Lack of Environment

A blog on the politics and psychology underlying the denial of all our environmental problems

Ruin is the destiny to which all men rush

with 26 comments

As the Bishop of London said at the funeral service for the late Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven today, this is neither the time nor the place to argue about her legacy. Comments on this post are therefore disabled (until tomorrow at least). However, even putting aside politics, all those miners of coal who have have shown such crass disrespect for the late Margaret Thatcher need to bear in mind that mining coal is one of the most environmentally damaging things humans have ever done. Therefore, in seeking to make the UK less dependent upon coal, it could be argued that Mrs Thatcher’s greatest mistake was pursuing gas rather than renewable energy. This mistake, replicated the world over for several decades now, is a mistake for which we and our children and our children’s children shall pay a very heavy price.

“An error doesn’t become a mistake until you refuse to correct it” — Orlando A. Battista.

26 Responses

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  1. Ive seen this argument- Thatcher was ahead of her time closing down the mines- I don’t buy it, but likewise at the time I was critical of Scargill using the NUM as his personal army. They should have kept the mines open- we didn’t burn less coal we simply imported it. And some mines were profitable, Tower in the Valleys was bought by the miners and they worked it until it ran out in 2008. Around 2000 coal reserves went from 300 years to 30 over night. Thatcher could have shown patience and the decade that followed could have seen a transition for the communities. As for Scargill, he continued to sell the lie that not only were men being thrown on the dole but also their children. However, as reserves have proved, there is no job for life [or job for life for your sons].

    Thatcher’s success and that of New Labour was really quite easy and never to be seen again- a short period of the UK being a major oil exporter.


    18 April 2013 at 14:32

    • I did not say I thought Mrs Thatcher was ahead of her time, Jules. Quite the opposite, in fact. Furthermore, I very deliberately avoided making any political comment about breaking the power of the NUM (etc). Indeed I would agree that, having decided to stop mining coal, she should have got us all to stop using it.

      I was lucky enough to get to go down Tower Colliery just before it closed; it was a real eye opener. Prior to that, I had only ever been down the Caphouse mine, near Huddersfield, which is being kept open as Mining Museum. Going down a working mine was completely different. I was also living in North Yorkshire when the decision was made to close most of the component parts of the Selby super-pit complex. In both cases (S. Wales and N. Yorkshire), there was never any doubt about the quality of coal. However, in both cases, the geology proved to be more complex than had been anticipated: I know this because I have seen the mine plans for myself in both cases. Therefore, in the 1980s, I think the main problem was that a great deal of the coal was not economically recoverable (although some mines may have been closed for political purposes).

      So, then, none of the above changes the facts that:
      1. Having closed down the coal mines (and the FBR nuclear programme) in a ‘dash for gas’, we should have invested in renewable energy;
      2. Economically-recoverable opencast coal should now be left in the ground because digging it up is not environmentally-survivable; and
      3. Coal miners need to be given alternative work and to view it as liberation from an unhealthy and environmentally-destructive job.

      Martin Lack

      18 April 2013 at 15:48

      • Sorry if I misinterpreted you point- as far as Thatcher is concerned it has been a long week.

        I visited Big Pit near Newport which is highly recommended for a free day out there is also the old Roman Town near by which is also free -at least I think free museums are still free.

        On a similar but different topic [!] I was reading the latest post on why we can’t give up fossil fuels- but in a late night thought I would google actual oil exports, not production and guess what the decline has been 5% since 2006. No wonder the end of growth kicked a year later.

        As for coal- Australia is the big one- the stuff we have here is a few millions tonnes – we did start AGW 200 years ago after all so it is a bit late. The US may use more gas than coal but that coal is just going to China.

        Martin, you are the most qualified person I know when it comes to minerals- coal. There are some papers out there but I’m no expert and I would be really interested to know are we facing doom by CO2 and coal or doom [and a green future] through peak coal and economic decline [and AGW] in the next decade.


        18 April 2013 at 19:01

        • Thanks Jules. I am not quite sure what you mean, but I will answer the question I think you are asking:

          It is generally accepted, as indeed I have repeatedly acknowledged, that China will continue burning coal for decades. This is why everyone who has a choice must stop doing it.

          I think the thing that scares me the most is this: Even some of those who say we should pursue unconventional fossil fuels instead are concerned that carbon capture and storage will never be possible on the scale required to reduce the CO2 content of the atmosphere unless all emissions were to cease first.

          Therefore, to be blunt, I think we face a very high probability of unintended ecocide by 2050 unless we reduce CO2 emissions to near zero by 2030. Furthermore, I do not think our politicians will be able to carry on denying this to themselves (or us) beyond 2020.

          Martin Lack

          19 April 2013 at 14:59

        • I think you misread what I ask- I am talking geology. My suspicion is that far from 5 times more coal than can be burnt there is a lot less. I mean a lot less. China seems to be using coal in the short term- 5 years of growth which may mean less than 40- even 20 years of reserves.

