UK: Mining or Melt

Arjun Anand, Contributing Writer

For the past several years, the United Kingdom has been gradually working towards a more climate-friendly environment, passing policies such as the U.K. Climate Change Act — a policy that commits the U.K. to reducing 100 percent of the greenhouse gas emitted in 1990 by the year 2050. And although there seems to be some climate equitable progression in some parts of the U.K., others seem to oppose this progress.

Whitehaven, England is a small rural town located on the shores of Eastern U.K. The town used to be heavily dependent on deep-coal mining, using coal to power their industrial manufacturing and for nearly all electrical uses throughout the city. In 1990, near the start of the U.K.’s move to become more climate equitable, all deep-coal mining shops were shut down, and for 30 years the town remained mining-less. However, prospectors are currently trying to jump-start the mining industry again, in hopes of making a living as well as creating more job opportunities for locals. These prospectors argue that starting the mining industry again will further industrialize the rural town of Whitehaven, and increase the standard of living (SOL) for all local residents. It’s simple economics: maximizing your economic surplus through investing the labor and resources that you currently have. However, economics is known for only being efficient, not equitable. 

To industrialize through the mining industry completely ignores the entire purpose of the U.K.’s move to a more climate equitable society, and activists such as Chris Starks, the Chief Executive of U.K.’s Committee on Climate Change, have something to say about it. 

Starks says that jump-starting the mining industry again completely undermines the significant progress the U.K. has made towards climate change the last several years, and that any effort to do so “is clearly a wrong message, and it looks like a mess.” After all, how is the U.K. supposed to satisfy the Climate Change Act when towns are perpetually trying to jump-start greenhouse gas emission projects? 

The political economy is split right now. Many are focused on the prospect of new jobs and a higher SOL and some are against the institution of a mining industry for the sake of a healthier environment. The question really boils down to a short term financial investment or a long term in our environment.

When you take into consideration that two-thirds of extreme weather change over the last 20 years is attributed to humans, and global warming rates are increasing at 0.18 degrees Celsius on average per year since 1981, and that global temperatures will reach a record high almost every new year, the choice is clear. We should choose to invest in long term environmental preservation unless we want to live in a constant heat-wave.  

But what about the possible job opportunities and higher SOL for many rural towns trying to industrialize like the modern day international powers have? Arguably, if the SOL truly is low in rural towns like Whitehaven—and not as a measure of GDP per capita but as a measure of social welfare—then that becomes a conflict that can be dealt with without necessarily harming the environment. It becomes a conflict that concerns social welfare. Surely the fifth largest international economic power can make such advancements without environmental consequences.

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