climate action cafe

A space for discussion and analysis within the global climate movement

Class, coal and climate change conference.

Posted by KM on January 30, 2009

Sat 1st November , Bridge Hotel, Newcastle upon Tyne.

This conference was organised by the N.U.M and the I.W.W in conjunction with the R.M.T in response to the camp for climate action.
Speakers included: Arthur Scargill (Hon President N.U.M)
Dave Douglass ( I.W.W activist )
Paul Chatterton ( Leeds Uni )
David Guy ( N.U.M regional official)
Environmental/Climate change activists
This speech was given by a climate camper NOT a spokesperson for the camp for climate action.

Before I start I would like to make a quick point although I am here to say why we should not use coal to produce electricity. I and the majority of people within the green movement have total respect and admiration for what the miners and the communities have fought for and achieved in particular the courage and dignity shown during the great strikes of the 1970/80’s.

Introduction

There is now is general acceptance among the scientific community that the phenomena called ‘climate change’ is real and happening. It is also accepted that the process is being accelerated by human activity. The debate has moved away from climate denial. Of course the Earth does have natural cycles of heating and cooling but the burning of fossil fuels, livestock production, waste disposal and deforestation have compounded the heating process; many scientists have concluded that that this will lead to unpredictable and severe weather patterns that will cause disastrous social conditions for Humanity. (I think the phase global warming is misleading and unhelpful)

It’s a complex picture and the uses of fossil fuels aren’t entirely to blame. The exploitation of other species for livestock production and industrial agriculture produce’s vast amounts of methane a so called greenhouse gas which is a major contributory to the climate change process.
However the main contribution to the greenhouse gases comes from the combustion of Oil, Gas and coal. Assuming the scientists are correct the need to tackle climate change can not be underestimated. Time is not on our side, but marching against us. As a species we must take urgent and collective action to avert the disastrous consequences of the climate changing for the worse.

No other generation has the weight of the future rested so heavily on the present.

Coal has had a big part to play in the situation that we find ourselves in, the burning of coal has in part led to the current climate crises and continues to do so.

As per usual the current labour government has set targets and made grand pledges but is guilty of complete inaction as is big business, both consistently put profit before people and planet. In terms of moving toward a low carbon society the government has so far failed. We continue to burn coal unabated to produce electricity and so we contribute to our own demise.

Coal + C.C.S + Opencast mining.

The bogeyman of the climate change movement is E-on and the kingsnorth power station in Kent where the recent camp for climate action was held. A new kingsnorth would emit the same amount of CO2 as the thirty least polluting countries combined and would destroy any chance that we have of persuading India and China to stop building coal fired power stations. If Kingsnorth is rebuilt it will pave the way for a new generation of coal fired power stations this simply can’t happen considering the accepted science.

E-on are proposing to utilise carbon, capture and storage( C.C.S ) technology at Kingnorth. Despite the claims of the energy giants Carbon, capture and storage is an unproven technology that is yet to be used on a global industrial scale, three or four test plants globally is not scientifically conclusive and proves nothing , to base the next forty years energy production policy on a yet unproven technology is surely folly.

Because C.C.S is in the early stages of it’s development the efficiency levels are very low only removing 20-35% of the greenhouse gases produced whilst lowering the total efficiency of the power station. This efficiency level is simply not high enough this would still leave coal as one of the dirtiest methods of producing electricity.

Timeline estimates vary as to when C.C.S will become available, the best guesses so far are 2015-2030. E-on wants to begin constructing the new kingsnorth around 2014 and has admitted that the C.C.S will have to be retrofitted, Again in light of the scientific advice this would not be quick enough to halt climate change.

We must not allow a new generation of coal fired power stations to be built because we’ve put our faith in a technology that may not mature or arrive to late stop climatic feedback systems.

One of my personal concerns regarding C.C.S is the cost of development which will inevitably be passed on to the consumer at a time when fuel bills are already riding high, those on a low income, pensioners and people that are already in fuel poverty will feel the pinch in their fuel bill. The finance used to develop C.C.S would be much better invested in mature and sustainable renewable technologies. Renewable technologies leave behind very little waste unlike nuclear or carbon sequestration techniques which need the waste to be into long term storage, experience has taught us that most dump and disposal systems have a tendency to leak.

