Well the human waste has definitely hit the rotary ventilation device over the Government’s approval of a coal mine in Cumbria. I want to look at some of the arguments used in the debate as the way these points are ‘framed’ can heavily skew the decision. While some of this can be put down as cynical ‘spin’, some dubious arguments arise because we’ve long looked at issues from a high carbon perspective which is all too often too narrow. Here’s my take…
The mine has claimed it will create 500 direct jobs with 1500 in the supply chain. Well, I googled some active underground coal mines in the USA. All had a higher annual output (typically 50% higher) than the Cumbrian mine, they probably operate older technology as they’d been about for a decade or more, yet their employees numbered 300-360. The supply chain figures are odd too as the raw material, coal, is just sat there, so the supply chain is much smaller than, say, a car manufacturer which has to continuously purchase raw materials and components as well as one-off capital equipment purchases. I suspect they’ve counted the number of people involved in construction, as that’s the usual trick played in these applications – it’s like saying every time I go to the supermarket I create a shelf stacker job and a cashier job.
The Government says the project will have a “broadly neutral” impact on carbon emissions. Now this assumes that if the coal mine doesn’t open then another mine will supply the coal and, conversely, if the Cumbrian mine does open, that ‘other’ coal will definitely not be extracted. Both assumptions are dubious: demand for coal is falling yet if any coal is extracted it will almost certainly be burnt – if there’s a surplus, its price will drop to a level where someone is likely to buy/burn it for something somewhere. To cut carbon emissions we need less coal to be extracted which means fewer mines.
Speaking of which, “broadly neutral” sounds “OK” when it’s decidedly not. It’s a bit like a mafia hitman arguing that, because his victim had loads of enemies, if he hadn’t killed him then someone else would have, so his impact on the body count was “broadly neutral”. Business as usual is Sustainability’s worst enemy – we need carbon emissions to fall rapidly, so anything that props up carbon emissions for decades to come is “bad”, not “broadly neutral”.
“The Coal Mine will be Net Zero in its operations” – this is the most egregious argument of the lot as the net zero commitment doesn’t include the emissions from the burning of the coal – a whopping 220 million tonnes of CO2 over 25 years, according to the Government’s Climate Change Committee watchdog.
If we want change to happen, it’s very important to make sure we don’t facilitate such duff arguments. “Calling out” such idiocy is essential but mindsets are often fixed by then. Much better to frame the argument in a Sustainability-friendly way in the first place.