Saturday, August 25, 2007

Miners can organise - emissions can't

A couple of posts that I've written have got some attention recently, so I'll try and write follow-ups. In The Consequences of support for Working Class Miners* George takes issue with my post Coal Not Dole:

Those who support the miners at the expense of aggressively confronting emmissions are advocating unmitigated climate change, and they must look the consequences in the eye, and say that they are prepared to accept them as a neccessary consequence of their support for the coal miners.
What I'm unclear about in George's post is who he thinks will be agressively confronting emissions. Is it the government? Is it small groups of activists? I don't think either of those is going to be particularly effective.

It's not that I believe that we should support miners, so I don't care about emissions.** I think the 'we' who aggressively confront emissions will not succeed without miners. Miners know better than most the damage of coal - the first thing it emits onto is miners lungs. Creating a better world is not something we can do to people.

If 'Coal not Dole' are the options, then I'm choosing coal. But if we're building a better world, with better options, then we should be able to do without either.

* Suddenly I'm curious, why the 'Working-class' modifier to miners? Are them some ruling class miners I'm not aware of?

** At this point I should say that I'm not a climate change activist. In fact if I think of climate change for more than 47 seconds I generally get to: "There is no hope, we're all doomed, I might as well just eat chocolate and watch Buffy while I still can."


  1. Anonymous8:41 pm

    It is not that you (or for that matter a rich industrialist) don't care about the emvironment or that any other activist group doesn't care about the others issues - it is just that they don't take them into account even when it is highlighted to them.

    It seems so naturally that such approaches would cripple the ability of society to make any progressive changes.


  2. I honestly don't know what can be done about climate change that doesn't mean sacrificing the jobs of coasters. I'd love to hear more from Asher about possibilities.

    In the meantime, here's another response.

    ne thing that I didn't make clear in my post, because it seemed obvious to me, was that incorporating coal miners into an anti-coal campaign was going to mean significant compromises on climate change. In essence, the end result would be a campaign that endorsed coal mining if it didn't have significant conservation impacts on snails, kiwis etc. I suspect that many of the 'Greens/greens' that you and Asher talk about would be happy with just such a compromise. But I'd say that an increasing number would not.

    In my mind there certainly are ruling class miners, the bosses of Solid Energy and other companies who are driving the current expansion, and fighting so strongly against any reductions or phase-out.

    And if coal and dole are the options, then really, I'll choose the dole. I know what it's like to be living in rural NZ when a primary industry packs up and leaves, and most of the community is thrust into unemployment and poverty so it's not something I take lightly. It's not something I wish on anyone. But we live in an awful world, and our decisions will inevitably inflict pain. And considering how aggressively coasters have been campaigning for coal, I can't see a compromise position. Perhaps that just reflects my blindness?

    I don't know where this 'better world' is, or when it's coming, but I don't think that it will arrive by screwing over the developing world for the sake of a few jobs in rich countries like our own.

    So what am I struggling for? Like my brother, I don't hold much hope in the industrial-capitalist system, and believe in creating alternatives outside it. I'm just thinking about minimising the suffering it incurs along the way, and keeping this planet livable for long enough that we might actually have a chance to escape from the current system of exploitation.

    I don't like how all the above sounds, but I'm reminded of the words of Derrick Jensen, who I'll quote in full.

    "There can be no real peace when living with someone who has already declared war, no peace but capitulation. And even that, as we see around us, doesn’t lead to further peace but to further degradation and exploitation. We’re responsible for not only what we do but for what is in our power to stop. Before we can speak of peace, we have to speak honestly of stopping, by any and all means possible, those who have declared war on the world and on us. Those who destroy wont stop because we ask nicely. There is only one language that they understand, and everyone here knows what it is. Yet we don’t speak of it openly."

  3. Anonymous11:11 pm

    I think the problem lies in trying to find a solution which pleases everyone. Living in an industrial system we are all completely reliant on the destruction of the environment to survive. The transition to a sustainable way of life will lose a lot of people their jobs, will upturn a lot of lifestyles and result on hardship on a scale never seen before. It is at this point that the watching TV option Maia suggested sounds attractive.


    Our system is reliant on fossil fuels to survive; from food to transport we are only able to live because of the easy availability of fossil fuels. Over the next few decades these fuels will disappear and I think as social justice activists one of the most important things we can do is show people how to live without fossil fuels.

    If it is a choice between jobs or a living planet I know what I would choose. But frankly I don’t think thats what the choice is, I think the choice is between trying to cling to a fossil fuel based lifestyle for as long as possible or learning how to live sustainably.

  4. Something I noticed at university is that many of those on the left don't actually like working-class people.

    I'm married to a Coaster and we live on the Coast. My father-in-law worked in the Strongman mine in his youth. Coal = prosperity here in Greymouth. Miners earn good money and they then spend it here.

    Most people here have coal fires too, so coal is a symbol of hearth and home. People here are sick of being poor and beholden to WINZ with no prospects. Coasters want the mines.

  5. On the issue of ruling-class miners - they're not miners - they're not doing the mining. That's the whole point of the ruling class they don't do anything.

    George - So you're talking about small groups of activists or government intervention, and it's not going to work, the mine is going to be built, the coal is going to be burnt.

    You're not thinking long-term (crisis mentalities is one of the dangers of global warming activism -and I understand where it comes from but it doesn't make what you're doing any more effective). The sort of change you're imaginging isn't something you can do to anyone (even coal-miners) - educate, agitate, organise and so on.

  6. muerk, the usual swap makes you statement clearer - try replacing "coal mine" with "nuclear power plant" or "sweatshop" in your comments. They're all legal (in some places) but have negative effects for a lot of people, especially those not directly involved. Just because a few people profit from an activity doesn't make it OK.

    I'm all for continuing to mine coal, I just oppose burning valuable chemical feedstocks because we're too simpleminded to see the alternatives. I was kinda hoping that the west coast would turn into a wind farm by now, but that doesn't seem to be on the agenda yet.

  7. Anonymous5:07 pm

    To me, the problem seems to be the framing of the question as "coal or dole?", which is the way the capitalists (including the capitalist trade unions) have repeatedly framed the argument to Coasters.

    Coal hasn't bought prosperity to the West Coast, just a tolerable standard of living (so long as international prices remain high) with no real prospect of ever getting away from drudgery, or in other words, the usual deal that capitalism offers. Even this isn't guaranteed if the union can be broken or cheaper labour bought in. It only lasts as long as the West Coasters and their coal are useful to the capitalists (or the environment collapses entirely).

    Actually even within capitalism, the Coasters aren't getting a great deal. For all the talk of how much money coal brings in, the southern end of the West Coast with its tourism/dairying economy seems to be doing a lot better than the Buller region.

  8. Whoops, just noticed there was replies to my comment here. Yes Moz, you're right. The Coast accepts coal, but it wouldn't accept things like nuclear power plants and sweatshops.

    Tourism and dairying also have environmental impacts, especially dairying.

    I honestly don't know the answer, but I do know that many here don't want outside "greenie" interference. And they definitely don't want to be on the dole. The other thing is that a guy can get $30 an hour being a minor, and it's often hard to find that kind of pay elsewhere.

  9. There are a couple of big IFs here but

    1) It's possible if the conservatives and national etc suceed in 'co-opting' the green perspective.
    2) If the environmentalists are right and we get 8 degrees of warming etc then those who stood in the way may well find their causes viewed like fascism is viewed now.

    emember at one stage fascism just refered to civic assemblies that represent various social, economic and cultural groups getting together as a central part of government.

    thats long term for you.