A surprising group - Extinction Rebellion and coal miners

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A surprising group - Extinction Rebellion and coal miners

Lucy EJ Woods talks to activists in a mining town. They are protesting against a coal mine in northeast England.


Extinction Rebellion protesters at Banks Group's coal mine in Bradley, County Durham, Britain February 26, 2020. REUTERS/Scott Heppell

It is a surprise. A mining community in Britain has joined climate group Extinction Rebellion (XR) to shut Bradley coal mine in Pont Valley, County Durham.

‘We do not want any more coal mining,’ says Kevin Haigh. Haigh’s is one of many local mining families that asked XR for help with the local protest.

Environmentalists from across the country started arriving to help from February 26th 2020. With local activists they lined the A692 roadside, and blocked the entrance to the coal mine. Protesters brought hand-made banners, placards, puppets, and yellow flags. Many dressed as canary birds in yellow fur, clothes, and feathers.

The protest got stronger on February 27th, with a yellow boat at the front gate, while 98 people went onto the dangerous, rocky mine, and occupied it for many hours, with banners and pack lunches. More peaceful protests continued at the main entrance until February 28th.

Banks Group is the company that owns the mine. They told New Internationalist that all activity at the mine was stopped on Thursday because of the protest. They said, ‘Protesters have put themselves at risk by entering the mine. This is a dangerous area and we do not want anyone falling over or getting hurt. We accept the legal right to protest but this is private land. People should go to the main gate where they will not get hurt.’

A private security guard, hired by Banks Group, says that there were extra guards with dogs because of the protests, and emergency services were ready if necessary. Durham Police said that they had made no arrests.

Merry Dickinson is a spokesperson for XR. Merry said, ‘Going onto the mine and occupying it draws attention to the mine. It’s destroyed this beautiful valley and hurt the local community. It will also cause economic damage to Banks Group, who are putting profit before people.'

Rowan McMaughlin is a local XR activist. He says the mine is right on their doorstep and ‘it is terrible to do this to the landscape.’

‘It was green here. People played here as children. You could walk through where the mine is now.’ There is a pine forest next to the mine. It is a home to many birds and insects, and is in the beautiful English countryside.

XR said the protests are a part of the demand to the UK government to keep its promise of stopping coal in the next five years, and for all of the government to keep their own climate emergency promises.

This protest is part of a 40-year local campaign against mining coal from Pont Valley. Isobel Tarr is from the Coal Action Network, a national group that supports local protests against coal. She told New Internationalist that the protests are bringing more energy to the local fight.

Protests before were against UK Coal. Local people, ‘tried everything’ and won against two planning applications, says Tarr. Local people ‘have kept the valley free from mining for many years,’ she says.

After UK Coal went bankrupt, Banks Group brought a third planning proposal. It started mining the valley in 2018. It has now asked for an expansion of the mine. On its website it says, ‘the UK still needs coal to make steel and cement,’ and, ‘it creates a lot less CO2 if we mine coal here in the UK and we do not import it’.

‘This is simply not true, for many reasons,’ says Tarr. ‘The UK has enough coal to last till 2025, when the national government is stopping the use of coal. We don't need coal anymore. There is no reason for this mine expansion.’

Durham County Council has itself declared a climate emergency. It is holding a meeting on the expansion of the mine in April. Durham is a mining community but coal mines ‘are now a terror,’ says Kevin Haigh.

‘My Dad was one of four boys who all worked in the mine with my grandad. My dad didn’t want his sons to go near the mine. It is dirty and dangerous. We do not want any more coal mining. The coal dust goes everywhere causing pollution and adding to global warming. I have eight grandchildren and I am terrified. I don’t know what world they will have if this continues.’ Haigh’s and other mining families all went to XR. XR offered to help with the protest. ‘XR gave us advice and we welcomed all the young people coming from all over the country, Newcastle, London, Liverpool, Yorkshire, everywhere,’ Haigh says.

Tarr said that the economic benefits to the local community from mining jobs is much smaller than in the past.

‘In the past coal mines in the north of England employed many people with unions and well-paid jobs. Coal mining today is a few people using big machinery. It is not like coal mining before, which helped all of the community.’

Hamish Haynes is an XR activist from Lancashire. He agreed. ‘The reason for the expansion is not to employ local people, as Banks Group say. It's for profit and power.’

‘I hope people will continue to work together; labour groups, unions, community groups. We need groups of different kinds to work together for the necessary change, in such a short time, to fight climate change.’



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