ALTHOUGH the timing was unintentional, the launch of a new Hunter organisation wanting a seat at the post-coal decision-making table comes at the same time as another indicator of the industry's declining fortunes; new tonnage figures showing a 5 per cent fall in shipments for the year so far through Newcastle's main coal export terminal.
It's a sign of coal's importance that sales have not fallen further, given the long years of the climate change debate.
As well, we are seeing extraordinary developments in renewable energy generation, although similar gains will need to be made in electricity storage, if solar and wind power are to fulfil their apparent destinies as the foundation of a new age of non-polluting power.
Only the most pessimistic of climate watchers will be unable to acknowledge that human ingenuity has proved capable over the centuries of solving any number of supposedly intractable problems.
Once the storage of sufficient energy can be affordably accomplished - whether it's through batteries, super-capacitors or renewably generated liquid hydrogen - there will be no need to dig coal to boil water to make steam to turn a turbine to generate electricity.
An industry that has helped sustain this region since the arrival of the English will have had its day.
As long as the energy debate pitted environmentalists and progressive politicians on one side and everyone else on the other, coal had a long-term chance.
But the world is in the midst of a paradigm shift.
Global capital - the major banks, sovereign wealth funds, big conglomerates - have sniffed the wind, and are making the jump.
We worry about demand from China, but Japan has been the Hunter coal's effective guarantor since the industry began taking its modern shape 60 years ago.
So when Australia's biggest coal customer sets 2050 as a "carbon neutral" target date, the industry, and all in its proximity, need to take notice.
It's too early to judge whether the Hunter Jobs Alliance of unions and environmental groups will make a major impact, but the organisation - driven by some respected green groups and individuals on one side, and some major ALP-aligned unions on the other - is determined to make itself heard.
And that's important, because whatever happens with coal from here on in, the Hunter is necessarily in the thick of it.
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