climate action cafe

A space for discussion and analysis within the global climate movement

An Open Letter to the Camp for Climate Action

Posted by KM on August 23, 2008

Original version on UK Indymedia

by David Douglass

Dear Camp for Climate Action,

Firstly thank you for contacting me. I’m hopping mad about what I’ve
heard, but I may not have been told the whole story. I can tell you too
the mining community whats left of us feel utterly betrayed by rumours
about you swinging all your efforts to close down what remains of the coal
industry. There are debates about counter-demonstrations etc and press
statements from the power workers and miners. So its vital we do not take
up cudgels over this unless and until and at least that we know where each
other stand. I was a matter of interest with the National General
secretary of the NUM and the Yorkshire Area Leadership last weekend and
they are spitting feathers about the Drax demonstration. The slogans on
the demonstration and the statements made to the press by the protestsrs
demonstrated no concern for the miners, railway workers or power workers.
There was no consultation with us, no debate with us, no seeing what we
wanted or how we see the world or how we can see if there is anything is
common. ‘Leave It In The Ground’ was the banner which was unfurled at
Drax, ‘it’ being the coal, and the miners ? where do we leave them ? that
bit wasn’t answered. We know where John Major and Maggie Thatcher and
Harold Wilson left us, on the dung heap, and most of us are still there.

Our own demands would be two fold, firstly we want to see the opening of
‘clean coal technology stations’. Yes the technology exists and had done
since the 50s but nobody was interested in applying it. There are at least
two methods, but the latest one is carbon capture, thats not the end of
the story but here isn’t the place to elaborate. Enough to say its not a
con, it does produce massive savings in CO2 emissions, plus the bi product
of the Hatfield Main system is hydrogen and energy conservation. Which are
added bonuses on the carbon capture.

Secondly we want to see international (‘fair trade’ if you like )
standards applied to all imported coal and a level playing field in terms
of health and safety, conditions, hours and union recognition . Countries
with mass slaughter in the collieries should not be allowed to dump coal
here at the expense of workers in their countries and unemployment for
miners here.

65 million Tonnes of coal is burned in Britain each year only about 18
million of it is mined here, despite the fact that British coal is the
cheapest deep mined coal in the world. It is brought here in part because
rather than fit wipers and efficient filters to all power stations, they
import coal which produces less sulphur and ash and carbon when burned.
Instead they burn the miners at source.

There is about 500 years of coal in Britain, it can provide a breathing
space, to develop renewable sources, certainly solar, yes tidal, though
not destructive wind estates which are laying siege to the bits of free
land and crags and moorland we have left.

The governments main plan is and always been to make Britain Nuclear
dependant. That is why they closed down the mines in the first place.
Climate Camp must be very careful not to cross on the wrong side of the
barricade on this issue. Not to be used to promote Nuclear energy by
making the biggest focus coal .

The spokesperson at Drax this month said there was NO PLACE for coal in
Britain’s energy supply ! Thats fairly final. The impact of that
statement, coming as it does with a middle class voice and total
indifference to the situation in the coal communities, is unlikely to
strike any cords this side of the tracks.

I understand you intend to shut down Kingsnorth Power Station in August. I
don’t know this station in particular but I was informed this was a
station which was using clean coal technology ? Is that not right ?
whether it is or not we have to ask why coal ?.

Coal is not the biggest producer of CO2 its about the fourth and thats
with unfettered uncontrolled emissions from the third world in particular.
It could be massively reduced by demanding all coal which comes here meets
minimum standards of health and safety and union rights. That the
exporting countries themselves adopt clean coal technologies. Such a
tighter focus would be entirely more credible and principled than simply
saying ‘close down all coal power stations, don’t build new ones, and
exterminate the last of the miners and their communities’.

I cant say I’m keen on entering the lions den of the Climate Camp as a
former miners leader and life long coal miner. I’m tempted to say I think
we speak differant languages. However I shall pencil this is my calender
and see if I can attend along with any of the NUM leadership in order that
we can put our point view across and hopefully get you to adopt a more
balanced approach to the question of power generation and working class
expectations and demands.

You have my permission to put this letter on the website.

The World For The Workers

David Douglass
NUM

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2 Responses to “An Open Letter to the Camp for Climate Action”

  1. Mandy Meikle said

    David Douglass raises the important point that we all need to be talking about climate change although I do not agree with taking up “cudgels over this”, regardless of whether we agree or not!

    I was at Climate Camp to take a workshop on peak oil, as well as to protest against Kingsnorth power station, which is not using clean coal technology and it’s still not clear whether carbon capture and storage will be used there but I’ll come on to that later. I have been campaigning on energy issues for over 10 years, starting when opencast coal mining was rampaging across Scotland in the 1990s. David says that environmentalists don’t care about coal workers but some might say that coal workers don’t care about the children in opencast communities who develop respiratory problems due to the dust. I am not meaning to apportion blame – that is pointless. I am trying to explain that there are two sides (at least!) to every story.

    David mentions carbon capture and storage (CCS) and hydrogen as solutions to our future energy needs but these both have problems, which many just gloss over. Firstly, CCS is unproven and unlikely to be viable for decades. A hearing of the US Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last year heard from the director of the U.S. Geological Survey, Dr. Mark Myers, that the timeline for commercialisation is as follows: workable sequestration after 2012, the first commercial deployment by 2020, and widespread use of CCS in the “2045 time frame.” (http://tinyurl.com/5wfw9f). Given that we will be into runaway climate change before 2020 if we haven’t changed our current path, and given that CCS is now widely being used as the justification for Business As Usual, I do not see CCS as an option.

