Climate Protection: Is it also on your shoulders? Coal miners versus the chattering classes.

A decline in coal jobs from 18,000 to below 6,500 in 8 years and a drop of 6.9% between April and June 2016 alone; an income of $70,000 down to nil; a small mine down 90% in employees to 15, a 30-year mining equipment maintenance job terminated, those are the statistics in Roger Cohen’s article in the New York Times on Paris and Hazard, Kentucky[1]. If you are not moved by these facts, you have no heart.

In the quest to blame the rise of Trump and his ilk on ‘angry white alpha-males and the women who love them’, the intelligentsia of both the Left and the Right conveniently ignore their responsibility in the causality of such fall-out and do not take on their share of burden. Yes, that is you, me, the lawyers, doctors, professionals and politicians who do not think through the human consequences or give up some of our level of comfort.

Take Climate Change.

The near-demise to-date and on-going erosion of the US coal industry (nearly 30 bankruptcies and 264 mines closed[2]) has many reasons. Undeniably, cheaper natural gas relative to coal has major impact; deep-shaft mining is moreover much more expensive than surface mining. Pension liabilities of a long-standing labour-intensive industry are a major burden. Black-lung disease and its costs are an issue already since Hanson PLC bought Peabody Coal in the early 1990’s.

Yet, the impact of relentless Environmental Legislation cannot be ignored. Toxics regulation from 2011 requires that 40% of coal-fired plants need to install emission-control technology. Subsequent carbon-reduction rules can only be adhered to with highly expensive equipment[3]. In January 2016 the Interior Department started on overhaul of coal-leases on Federal land aimed at making coal mining yet more costly affecting 40% of production[4]. There is no question that this type of regulation is pricing coal out of the market and leads to job losses.

In his 2016 State of the Union, Mr. Obama explicitly conceded that his push to transition away from coal-fired electricity leaves coal mining communities behind, as reported by the New York Times. “We should invest in the future, especially in communities that rely on fossil fuels,” Mr Obama said. Nevertheless, Roger Cohen’s article clearly shows that it is not coming through to those who need the assistance. Therein lies the crux: the contradiction between words and deeds.

It is not the US or coal alone where environmental zealousness takes its toll. The de-facto bankruptcy of the Port Talbot steel plant in the UK is not insignificantly the result of too high imposition of taxation and other cost on energy-intensive businesses. Look at a cement plant in Europe. Well, actually you cannot because, law-driven, they are all well indoors to reduce noise and air pollution. It makes cement prices in Europe the highest in the world. Or go talk with any executive in the European chemical industry.

Great, you say, it is all to fight climate change. Yes, but this is what bothers me: you (and I) bear none of the consequences of losing a job which is the only thing we have the skill for. We do not downsize our SUV’s, turn down the thermostat, limit air-cooling or turn off the lights.

Growing up in Holland, room temperature was 18 degrees Celsius (64.5 F). You were cold, ‘put on a sweater / jumper’. Imagine my surprise, whe in College in Upstate New York in the mid-1970’s covered under feet of snow and with temperatures occasionally down to minus 30’s Celsius and/or Fahrenheit (it’s the same), students expected, no demanded, to walk around indoors in T-Shirts and bear feet. As President of my House, we had to delay for budget reasons the lighting of central heating in the late fall by just one week; the amount of abuse against that decision was unbelievable.

Again, what are YOU doing? And, it can be done. When oil prices were over $100 a barrel, Dutch TV investigated how people coped. ‘Oh, I am more efficient with my shopping list and drive once a week rather than two or three times.” Oh, I take my bike to the store.” “Oh, I share a ride with my neighbor.” The month in question, gasoline consumption was down (!) 6% year-over-year.

Against that, last week it was reported that Americans are driving their way to record gas consumption…

[1] International New York Times 10th September 2016

[2] Natural Resources Defense Council, 20th April 2015 The Black Death

[3] Ibid

[4] New York Times, 15th January 2016

London – 10th September, 2016