Arriving back in the electorate from Canberra on Friday, I encountered two unusual things happening simultaneously.
A thick haze of smoke had turned our streets dark and streetlights had lit up in response. Overhead the sun shone strangely with red hues rarely seen. Helicopters buzzed and sirens could be heard faintly in the hot winds.
Meanwhile, my mobile phone was buzzing with complaints from people upset with a photo I'd posted on Twitter the night before, following a meeting with the Resources Minister, Matt Canavan, and the CEO of the World Coal Association.
According to my Twitter friends, the Shadow Minister for Resources holding a meeting with the Minister and an industry leader is now a crime punishable by abuse. Some qualified their abuse, justifying it on timing grounds. A day when fires were raging was the wrong day to post, some claimed. Maybe I should have refused the meeting? Plain silly. The fires are distressing for us all. Later that day I was on the fire-line thanking our fire fighters, so I know.
But sadly, if Tony Abbott had not recklessly repealed Julia Gillard's so-called "carbon tax" six years ago, the fires would still be with us. If Kevin Rudd had secured Parliamentary approval for his CPRS ten years ago, the fires would still be raging.
Our climate is changing adversely. Long hot and dry spells are creating a tinder box. Back-burning is becoming more difficult because moist and cool windows of opportunity are becoming fewer. Scientists tell us greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) are contributing to changes in our weather patterns and the global community should play safe and adjust behaviour.
But Australia is only responsible for 1.3 per cent of global emissions, and acting alone we can make no practical difference.
However, we must do enough to give us the credibility needed to preach to the big emitting countries which are not doing enough.
We must all do our bit but we need not - and should not - forsake our coal mining jobs, not one of the 75,000 it creates in our own region. The path to lower GHG emissions is to help the big emitting countries reduce theirs. China is responsible for almost 30 per cent of global emissions. We must reduce emissions in Asia and India or fail. Developing countries need a lot of energy and a lot of coal to build wind turbines and solar panels. Indeed it takes 200 tonnes of metallurgical coal to build one wind turbine.
Australia produces relatively clean and efficient coal. Exporting it to nations coming out of poverty helps them develop their economies and offsets the dirtier, less-efficient coal they would otherwise be forced to buy elsewhere.
Blaming and demonising our coal miners for the current fires is not just silly, it's insulting and unfair. Arguing the region's 12,000 coal miners can "transition" to the renewables sector is just as silly. It's certainly confronting for a coal miner with a family and a healthy mortgage.
It's time for some common sense and past-time my mainly capital-city-based Twitter friends did their homework. Next they'll be campaigning against our farmers and their belching cows.
As this will be my last column for 2019, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year, and I look forward to engaging with you in 2020.
- Joel Fitzgibbon is the Federal Member for Hunter. Contact his office on (02) 4991 1022 or via joelfitzgibbon.com.