Life After Coal: US Economist Speaks

Bob Massie is the outgoing President and CEO of the New Economy Coalition, whose mission is to support a just transition to a new economy that enables both thriving communities and ecological health. He has degrees from Princeton and Yale and a doctorate in business policy from Harvard University. In 2011, he was a candidate for the US Senate. He was the keynote speaker in a recent Australian tour organised by Australia and Earthworker Cooperative – “Just Transitions” – discussing the development of new economies that better support people and the planet. Massie advocates for the transition to a clean energy economy to include people currently working in the fossil fuel industry.


Massie began his Melbourne talk by outlining the declining international market for coal, asserting that big economies like China and India aim to firstly meet their needs through domestic production, and to secondly reduce their coal consumption. He questioned both the Australian government’s assumption that the world’s appetite for coal is on the rise and the validity of the Australian government’s financial and political support for the coal industry. Massie highlighted the need for organised exit strategies from fossil fuel dependency and explored three different approaches towards transitioning to a renewable economy:

1) A “Top-down” approach, illustrated through Germany, a country with a population of 88 million. Political leaders took initiative, using policy and legislation to increase renewable energy production from 6% to 30% in 10 years. Enabling factors included the decision to freeze and end Germany’s nuclear industry by 2022 and a fair feed-in tariff for solar. The new renewables industry created over 100,000 new jobs.

2) A “From-the-sides” approach where organisations and institutions such as universities and churches, divest from fossil fuel.

3) A “Bottom-up” approach where regions/communities take it on themselves to create change. In the Australian context, this approach can be seen in: Newstead – a town aiming to be the first in Australia to run on 100% renewable energy; the community-owned Hepburn Wind farm; and Earthworker Cooperative’s contribution towards local worker-owned cooperatives in sustainability-focused industries.

Massie went on to remind the audience that all great investors in history have invested in the future, not in the past- with renewable energy clearly the investment choice of the future. Massie concluded with an inspiring call for action on climate change, highlighting the importance of unity between environmentalists and local communities who currently earn a living from the coal industry. The importance of unity, support and planning in achieving a “just transition” was also common theme in the speeches of Dearnne Nicholson, (Voices of the Valley), Dave Kerin (Earthworker Cooperative), Andrew Dettmar (AMWU) and audience members from the Latrobe Valley.