To some extent carbon sequestration technology should be welcomed and when it has been proven on a global industrial scale it could help many dirty carbon based industries clean up their act during the transition to a low carbon society.

There is currently thirty applications to extract coal in the U:K fourteen of these are in Northumbria and Co. Durham alone, all the applications are to surface mine or opencast.

I think it would be useful for progression of the debate for the N.U.M to clarify it’s position on opencasting, during my preparation for this conference I looked extensively on the N.U.M website and rang several national and area officials but couldn’t get a clear answer on the N.U.M position. As there are so few deep mines left and no plans to revive deep mining practice I Think the N.U.M should put a clear statement on it’s webpage regarding it’s position on opencast mining. *see end notes*

For me and many other folk opencast mining is vandalism the scale of destruction of a modern opencast operation is obscene. How U:k coal, miller argent and the banks group can use phases such as sustainable and environmentally sensitive when referring to opencast is beyond me. A look over an opencast site leaves no doubt as to the environmental destruction of such an operation. The local communities that live next to such sites are forced to face damage to their local environment, heavy plant moving though their villages bringing noise and dust. House prices are lowered and any tourism in the area is diminished. At the end of the operation the so-called developers build a Mickey Mouse nature reserve and add a few extra footpaths. You can re-plant the tree’s but you can’t replace the forest it’s just not that simple.

Some of our climate camp group has been spending time with the residents of Consett, Leadgate and Dipton in Co. Durham a traditionally working class area abandoned by the Tories and capitalists during the 1980’s. Recently the residents took us on a guided walk over a site that U:K coal plan to opencast, the guide that lead the walk a local historian was amazingly well informed and the son of a mining family. He showed us the old bell mining sites, the entrances to drift mines, the honeycombing left after making coke and the old wagon ways used to transport the coal. In addition he explained the political and social aspects of mining over the last few hundred years, this site at Bradley/Billingside woods is part of the fabric of mining heritage in the North east.

We then went on to look at the flora and fauna in the area, nesting sites of red kites, the pond where crested newts have made their home, the badger sets in among ancient holly copse and the woodland that provides habitat for the nearly extinct red squirrels.

U:K coal has stated that the mining history and the unique wildlife is of no significance! The building blocks of a proud industrial heritage and the loss of habitat to three species that are on the brink of extinction and the damage to the wider ecology is of No Significance!

The disturbance to the local residents is of no significance to U:K coal.

It would seem to me that the only thing of significance to U:K coal, Banks group and Millar argent is profits for the fat cats on the board and it’s shareholders, they certainly don’t care about miners, local communities, wildlife or the fact that their profit driven actions will contribute to climate change. Personally I hope that the people which profit from these opencasting schemes choke on the money!

The supposedly democratic planning process is also being undermined. In the recent planning application for a new Banks group site close to Cramlington, Northumberland county council ( N.C.C) correctly rejected refused the application as the proposed site is located within an opencast constraint area, the ironically named communities minister at the time Hazel Blears stepped in and overruled N.C.C. I believe that the planning application for the Smalley site was also rejected by Derbyshire county council, again it was overruled by central government. What is the point of a planning process at all if the government is consistently overruling county councils.

I don’t know why the government and industry has such an obsession for opencasting, personally I think it’s a mixture of economics and political vengeance for the miners insurrection the 1990’s. Whatever the reason opencast mining is an unacceptable practice.

Class.

In the build up to the recent(2008) climate camp a small but very vocal group accused the climate camp of attacking the working class by criticising coal.
The truth is that it is the ruling capitalist class in their pursuit of the neo-liberal policies of the state that have consistently and continually attacked the working class. Not the climate camp.