    And we have to remember that the oil industry has been injecting CO2 into oil oilfields for years – it’s called Enhanced Oil Recovery. I wrote to BERR (was DTI) and the Environmental Audit Committee recently about CCS and have been told that, “The possibility that CCS could contribute to enhanced oil recovery is certainly readily acknowledged, and has been cited as an advantage of CCS (depending on your view of whether accessing more oil is a good or bad thing!). Indeed, most of the trials of CO2 storage in geological sites have been related to enhanced oil recovery”. I do not believe that anyone has done the sums over whether more CO2 would be stored than would be released when the extra oil recovered is burned, but it’s another reason why I fail to get excited about CCS.

    Hydrogen may well play some role in our future but the generating process is too is energy intensive for hydrogen to replace oil for transport fuel. The clean way to make hydrogen is to ‘crack’ it off of water molecules but this is very energy intensive and in many cases, gives out less energy than it took to generate the hydrogen in the first place. An easier way is to crack hydrogen off of methane (natural gas) molecules but that leaves us reliant on fossil fuels.

    Whether you believe in climate change or not, I think most people believe that fossil fuels are finite resources and everyone is aware of the rising prices. We have been avoiding the obvious for too long now. We have to ‘powerdown’ – we have to develop our society so that it uses much less energy. Full stop. It’s easy to be convinced by stories we want to believe but how stupid will we seem in retrospect? And let’s not forget that if we are using less energy from fossil fuels, we will have to use more from our own endeavours – more work, more jobs. Yes, I’m aware I am wandering into “you environmentalists want us all to go back to living in caves” territory but preparing for the inevitable future NOW is exactly the opposite – it’s trying to prevent us from all living in caves!

    David also says, “Coal is not the biggest producer of CO2 its about the fourth…”. I’m not sure what this is in relation to. Burning coal produces more CO2 per unit of energy produced than burning oil (conventional) or gas. But we have to remember that deforestation and land use changes (agriculture, biofuels etc) are also a huge part of the climate problem. According to a testimony made by the CEO of The Nature Conservancy, at a hearing held by the US Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming in February, emissions from deforestation and land-use change exceed those from every car, truck, train, ship and plane in the world combined (http://www.nature.org/initiatives/climatechange/features/art23881.html?src=home). Tackling climate change is not just an issue for the energy sector.

    I agree with David on nuclear. It is interesting to remember this from Tony Blair, in 1989 when he was Neil Kinnock’s shadow energy secretary (just when the Tories were pushing electricity privatisation through the
    Commons):
    “What is unbelievably depressing about the [Conservative] government’s response is that they see, in the evidence about greenhouse gases, not an opportunity to promote environmental concern but a chance to make the case for nuclear power”

    Blair went on to say:
    “It will be the consumer who will pay, along with the taxpayer, as we shall see later. The irony … is that, whereas the profit from the electricity industry moves to the private sector, much of the risk and liability stays in the public sector.” And that was way back when the cleanup from nuclear power was estimated at less than £10bn. It’s now £70bn+.

    And here’s more from that same speech to the Commons (which can be viewed at http://tinyurl.com/3azeuo):
    “Having made a big issue of the greenhouse effect, it became clear that energy efficiency was the best way to deal with it, but . . . the government’s position has been characterised by a malign reluctance to have anything to do with the notion of energy conservation.”

    So we can see that nothing changes. Those in opposition wax lyrical about how bad those in power are but when they gain power, they change their tune. I have no reason to believe that Cameron’s Tories will be any different. Politicians don’t run the show, powerful corporate interests do. As Abe Lincoln said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power”. Ain’t it the truth!

    Workers have been used and abused since humans started storing food! We have millennia of human rights abuses to deal with. Coal miners are not the only people who will suffer in the low-energy future. Whether you believe in climate change or not, I think most people believe that fossil fuels are a one-off. We have squandered a totally unique energy resource in 200 years or so. We have used the energy within fossil fuels to build a society so complex that it will collapse when that energy supply ceases to be cheaply available. There will always be some oil, coal and gas out there, but what matters is a) can it be got out of the ground (i.e. is extraction economically feasible) and b) can it be got to those with money to buy it?

    We little people don’t matter, whether coal workers or environmentalists. We are workers and consumers, fulfilling our little roles in this crazy world which only serves to make the few richer and the many poorer. I sympathise with anyone who has too little money to provide for their families. But what everyone must do now is look to the future, not try to retain the past. The fossil fuel industry is over, as are most high-energy industries. Yes, we may spend a decade or two ignoring the inevitable – then we really are screwed.

    But I hope, I really hope, that we can get together and really discuss and anticipate a future where the masses get off of their collective backsides and start to make their future for themselves (I don’t know if David did make it to Climate Camp and if there was a debate. If there was, I hope it was amicable and respectful). No, it’s not going to be easy but one thing I have learned from the direct action movement is how much can be achieved if the will is there. Maybe David would invite me/some of us to debate this at the NUM? I too fear going into the lions’ den but whether we are speaking different languages or not, we are all in this together and we are all human beings – people, not enemies.

    David ends his post with “The World For The Workers” – how about making that “The Workers For The World”? Then we would be speaking the same language.

  2. Danny Prior said

    Like most poor, working class people, I will only believe that my sacrifices make a difference when I notice similar changes in the behaviour of the rich.

    This is not just about production and supply, or their control, it is about reducing wasted consumption. My local golf course is still flood-lit through the night. Carbon-trading is a fraud, we need carbon rationing. This is a class issue, it is always the poorer classes that will suffer most while the rich young jet off to foriegn eco-projects.

    If you care for the future then then breed less, travel less and most importantly eat less meat. And that means everyone not just the poor.

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