Amidst “a sea of green I saw him drown” wrote Wilfred Owen in his well renowned poem dulce et decorum est. However this seems to aptly describe the political blunder everyone’s favourite party goers are staggering through currently. The decision to open -Not re-open- but actually begin mining a new vein of coal in Whitehaven, Cumbria seems frankly bizarre. Not only does it act as a complete volte-face from aiming to be carbon neutral to ignoring any climate commitments made at the 2021 UN climate summit -which incidentally we held.

At the summit we got countries to pledge to reduce their use of coal which clearly is ever so slightly hypocritical if we then open a brand-new coal mine. But it clearly signals that the long-time disregarded canary (in the coalmine, geddit?) has longer to wait before its cries are heard. Furthermore, it suggests that reducing emissions and bringing about change are mere buzz words all too eagerly thrown in pointless slanging matches across party lines.

Why is the mine required? Well, Coking coal or metallurgical coal which is found at the proposed site near cocker mouth is used in the steel process as fuel to reach the high temperatures (above 2600 degrees Fahrenheit) required to forcibly meld carbon and iron to form steel. We used to import much of our coking coal from Russia (over 40%) but due to economic isolation policies and political sanctions as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine this is clearly no longer an option.

Irrespective of your views on climate change, it is clear that the mines potential benefits such as increased jobs in a financially struggling area (call it levelling up) are simple minutiae in comparison to the many negatives which far outweigh any given upsides. Also, the coal field that the mine is set to be built on is thin and the vein is by proportion small while experts at the south lakes action on climate change say it “will likely be obsolete long before its proposed end date of 2049” therefore rendering the whole venture no more than pointless.

Furthermore, by putting millions of pounds of taxpayer’s money into a literal hole in the ground that will cease to have any benefit after its coal reserves are fully depleted seems to make a mockery of public funding. Whitehaven is one of the “most dangerous small town in Cumbria” according to Crimerate and although jobs will be created for the mine much of the workers will not be sourced locally and therefore as the high (in respect to population) crime rate shows the money could surely be better spent elsewhere.   

However, to strive for unbiased journalism I will suggest some more potential upsides. One argument for the proposed mine is that it will in fact cut down on carbon emissions. How, I hear you ask? Well supposedly because we (Europe as a whole) imported 16.4 million tonnes of coke from America last year alone which through transportation releases a huge amount of carbon emissions. Advocates of the mine suggest that by having a British based coal supply we will not require the same amounts to be imported from our friends in America, some even go as far to suggest we may cut “20,000 cubic feet” of carbon dioxide emissions each year. However as this would not be a permanent fixture (the mine will be useless after it is emptied of coal) we would have to return to importing coking coal anyway.

Overall, I would suggest that this plan is proverbial withdrawn, not a great idea as not only will it cost thousands but it will only be a short-term solution to keep British steel manufacturers going. To finish on a high, even the steel manufacturers and businessmen are less than keen for example Chris McDonald (CEO of the Materials Processing Institute) said that “no-one in the steel industry is calling for the mine to be built” which suggests that support is thin and makes it all the more likely that any coal extracted will in fact end up being exported to Europe, this is partially because British steel production has collapsed tenfold in the last 35 years. Entirely defeating the point of a British based coke producer, creating coal for the virtually non-existent British steel manufacturers.