The bonds between person and place have a role to play in energy transition planning

17 November 2020
Dr Kamila Svobodova

Understanding the positive and negative attachments of people who live in coal mining communities could be key to implementing inclusive regional energy transitions, according to research by The University of Queensland’s Sustainable Minerals Institute (SMI).

In a new study published in Energy Research & Social Science, researchers conclude that mapping ‘place attachments’, i.e. emotional bonds between person and place, provides policymakers with a clearer understanding of local acceptance and willingness for industrial change.

SMI Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining (CSRM) researcher and study lead author Dr Kamila Svobodova said coal mining communities possess qualities that make them uniquely connected to heavy industry.

“Policymakers should be avoiding scenarios where an energy transition transforms mining towns from boom towns at the start of mine life cycle to ghost towns after closure,” Dr Svobodova said.

“The viability of a town is not only shaped by population size, but also economic mix, which means economic alternatives for mining communities need to be explored.

“Our findings show that, under the right conditions, residents of coal mining towns can adapt to industrial alternatives, even when those alternatives introduce major disruptions to their surrounds.

“Something like house ownership, which is a positive attachment when the mining economy is good, can become a negative attachment that limits their options when the economy turns against coal.

“In the current age it is unrealistic to dismiss all industrial alternatives and expect towns to ‘return to nature’, so this is a valuable understanding to be working from.

 “Our framework is really about building a more nuanced understanding of the individual and collective drivers behind decisions to invest in a location, or to cut ties and move on.

 “As shown with coal mining communities, understanding the composition and balance of motives among residents will be critical to designing and implementing informed regional policies.

“Our case studies from two coal towns helped us understand how connections between people and places are formed and transferred across the life of mine, people’s resilience to industrial change, their limits of its acceptance and the impacts on individual and collective quality of life in close proximity to mining.

“The overarching success of energy transitions in democratic societies will be whether initiatives receive the support of citizens who are likely to be affected by the change.

“Their acceptance and willingness to change is one of the defining factors of the transition feasibility."

Read paper in full: The global energy transition and place attachment in coal mining communities: implications for heavily industrialised landscapes.