Yesterday, we were sentenced to pay £10,000 compensation charges to Miller Argent Ltd, after pleading guilty to aggravated trespass by shutting down Ffos-y-fran coal mine for one day.
In the early hours of 21 April 2017, under the banner of Earth First! and Reclaim the Power, we disrupted the ecologically and socially disastrous mining operations of Miller Argent in the UK's largest opencast mine. At 5am, two of us blocked vehicle access to the mine by using D-locks and an armtube to lock onto the cattle grid at the entrance, while three of us climbed down towards the bottom of the vast hole to lock onto the 300 tonne excavators used to extract coal.
One of us was dressed as a bright yellow canary. Historically, canaries were brought down into underground mines to act as warning signals: the death of the little bird indicated toxic levels of gas. Similarly, we wanted to highlight that coal mining is causing irreversible damage, particularly to those least responsible, especially in the global South.
Coal mining is not only a global issue. It's also an issue of local air pollution, democracy and environmental justice. For over a decade, Residents Against Ffos-y-fran and United Valleys Action Group have been fighting the mine. With the mine only 37 metres from the closest homes in Merthyr, they are suffering from pollution, dust, noise and vibration every day. In March, the UN Special Rapporteur On Human Rights & Toxics called for a health inquiry into cancer and asthma rates in the neighbouring communities, criticising the lack of government response. 500 residents have attempted to take court action against the mine, but their application was refused by the High Court as they were deemed unable to afford it.
Ffos-y-fran illustrates the failures of environmental regulation in the UK, the systematic injustices and the dominance of corporate over human interests and exemplifies how fossil fuel interests have become institutionalised as state interests, to be defended at all costs. The court's willingness to deter protesters on behalf of Miller Argent has exemplified this.
Until recently, Ffos-y-fran supplied coal to one of Europe's dirtiest power stations, Aberthaw, third largest emitter of nitrogen oxides in the EU and responsible for 17% of Wales' greenhouse gas emissions. In 2014, the European Court of Justice confirmed that the power station is in breach of EU air pollution regulation. Rather than shutting down the plant, the government pays its operator, RWE nPower, £27 million pounds to keep it operational. Recently, the power station stopped burning Welsh coal, instead relying on imported coal, but Ffos-y-fran continues to operate.
Whilst Cameron's government committed to phasing out coal by 2025, this is not soon enough for the communities around Ffos-y-fran or for the many people who are already suffering from climate change. With Brexit, the reality of this commitment is cast into doubt, especially given May's legacy of u-turns in many important policy areas.
Governments have shown that they cannot be trusted to deal with the crises we are facing: they are part of the problem. Their responses are driven by corporate interests, further entrenching and institutionalising inequalities and injustices through racist border policies, false solutions and 'green capitalist' fantasies. Twenty-five years of climate negotiations have laid bare the corporate capture of the international policy processes and exposed the need to take matters into our own hands - to go to where climate change is caused and 'shut shit down.' The global coal industry is at the forefront of climate change, biodiversity loss, exploitation and degradation of social and ecological communities.
We need a diversity of tactics to end coal. In resistance to Ffos-y-fran, local people have fought court battles and a public inquiry, organised petitions and protests, succeeding in having a second mine rejected (though Miller Argent are currently appealing against this). By disrupting operations and shutting down the mine, we hit the operator where it hurts - in the first three hours of the blockade alone, the company allegedly lost up to £60,000. Only through continued direct action, by opposing all types of destruction and oppression, can we build the world we want to see. Centralising power structures and authority are inherently environmentally exploitative and socially oppressive. We want a socio-economic system run for the needs of people, not for profit; according to principles of solidarity, co-operation and mutual aid. This system is based on sharing, voluntary collaboration, and communal organising and runs on local, decentralised, communally controlled electricity. That's the world we are fighting for.
If you support our action and can help us pay for these ludicrous charges in any way, please donate here. For those who came before, and those who will come after!
A longer version of this blogpost has been published on the Reclaim the Power website.