrison to say young people are experiencing needless anxieties on climate change. What we're afraid of is the future. What we're angry about is governments not facing the reality of climate change and doing something to limit the damage," Ms Manning said.
Father Bower, Mr Glendenning, University of Newcastle senior environment lecturer Dr Liam Phelan, chemical engineer and Hunter Greens candidate Janet Murray, and Climate Change Institute Professor Will Steffen said Australians were going to have to show governments they want action to meet the Paris Agreement targets by supporting students.
"The Glendell expansion is long-term economic and moral lunacy," Mr Glendenning said.
"Australia is the canary in the coalmine on climate change globally and we're seeing our future in front of us right now with these catastrophic fires."
Professor Steffen said projections if the world does not reduce carbon emissions show "this will look like a good year 20 years down the track if we don't act now".
"The expansion of mines like Glencore is proposing has to end. Now we've got a global problem and students are showing the way forward. Us older people, our job is to support the students because it's their future," Professor Steffen said.
"Citizens in a democratic country need to tell governments - we didn't elect you to ignore this problem. Deal with it."
Ms Murray said refusing the Glendell expansion after years of Hunter mine approvals would be "a warning shot that the game's up, the world has changed, no more mine expansions or new mines".
"I just don't see how you can approve coalmines without looking at the impact of burning coal, knowing what we know now. People are gradually coming out of the woodwork and saying, no, this is not acceptable. We care about what burning coal is doing to the planet we live in," Ms Murray said.
Father Bower said the Glendell expansion proposal was an appropriate line in the sand to show it is not business as usual in NSW after a decade of toxic climate change politics at state and federal level. Australians saying no to Glendell would mark the start of a new decade of climate change action, he said.
Expanding existing mines was "simply not morally justifiable" after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2018 warned of irreversible impacts without "rapid and far-reaching" cuts to global carbon emissions by 2030, Father Bower said.
"It's now clear that past and present governments are letting us down on climate action. It's time to listen to our young people because the science on climate change is in," he said.
In addition to the Glendell assessment the NSW Government is finalising assessment of Glencore plans to expand its Mangoola coal mine at Wybong and recover another 52 million tonnes of coal, only months after a third Glencore Hunter mine interest, United Wambo, was allowed to expand for another 23 years to mine an additional 150 million tonnes.
In the past 18 months other Hunter coal mines, including Dartbrook, Mount Pleasant, Rix's Creek, Bloomfield North, Ulan and Moolarben, have been approved to expand mining up to 2040.
The Glendell application was made public on December 11, only weeks after the NSW Government was accused of caving in to mining industry pressure by ordering a review of the Independent Planning Commission, after it rejected the Bylong coal mine, in part because "future generations" would bear the environmental costs of today's economic benefits.
On October 24 NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes introduced legislation that will exclude scope 3 carbon emissions - emissions from Australian coal burnt overseas - from future NSW mining assessments.
Dr Phelan said it was time for the Hunter, and Australians, to face facts about the nation's long reliance on coal to provide a cheap and plentiful energy source, jobs, and as an export underpinning local, state and national economies.
"We have to face facts that coal from the Hunter is a key Australian contribution to increasing climate risk. There is a clear connection between the coal we dig out of the ground here and the lives that are lost, and the homes that are lost, in bushfires and other extreme weather disasters elsewhere across Australia and beyond," Dr Phelan said.
"In the same way that it's prudent to prepare for inevitable bushfires, it's essential for the Hunter to prepare for life beyond coal. The aim of a just transition is to recognise the Hunter's existing strengths, build on them, and ensure no one is left behind.
"A just transition here in the Hunter means us here in the Hunter beginning to take responsibility for the global impact of coal mining here."
In December Mr Kean confirmed he had commissioned the state's chief scientist to prepare a blueprint for a radically decarbonised economy so that NSW can become a clean energy export and green technology leader.
In response to Newcastle Herald questions about the Glendell expansion Mr Kean said the Hunter is "well placed to be a part of the new renewable energy industry which will create new jobs and improve the economy, alongside coal".
"There are opportunities to use the unused coal mines in the solar and wind energy industries, to provide cheap energy and reindustrialise the region," Mr Kean said.
In two papers that form part of the application for the Glendell expansion Glencore said the project will contribute to global emissions.
"However, the extent to which global emissions and atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases have a demonstrable impact on climate change will be largely driven by the global response to reducing total global emissions which includes all major emission sources and sinks," Glencore said.
"Glencore has announced that it will manage global coal production to a total of around 150 million tonnes per annum going forward as part of a voluntary cap on coal production.
"However, this does not mean Glencore will freeze its coal projects nor exiting coal. Glencore has indicated that it will continue to develop a pipeline of coal projects assessed against market conditions and project economics and while remaining within the coal production cap."