As coal mines spread like cracks across Australia’s Hunter Valley, the phone in Glenn Albrecht’s office began to ring. It was the early 2000s, and Albrecht, an environmental studies professor, was interested in the emotional impacts of mining on local communities. For generations, the region had been known for its bucolic alfalfa fields, horse farms, and vineyards. Coal mining had long been a part of the economy, but it had suddenly grown as increasing global demand and new extraction technologies prompted a wave of new mining operations across the valley.
Word of Albrecht’s interest spread, and distressed residents were eager to share their stories. They described earth-shaking explosions, the constant rumble of machinery, the eerie glow of industrial work lights that illuminated the night, and invasive black dust that coated their houses inside and out. They worried about the air they breathed and the water they drank. Their homes were slipping away, and they felt powerless to stop the destruction.
Some in the valley mounted a legal battle to try to keep the mines at bay, but many needed the jobs the mines provided. Ultimately, the deep-pocketed mining interests prevailed. The landscape, and much of the social fabric built upon it, became collateral damage.