I’m From A Family Of Miners. Here’s Why I’m Protesting To Close Bradley Coal Mine

For generations, my family struggled in the pits for their community and family’s future. That history of struggle continues today through my protest with Extinction Rebellion, writes Lauren Conway.

My family is a line of coal miners, who worked down the pits until their closure in the 1980s. I remember my Grandad sadly pointing out old, opencast mines to me as a kid, and I remember the abrupt tear from rolling countryside to the unnaturally flat, treeless and monocultured platforms where coal was dug out as quickly as possible to fuel factories during wartime. It was a shame, a blight on the landscape, and at the time controversial even in coal mining communities before we knew about the threat of the climate crisis.

I am extremely proud of my heritage, and the century of struggle that fuelled the industrial revolution, workers’ rights and the welfare state. But I’m not sentimental to the point I would choose short-term profit, and short-term work over the long-term health of humanity.

The proud history of struggle in mining communities was, in truth, not to keep digging coal. My granddads, and their granddads before them, hated it. Their struggle was instead for the livelihood of their communities, and the health of themselves and future generations.

That struggle is continued by me this week, as I break the law to block the expansion of the Bradley opencast mine alongside Extinction Rebellion.

I’m from Barnsley originally, but now live half an hour away from the opencast mine, which was opened in early 2018 – after thirty years of resistance – from locals who have since seen their area destroyed.

“I, of course, do not blame the mine workers – they are, just like my family were, as exploited as the land they extract from.”

For thirty years now, mainstream science has warned us increasingly about the climate and ecological crisis. Hundreds of the world’s best climate scientists have been pleading, in consensus, for governments to take drastic action to cut carbon emissions before it’s too late.

In 2018, our government declared its plan to decommission all coal fired power stations in the UK by 2025. According to government figures, we have twice the amount of coal stockpiled in the UK to supply power stations until their 2025 phaseout. Just this month, Boris Johnson promised to “ban support for coal extraction all around the world”. So why are they planning to extend opencast coal mining operations in County Durham?

The mining company expanding the coal mine say they will create a handful of jobs, but the mine is due to close next year as part of the coal phaseout. In the North East, just like where I’m from in Yorkshire, we are made to feel grateful for any jobs that are brought to the area, even if they are poor quality, short-term and degrade the environment or community. The feeling is that ‘beggars can’t be choosers’ and we don’t have control over industry, the local economy or environmental policy.

I, of course, do not blame the mine workers – they are, just like my family were, as exploited as the land they extract from. Instead I blame the landowners, and the government for allowing the extraction to go ahead in the face of this crisis.

You don’t need to be a scientist to see that climate change is no longer something that is going to happen in the future – it’s being felt here, now. We have not had a consistent frost yet this winter, storms Dennis killed four people last month, and consistent, widespread flooding has forced people to abandon their homes in Shropshire, Cumbria and Yorkshire. Meanwhile, there is mass flooding in Bangladesh, Island communities in the South Pacific are rendered inhabitable by rising sea levels, South Africa scorches and Australia burns. These natural disasters will intensify and increase in frequency the longer this crisis is left unchecked, causing more human misery, suffering and death.

“As natural disasters continue to worsen, and resources become scarce, it will be working class people and their children who bear the brunt.”

The climate crisis is, after all, a class issue too. While the rich elite pull strings, forcing these destructive projects to go ahead, the poor will suffer the worst effects of the fallout. My thoughts are with everyone affected by this winter’s flooding, but it is much harder to cope for those who have no savings, or are in insecure work with no paid leave.

In the UK, we import 60% of our food. When the food shortages hit, it will be working class towns like mine that lose out. And as natural disasters continue to worsen, and resources become scarce, it will be working class people and their children who bear the brunt. That’s the future our government, and the likes of Banks Mining Co who operate this mine, are forging for us. Don’t worry about them, of course – as usual, the rich will build their castles high above the filth.

It was fear that pushed me to fight the climate crisis. But I also have hope this fight can not only save us from misery but actively improve lives – especially those of us from working class communities up North. The solutions are there, we just need to pull together and fight for them.

For me, and my community, that begins today at Bradley mine.

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