Hunter Valley air pollution debate featured on ABC's Fight For Planet A

DIGGING DEEP: Craig Reucassel's new show Fight For Planet A: Our Climate Challenge brought him to Singleton. Picture: Supplied
DIGGING DEEP: Craig Reucassel's new show Fight For Planet A: Our Climate Challenge brought him to Singleton. Picture: Supplied

IT'S clear from watching the first episode of Craig Reucassel's new documentary series Fight For Planet A: Our Climate Challenge, that his visit to Singleton left an emotional impact on The Chaser star.

In one of the final scenes, Reucassel is filmed driving out of the Hunter Valley town amid shots of open cut coal mining and melancholy music.

Despite hearing various horror stories from Singleton GP Dr Bob Vickers about asthma rates and the unprecedented numbers of high air pollution alerts, Reucassel was shocked by the resignation from residents he met.

"Singleton is kind of a microcosm of how Australia is when it comes to carbon," Reucassel tells Weekender.

"I was amazed just talking to people on the street and how many thought it was an issue. They said, 'Yeah we have black soot over our windows, we cough a lot more than we used to when we lived somewhere else.'

CONCERNED: Singleton GP Dr Bob Vickers features on episode one.

CONCERNED: Singleton GP Dr Bob Vickers features on episode one.

"All that stuff was just accepted as the total and utter norm. It was, 'That's what happens when you live here'. There's a little bit of that in the rest of Australia. They say, 'Coal is part of Australia'."

Fight For Planet A is a three-part series which explores Australia's battle with climate change and methods that could be adopted by government, big business and everyday people to reduce their carbon emissions.

Naturally the coal mining industry comes under heavy criticism during the series, particularly when Reucassel visits Singleton to speak with Dr Vickers, Camberwell cattle farmer Wendy Bowman and Singleton Argus journalist Louise Nichols.

Dr Vickers has been a vocal advocate for reducing air pollution in the Hunter, citing Singleton's 17 to 18 per cent rate of asthma, which exceeds the NSW average of 13 per cent. The Herald also reported last year that all 14 air pollution monitoring stations in the Hunter Valley have recorded multiple exceedances of the national standard for coarse and fine particle pollution.

FIGHTER: Wendy Bowman is interviewed by Craig Reucassel. Pictures: Marina Neil

FIGHTER: Wendy Bowman is interviewed by Craig Reucassel. Pictures: Marina Neil

Bowman's farm is surrounded by mines but she has refused to sell her property to coal companies despite the negative impacts to her health. Bowman has lost 20 per cent of her lung function due to coal dust and black soot regularly covers her verandah.

Despite the environmental and health effects of coal mining, the industry retains strong economic and political importance to the Hunter and Australia.

Singleton is kind of a microcosm of how Australia is when it comes to carbon.

Craig Reucassel

Reucassel strongly believes in a full transition from coal to renewable energy, but says the shift must be handled carefully by governments to ensure workers and communities aren't adversely affected.

"I am absolutely of the opinion that nobody in coal should bear the burden of the change," he says. "It's not their fault that we've discovered that their industry is harming the world.

"They're doing the right thing by getting a good job and they shouldn't bear any of the burden, but there has to be a transition and they should be ensured they get help in finding other jobs.

"I've visited areas where coal has gone out and people have changed to other things and a lot of people have made a really positive change that way.

"This is a national problem. It's not a problem that should be placed on the shoulders of the Hunter or any other region that relies on coal for money.

"If we're gonna be making this change we need to be helping those people more than others."

Fight For Planet A: Our Climate Challenge begins 8.30pm Tuesday on ABC.

This story Hunter Valley featured in television climate change debate first appeared on Newcastle Herald.