At a time of crises for the planets ecology and human inhabitants the ruling capitalist class seeks to make a profit from climate change, the use of unsustainable bio-fuels, nuclear energy, offsetting schemes and sending troops to fight for fossil fuels, these are assaults on the human species and our ecology that only the ruling class will profit from whilst the working class of the world( the majority of which don’t live in England) will suffer because of the irresponsible actions of the capitalists.

Ecology is a class issue as our ecology fundamentally underpins our existence. Our ecology is under sustained assault from rapacious and dominating social systems these systems are maintained and fostered by human elites, general ignorance, apathy and fear. We rapidly need a new social system and we need to protect the old systems which balance with our wider ecology.

Another voice of concern at the climate camp was the effect that the no new coal stance taken by the camp would have on the freight rail industry and the perceived loss of jobs within that industry, this analysis is clearly incorrect. It is more than fair comment to say that the environmental movement has championed rail as a form of freight and personal transport consistently for a number of years. The use of rail for personal transport is currently at an all time high this is due to a number of factors, one of the major contributory factors has been the green lobby for public transport, indeed the use of rail is a very real and immediate solution to the crises of climate change. The green movement will continue to lobby for a better publicly owned sustainable transport system.

Having attended all three climate camps I think that Dave Douglass class analysis isn’t to far short of the mark, yes there are a good few middle class uni kids and plenty of weekend hippies that want to dip into alternative culture, worst still is the political vampires and journalists that have jumped on the green bandwagon to enhance their careers, But the majority of the people that attend the camps are just normal day to day folk that are genuinely concerned about the future. It is certainly not the lions den which Dave described in his report to the N.U.M.

The climate camp is a movement that is still in its infancy it was birth in the 1990s reclaim the streets/anti-road protests movement (which incidentally re invigorated the anti-capitalist movement). Admittedly the camp has been slow to recognise the worker class position however, the unions have been involved in all three camps, during the second camp people went and supported striking workers from Heathrow, but by the time the third camp was organised a proposal for a just transition had been published, there was a lot more union activity at the camp and the workers climate action group attempted to engage the workers at the power station (though the police didn’t allow this). Hopefully this will start to bring the workers and the environmentalists closer to agreement on the many complicated issues that affect our future lives.

To be honest (with the exception of the royals) I’m not that concerned which class you’re from, I’m interested in what your doing and the changes your making. After all shouldn’t all social movements be welcoming regardless of your background.

The climate camp is getting out there confronting the institutions of power, resisting capitalism and saying no to authoritarian control. It is a movement built on participary democracy and consensus decision making whilst working, eating and playing communally.

I hope that we can agree that this side of the climate change movement is healthy, alive and to be welcomed.

I want to thank the NUM, the IWW and in particular Dave Douglass for organising this debate and I hope we can move away from the childish and provocative statements that have been posted on forums and websites like Indymedia or magazines such as Shift. Some of the vicious and sectarian comments I have read recently have truly saddened me.

Today’s honest, open and intelligent adult debate should move us toward common ground and I feel there are points of agreement already.

  • That there is no place for Nuclear power, civil or military.
  • That carbon sequestration technology is to be welcomed when proved on a global industrial scale.
  • That workers, environmentalists, community activists and academics need to find common ground and get organised to build a sustainable future.
  • That the UK must lead the way in clean and sustainable energy production that would create tens of thousands of green jobs.
  • That the way the state deals with mass protest movements, strikes or insurrection is not acceptable.
  • And most importantly of all to bring about new social system, which brings an end to the domination of capitalism that exploits people and planet.

*end note*

During the debate the N.U.M stated that they are against opencast mining. A clear statement is still needed on their website.

Please feel free to reproduce any part of this document. It’s @nti copyright.
Thanks to the anonymous author of the pamphlet insurrectionary ecology. I have clearly used a couple of paragraphs from your amazing booklet.
I also gleaned some of the facts/stats from the Greenpeace website.

Web: http://www.toonclimatecamp.blogspot.com
E-mail: nodirtycoal (at) yahoo.co.uk

PLEASE help stop the needless destruction of Bradley/billingside woods. Check out www.pontvalley.net and sign the petition.

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