          My problem is I am not a mining geologist so the reports don’t make a lot of sense. you are assuming that the reserves are there and hence drawing conclusions about AGW outcomes. What I would like to know is what is the current reserves. Countries- companies everybody has every reason to lie.

          I did a search of oil export history- exports being key because Saudi or Iran having a greater home consumption does not matter in a peak context. Guess what? 5% decline since 2006. We peaked.

          It doesn’t change outcomes and as we have seen dirty expensive stuff is sold to us as the solution. You seem resigned that there is the 5x fossils that the business says there is – I just feel we need to be well informed before we make assumptions. Does China have the coal it says it has? In the game of carbon roulette how many of those chambers contain a bullet? We have to play this near suicidal game but the odds of 1 or 2 bullets is a lot better than every chamber being full. [I shall write a post!]


          19 April 2013 at 15:23

        • It is a long time since I looked at data for estimated and recoverable reserves of anything. However, I must admit that I thought the “5 times more than is safe to burn” relates to all known or anticipated recoverable reserves of hydrocarbons (not just coal). Furthermore, as I am sure I have said before, I think there is a lot of lying going on about who has what left (in the Middle East especially). Over and beyond that, I think the scariest part of McKibben’s analysis is that share prices will collapse when companies are prohibited from exploiting reserves (unless they choose to morph into renewable energy companies first).

          Martin Lack

          19 April 2013 at 15:33

        • either way energy will be a bubble- it will blow up in everyone’s face’s. But you are an expert- you know what reports to look at and you know how mines work. And your the only geologist I know.

          Lets not look at all fossils- just coal. I know for instance that India has coal that is 40% rock and pretty rubbish – this must have an impact on its commercial use. As for China- it imports coal and just on price coal has doubled in value since 2005 which indicates shortages despite a fracking boom in the US and a global recession.

          what is going on?

          and how many bullets in that gun we are pointing at our head?


          19 April 2013 at 15:43

        • China imports coal from everywhere (and builds roads for people everywhere too as well). China is also responsible for burning about 50% of all coal. It is very clear that this cannot continue for long. That is why China is investing so heavily in alternatives (it is also a major factor in its faltering growth). If one country can get to the position of consuming 50% of many of the Earth’s resources, it is hardly surprising that unit prices for those resources are rising so fast. The astonishing thing is that the IMF and other bodies can continue to insist that commodity prices may still go down. I think this is more wishful thinking than anything else.

          Pursuing hydraulic fracturing, coal bed methane, tar sands (etc) will not solve the energy crisis. It will only expedite the environmental catastrophe. This too is something about which our political leaders need to stop lying to themselves (and us).

          Martin Lack

          19 April 2013 at 15:54

        • Dr Albert Bartlett‘s seminal lecture “Arithmetic, Population and Energy” touches on coal reserves, pointing out that you have to be careful to whom you listen (ideology together with a lack of basic understanding of ‘rithmetic can result in wild fluctuations in the numbers).


          20 April 2013 at 09:35

        • Jules, I really hope you have seen Pendantry’s comment and followed the link to the Bartlett videos. The fourth video in the series addresses your specific question about the depletion of coal reserves. As Pendantry suggests on his own blog, however, you have to watch them all to get the full effect.

          Martin Lack

          20 April 2013 at 11:31

  2. this is neither the time nor the place to argue about her legacy

    This place is not hallowed ground, and the funeral was yesterday. Mrs Thatcher’s legacy will go down in the history books. Sadly, history is written by those in power, so the truth will fade with time.


    18 April 2013 at 19:16

    • Accordingly, comments were only disabled for the day.

      Martin Lack

      19 April 2013 at 15:00

    • Actually I find the process of writing history – as in MTs- fascinating. As an atheist I see how gods and heroes are made and how most of it barely reflects on the real truth. On BBC QT last night her achievements in bringing happiness and wealth were historic and not one person- even those who didn’t like her recognised the huge North Sea Oil wealth was the real factor.

      I’m a fan of Attlee who was a real hero, but whist Churchill is remembered and had a state funeral Attlee is not and had a quiet and dignified funeral. MTs passing and public ceremony was for the history books, a myth making exercise and one that the tory right will hold up as a banner to rally around. In years to come her memory will be invoked when things get really interesting with the end of growth like other mythical leaders who given the same circumstances turned the tables on a greater foe. Of course the peak of global growth based on fossils will be completely ignored.


      19 April 2013 at 15:09

      • Despite her being partially sighted due to ideology (aka being a ‘conviction politician’), I believe Mrs Thatcher did a lot of good. One thing you cannot accuse her of doing is grossly mismanaging the UK economy in the way New Labour did (in pursuit of mere populism). Until the Labour Party is willing to admit this, it will not be safe to let them back into government. Having said that, both Thatcher and New Labour were affected by external events but, in both cases, they also brought difficulties upon themselves.

