Arthur Scargill, former General Secretary of the National Union of Miners, spoke at Climate Camp on Monday outlining a proposed energy policy consisting of 'clean coal', and development of renewable sources of energy.
Scargill's talk came after many in the mining community had expressed dismay at the camp's anti-coal position, particularly slogans such as 'no new coal', and 'leave it in the ground'. This they felt condemned the coal mining communities to dole and the 'dung heap', something they experienced in the 80s and 90s during the Tory assault on the miners.
I will attempt to sum up the arguments of Scargill and Dave Douglass, who was also speaking at the meeting on Monday and will be with us until Thursday:
Roughly half of our energy needs are currently provided by nuclear and coal. The remainder is made up largely of oil and particularly gas. Scargill stated that British reserves of gas are almost exhausted and so unless we want to develop a dependency on foreign gas reserves, whose prices and conditions of workers we cannot control, we must soon replace this gas-based power generation.
Throughout Scargill's talk he reiterated (with considerable passion) his complete opposition to nuclear energy, on grounds of safety and workers' conditions. Many Uranium miners are paid compensation for illness due to exposure to radiation, on the agreement that the company is absolved of any liability. Consequently these deaths do not appear in official figures and so the human cost of nuclear energy is hidden.
Taking gas and nuclear out of the picture, this leaves the country with a considerable energy deficit which, in Scargill's opinion, could not immediately be filled by renewable energy sources. While some efficiency measures should be taken (he mentioned insulation of all homes and workplaces), no considerable reduction in energy consumption could be achieved. With him the hippy arguments of "who needs a 30 inch plasma TV" (shouted out at the meeting), and more fundamental lifestyle changes leading to reduction in energy use are not realistic. Instead, "our children deserve the same standard of living that we have", this also being extended to the developing world where rising energy needs must be provided for.
Scargill says this energy can only be provided by British coal, mined under hard-won conditions and very low accident rate (for the mining industry), and burned in modern coal-fired power stations fitted with carbon capture technology. Combined heat and power plants can increase efficiency from roughly 30% (which is typical of Coal, Gas and Oil) to 70%, by providing cheap household heating to communities. A number of clean coal technologies were discussed, many of which were proven in the 70s and 80s in experimental power generation plants run by the Coal Board, later being shut down by the Tory government.
The plan hinges on the viability of carbon capture and storage technologies, something which many at the meeting disputed. To this he responded that these technologies needed some development but were indeed viable, and in any case had to work, because in his opinion the burning of the earth's coal reserves was inevitable considering growing energy needs globally. Put simply, China will burn its coal reserves with or without carbon capture, so the development of the technology is crucial.
Regarding the location of the camp near the Kingsnorth power station, Scargill said that he would join us in our protest if it was against the burning of foreign coal, mined in shocking conditions in countries like China, conditions British workers have not suffered in 200 years.
Concluding, Scargill reiterated that we must develop a unified energy policy, and that although the opinions of the miners and those of the camp are different, they are not that different. We are together in this class struggle.