Tuesday 11 August 2015

What is it about coal?

Jeremy Corbyn isn’t the first, and he won’t be the last, to peddle the idea that we should seek to restart the dormant coal industry in order to exploit the massive reserves which still exist underground.  It’s sad - on energy policy, at least, he was doing quite well up to that point, but now he’s blown it.
Like others who’ve put forward similar proposals in the past, he’s intelligent enough to know full well that Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is a technology which has never been successfully scaled up to that which would be required for large scale deployment.  Perhaps one day it will be, although I doubt it.  It’s not just the technological issues of capturing enough of the carbon; it’s also the issue of what to do with it afterwards.  Pumping it underground is the usual proposal, but the long term security of that is very much an open question.
In the meantime, the ‘promise’ of CCS, in some form, at some future date, is used by apologists for the coal industry as a way of justifying continuing – or in Corbyn’s case, apparently, accelerating – the use of the dirtiest fuel of all.  He, like some others, seems to be seduced by the attraction of the coal industry.
There are of course those who simply don’t accept that any element of climate change is in any way man-made, and I can understand why anyone taking that view might see coal as a cheap option, whilst not really caring whether CCS ever does come to fruition.  But Corbyn and others on the ‘left’ don’t seem to be in that category. 
Instead, the ‘left’ seems at times to have a romantic attachment to the idea of a coal industry, bound up with an appreciation of the sense of community which surrounded pits, and the radicalism which often grew from those communities.  I can see the attraction of those aspects of the mining industry of the past – but I can’t escape the import of those last three words, ‘of the past’.
In community terms – even if not in environmental terms, or health terms – many places in Wales might still be more vibrant and confident if the mining industry had not been decimated.  The main drivers for that decimation were economics and breaking the power of the unions; the environmental advantages of moving away from coal were entirely accidental to the government of the day – but those environmental advantages are not ones which we should just ignore and throw away.
The past can often look better than it was – particularly to those who didn’t live in it – but it’s not a place to which we can return.  Rebuilding our shattered communities is no small task; the destruction wrought upon them during the 1980s in particular has left a terrible legacy.  But the way to do it is by looking to a cleaner future, not trying to go back to the past.
The only environmentally safe coal is coal which is left unburnt in the ground.  Failure to recognise that is to seek to build hope around a false promise.


Anonymous said...

Jeremy Corbyn’s statement also proves how limited what passes for economic thinking on the left as well as the right in the UK is, that coal is the only answer any of the Labour leadership candidates has offered to the perennial problem of decent job creation in shattered welsh communities.

Green technology won’t solve all Wales’s problems, but it’s a better bet than the alternatives.

G Horton-Jones said...

What is wrong with coal Most of what passes for recycling can be easily burnt without negative environmental impact We now seem to be in a fools paradise where we convey material vast distances for no gain other than avoidance of land fill taxation regimes I am allowed two black bags a week with a two weekly collection service Above this I have to take black bags to the nearest council recycling center and Pay £1.40 per bag the receipt has then to be posted to County Hall as proof of payment Thus each bag is £2 plus diesel The black bags after compaction and baling go to Scandinavia where they are burnt My bag has now cost a lot of money

As a guide line a mattress incurs a cost of £20 in handling charges before any material recovering occurs

Perhaps Ivor Novello was right Keep the Home fires burning