Critique of Climate Camp action 17/18 October

“It’s time to start imagining a future without coal” says the call-out. Oh no! Not that crap again! If anything was going to put thoughtful people off this action, silly rhetoric like that does the trick. It’s like trying to build opposition to Donald Trump’s plans to turn acres of sand dunes near Aberdeen into a golf course for the rich, or golf courses in general, by urging people to imagine a future without grass.

What we’re asked to imagine is a future without bikes, then, and wind gennies and solar panels, and pelton wheels, and pens, and knives, and spades and cooking pots, and any metals at all except maybe copper and tin, to make which we’d have to chop down a hell of a lot of trees. Then, when the trees were gone, there’d be no more copper or tin either. Wouldn’t matter, anyway, as we wouldn’t be able to breathe and neither would most of the planet’s other species. We’d have Easter-islanded ourselves.

Yes, imagine a world with all these old steel, iron and alloy objects just lying around, rusting and corroding away uselessly because in a world without coal they couldn’t be recycled.

Imagine a world where, when the cops hit you over the head with a (wooden) baton, it can’t be stitched up. In fact, there’d be no surgery as there’d be no high-carbon special steels and no surgical instruments, so a friend of mine and her baby wouldn’t have made it through a difficult birth last year and would both be dead now.

A future without coal doesn’t need much imagining, you just have to work it out.

What the hell was the point of the coal caravan if this sort of rubbish is still being spouted? Hasn’t the concept of “slow coal” penetrated? This just discredits opposition to the consumerist madness of burning massive quantities of coal to generate power for crap we don’t need. It divides the world three ways:

* People who don’t give a toss for the future, who just want their profits and / or their profligacy undisturbed.

* Those conned by the “clean coal” finger-crossing techno-fixery and greenwash.

* A small, clueless element of the middle class who don’t understand how things are made, don’t really want to know, and come up with half-baked impracticalities and hippy fantasies like “you can make a wooden bike”. Doh!

There’s a fourth group, of course, comprising sensible people with their feet on the ground, but they’re just proles or old farts, so can be ignored.

Far from “no new coal” or “a future without coal”, new coal is exactly what we DO need –a new type of coal industry, based on slow extraction by drift mining as the first option, deep mining only as a fallback, no opencasting at all, and no pissing coal up against the wall (well, the stratosphere, actually) in power stations. The point of “slow coal” is to extract only what’s needed, as it’s needed, for the future purposes below. It’s the opposite of ripping it all out now to feed an artificially inflated “market” and sod the future.

Come on, let’s get real and start working out constructively how to use coal in the sort of sustainable moderation which the planet can handle, how to limit its use to only those purposes and processes which are really necessary and for which there’s no substitute –including making the means of meeting our needs, getting around, and generating a sensibly frugal amount of electrical current (i.e. a lot less than now) without further emissions and damage to the atmosphere. That’s “slow coal”.

I thought we’d made a start on this with the coal caravan, but apparently not. Is there a chance we can oppose coal-fired power generation (and oil, gas, nuclear and big hydro involving dams), together with the gangster or consumer capitalism which drives it, without making complete numpties of ourselves and looking like fantasists who don’t know our arse from our elbow?

If you’re an extreme and dogmatic primitivist (which most Climate Campers aren’t) who envisages no other sustainable future for the planet than supporting only a tiny fraction of its present human population by pre-bronze age means, then I suppose you can “imagine a future without coal”. But you’d better “imagine” the resulting fate of most -nearly all- of the world’s people. You’d better not ride a bike, run a wind genny or use any other metals. Oh, and you’d better not go to Climate Camp either. Very coal-based. Not just the bikes, but all those steel marquee pegs, sledgehammers to knock them in with, loads of other tools, Haras fencing to keep the cops out, screws, nails, 12v electrics, cooking gear…the list goes on. I saw people chopping veg with metal knives, writing with metal-tipped pens, erecting tripods made from scaff tubes and wearing glasses! Bastards! Some of them even had decorative metal studs or rings in piercings, too. Coal, coal, coal -none of these things are possible without it. OK, maybe a few of them (and it’s only a few) could be made using charcoal (which also emits CO2, of course) as long as no steel is involved. Ooops! Where have all the trees gone?

No coal means no metals, hence no electricity -however generated- and no transport other than walking and carrying stuff. No, not even horses as they need shoes to be exploited by humans. Leave the horses alone, not the coal! No coal means trying to cultivate the land and harvest crops without metal implements. When our ancestors found that insufficient to feed the growing population and started smelting ores with charcoal to make tools, the planet’s population was a fraction of what it is now. Even then, the timber required gobbled up most of the world’s forests in a relatively short time. There is no way we could go back to just bronze and crude iron, weak with impurities, without the rest of the trees going in a trice. And those metals still wouldn’t make a bike, or a wind genny, or a solar panel, or a surgical instrument, anyway, never mind an ear piercing. A plough which would last a bit longer and go a bit deeper than a wooden one would be about the best you’d get before the last tree disappeared. Oh, and a crude, blunt sort of sword which might be a bit more effective than a flint-tipped spear. You’d need the weapons to defend yourself as the planet’s billions of people turned to fighting over the diminishing means of life in a world without coal.

Yes, I can imagine a future without coal, but I don’t want to. I want to be constructive, cherish the planet, ALL its people and all its life and be working for the future. This daft, cloud-cuckoo land “no coal” nonsense is really depressing and de-motivating. It feels like the imposition of ignorance or watching books being burned. No, I’m not saying anyone is imposing anything or wants to burn books, it’s just that it feels almost like that, swimming against a tide of thoughtless dogma, devoid of analysis and without heed to consequences.

If anyone disagrees with this, I hope it’ll be on the basis of real-life practical technology, rather than hippy sci-fi and wishful thinking, which is little more than our equivalent of capitalist techno-fixery and greenwash. Similarly, impractical theory with no reference to scale won’t wash. An example of this is that you can make steel electrically. Sadly, about a third of the world’s steel is now made this way. So why not use solar power to generate the current? Wahey! It’s been done –on a small, benchtop scale. Problem is it requires eye-watering amounts so power. How many Saharas do we have available to cover with solar panels? What? Just one? Forget it then.

Did you know (gabbles the 1970s first-year bio-chemistry student) that you can get a cannabis-like hit from dried banana skins and the white sap in lettuce is an opiate? Wahey! Nearly-free drugs at the greengrocer’s! All true, but there’d be several lorry loads of dried banana skins to smoke or lettuce stalks to squeeze before the first wee buzz was in prospect. Scale makes a difference.

Converse Fred

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One response to “Critique of Climate Camp action 17/18 October

  1. Pingback: It is of course more about Class than Climate All this and a pirate ship. « project-sheffield

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