Meet the man protesting against his own livelihood

From coaldust and heavy trucks to a communal garden and Stop Adani posters, one miner in Queensland’s north is trying to strike a balance.

Feb 11, 2020, updated Feb 11, 2020
Grant Howard works in a coal mine, but is also concerned about climate change. (ABC Tropical North: Angel Parsons)

Grant Howard works in a coal mine, but is also concerned about climate change. (ABC Tropical North: Angel Parsons)

For almost 40 years, Grant Howard has worked as a coal miner at the Bowen Basin, one of Australia’s largest coal reserves.

Now, when he is not at work, he is learning how to be a climate activist.

“I’m just an average guy and trying to understand better this whole concern with climate change,” Howard said.

“I was watching the news, and I heard them say the C02 level in the atmosphere was [about] 420 parts per million.

“That was just like hitting me over the head with a stick, I thought, ‘Wow, that can’t be true.’

“As a coal miner, I understand the characteristics of carbon dioxide, we’re trained to look for that gas.”

A man wearing an orange hard hat is looking at a red painted sign about Adani.
Grant Howard says his activism has raised some eyebrows at work. (Photo: ABC Tropical North: Angel Parsons)

‘I’ve been called a hypocrite’

Howard said he had wondered if it was possible to campaign against an industry he was financially dependent on.

“I did have to mull it over a lot, and indeed question my own employment,” Howard said.

“It has been a great job.

“Every day was an adventure — that’s how I describe working in a coal mine.”

He said it was a challenging balance to strike, but he had chosen to continue working while spending his spare time being more involved in climate activism.

“I’m 56, so sometimes my views and opinion does put me at odds with other people,” he said.

“Look, I’ve been called a hypocrite, and that’s been fairly confronting, particularly from people that I just love working with, [who] have given me some great times and we’ve shared a lot of laughs together.

“Some people don’t want to talk to me, then on the other hand I have other colleagues who equally agree.”

A group of people standing and sitting around a couch smile at the camera.
Grant Howard has found himself among friends at an anti-coal protest camp. (Photo: ABC Tropical North: Angel Parsons)

In it together

Activist Eric Oliver said he wasn’t at all surprised to find his group of protesters, stationed at a camp west of Bowen, had a coal miner in their midst.

“I’ve worked in the mines and on construction in mining industry a number of times over the years,” Oliver said.

“The fact of being a miner doesn’t blind people to what’s happening in the world.”

Those at the protest camp home said they did not necessarily fit the typical hippy archetype.

Whitsunday resident and protester Paul Jukes said it did not have to be one or the other for miners.

“I guess maybe there was a fear out there that they’re going to get sacked for it,” he said.

Three men stand around a garden bed, looking and holding shovels.
Grant Howard has travelled to spend time living with anti-coal activists. (Photo: ABC Tropical North: Angel Parsons)

While his views are not a secret at work, it took two days for Howard to reveal his job to his fellow activists.

He said he understood the urge to feel defensive as a miner when it came to the climate debate.

“[Coal miners] hear all this criticism and they do feel they’re being blamed, and that’s crazy,” he said.

“We all drive cars, we all watch television … so we’re all together on this.

“They [miners] need to essentially understand that it’s a community, state and government issue.”

A gate saying 'entry by invitation only'
The gate that greets visitors as they drive into the anti-coal protestors camp. (Photo: ABC Rural: Melanie Groves)

Whose responsibility is the solution?

Howard believed mine workers should not feel like they were shouldering the responsibility of climate change, and that Australia’s government needed to step up to address carbon emissions.

“It’s got to be a planned and organised and resourced transition that takes place not in one day, [but] that is planned over the next 10, 20, 30 and 40 years,” he said.

He said miners should feel empowered to have their own opinions without feeling that their livelihoods were being threatened.

“I see politicians using coal miners for their own political advantage, and I’m very angry about that, because they’re simply putting forth a very simplistic argument,” he said.

“They’re not giving coal miners the information they should need.

“I want to try to help coal miners understand all of those issues better and, at the end of the day, help climate activists understand coal miners better.”


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