        Martin Lack

        19 April 2013 at 15:23

        • Mismanaging the economy is difficult with the £billions from North Sea Oil coming in but despite so much wealth there was recession and some dodgy economic levers will pulled. One of the lasting legacies was home ownership- or rather ones house being financial asset, I won’t blame MT as it was global but she did see it as a way for everyone to become wealthy. In hindsight property wealth has not panned out so well.


          19 April 2013 at 15:34

        • You are older than me, Jules. Presumably, therefore, your memory of the early seventies will be clearer than mine. The 3-day week and power cuts happened in spite of oil revenues from the North Sea. Such things as this made Mrs Thatcher’s refusal to negotiate with the NUM almost inevitable a decade later. Of course, they also resulted in Labour coming to power and embarking on its first round of economic mismanagement, bringing the country to its knees in the winter of discontent in 1978/79. Again, all this was achieved in spite of North Sea oil revenues.

          Therefore, as I implied previously, unless or until the Labour Party can convince people that they will not raise taxes and waste money trying to appease Union bosses, they must not be allowed anywhere near the reigns of power because, if they do, we can be sure that history will repeat itself.

          Martin Lack

          19 April 2013 at 17:46

        • Apparently my memory is better- the 3 day week under Tory Heath was 1974/75, and the winter of discontent was 78/79. And sure the unions were a nightmare with closed shops and needed reform but I would add UK business [the bosses] needed reform too, something that the US and Japan were well ahead of.

          Oil revenues started to come in in the 80s, about 1980 when we started to export oil and peaked 1999, 2005 was when we returned to imports. And that rise and fall from 1980 to 2005 in oil is reflected in the economy.

          The unions were incredibly important in human rights since the middle of the 19th century, but by the late 60s like all power it tends to corrupt. Capitalism is equally good at screwing things up. Labour has and was a product of the Unions, it was once almost entirely funded by them- I actually did a political opt out and had the money go into welfare not being a labour member. I have no such choice when it comes to the Tory party and their business donations.

          Anyway I am not arguing over who is good or bad just with piles of oil money any idiot can run a government with a degree of success.


          19 April 2013 at 18:23

        • OK, so I was a year out with the 3-day week (either way, I was in my first decade at the time).

          More serious is my erroneous assumption about when the UK became a net exporter of Oil. I stand corrected. So, then, Gordon Brown was a very unlucky man (and/or Tony Blair was a lucky b@st@rd). Inspired by Blair, I was a member of the Labour Party between 1997 and 2003. It will never happen again.

          The very last thing this world needs now is ideological politicians (like Thatcher). What we need now is pragmatists who recognise the limitations of their own expertise and respect (and act on) the expertise of others (especially scientists).

          Martin Lack

          19 April 2013 at 19:18

        • Where those pulling the levers (Tory, Labour, Democrat, Republican, Red, Blue or Yellow with Pink Spots) believe the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth to be in error, there will always be ‘economic mismanagement’. Continuing to argue as though one side is ‘better’ than the other plays right into the hands of the career politicians. But I doubt we’ll ever smash that old broken record.


          20 April 2013 at 09:43

        • In case you hadn’t noticed, I have been trying very hard to find common ground with Jules (him being such a reasonable bloke ‘n’all).

          Martin Lack

          20 April 2013 at 10:22

  3. Hmmm… Last I read the comments had been suspended from this hallowed ground (out of Lack of respect for witchcraft?) I found that discombobulating. Anyway, a funny thing about Thatcher is that a lot of her most marking legacy happened in spite of herself (say the war of the Malouines/Falklands)

    Patrice Ayme

    19 April 2013 at 02:59

    • As indicated in the original post, comments were enabled the day after the funeral.

      With regard to the Falklands/Malvinas, the people who live there now want to be British. Therefore, if the islands were to be returned to Argentina (since we pinched them while it was not looking), the residents would have to be repatriated to somewhere like Scotland. However, the fact remains that people arguing about who owns the land is like fleas arguing about who owns the dog (Crocodile Dundee). Apart from that, my main misgiving about returning the Falklands to Argentina is that they main reason they now want them back is because of potential revenue from oil.

      Martin Lack

      19 April 2013 at 15:08

      • With regard to the Falklands/Malvinas, the people who live there now want to be British.

        I live on a small patch of an insignificant glob of muck in a vast universe. I want to be a citizen of the planet Earth. But nobody listens to me, I’m clearly nuts.


        20 April 2013 at 09:47

        • I don’t want to crush your spirit, Pendantry, so I will just say, I think you’ve cracked that one!😉

          Martin Lack

          20 April 2013 at 10:20

  4. Martin – you are an extraordinary reasonable bloke.

    One thing deniers are really good at is keeping a united front. I mean their ideas are all over the place – most who deny CO2 as GHG or warming etc are in complete opposition to the few ‘sceptical’ scientists they hold so high. Disagreement is essential for critical thinking; as is listening.


    20 April 2013 at 11:46

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