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A real test for Boris Johnsons’ green credentials

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I have always been fascinated by accents and, in particular, by the way people who, in the same country, can differ so much in the musicality and inflection of their voices. Accents provide texture of color and add detail to people the moment they open their mouths.

As a young journalist starting out in the news industry nearly four decades ago, I would challenge myself to be able to identify where a person was coming from as soon as they started speaking. If anything else, it was an icebreaker in any conversation so she could ask where a person is from.

Above all, we are all proud of where we came from. Even if we don’t, and our accent betrays us, it’s a good way to start a conversation. And journalism is all about starting a conversation and listening, then telling, as many sides of a story as possible.

I had a problem with my house and I booked the expertise of a trader. He came and the conversation flowed easily. His accent told me he was from Durham, or somewhere in the greater Newcastle area in the North East of England.

Durham? I risked. He was actually from Cumbria, to the northwest, across the Pennines, the thorny backbone that separates east from west. But I was not wrong as he explained, telling me how his grandparents were from Durham, were coal miners and took three days on horseback and cart to move to Cumbria because a new mine was opening in Whitehaven. Many Durham miners also relocated, and to this day the Durham accent dominates in Whitehaven. To this day, too, the issue of coal still dominates in Whitehaven.

At present, there is a proposal to build a huge coal mine that will produce the coking coal needed for steel production, creating jobs and securing industries that do good in Britain at the start of the revolution. industrial. If Whitehaven’s new mine opens, it will be the first in a country that has endured a decade of upheaval and social unrest as towns and communities grapple with each other, many still with the loss of their wells and mines.

Avoid carbon footprint

Naturally, the economic argument for the new mine is that it will bring decades of prosperity and well-paying jobs to an area where the Sellafield nuclear power plant or a submarine construction site at Barrow-in-Furness are the only real alternatives. According to supporters, using British coal would avoid the carbon footprint caused by shipping coal from Australia or North America.

And naturally, environmentalists take up arms.

The UK, along with other countries, has agreed to drastically cut carbon. The government’s climate change advisory committee is also concerned that the opening of the Whitehaven pit will lead a horse and carriage through this pledge.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government says that in order to meet its schedule for reducing carbon emissions, steel companies must stop burning coal by 2035. There is a provision that they can continue if they use expensive technology to capture carbon emissions and bury them underground out of sight. is out of mind.

United Nations Cop26 Summit

As with most political issues, perception is essential. How can a government hosting a global gathering, the United Nations Cop26 summit on the environment in November, give the green light to a mine that will be directly or indirectly responsible for carbon emissions?

As it stands, steel production is a problematic area for climate change. Just thinking about it brings up images of huge plants spewing smoke as molten iron escapes through furnaces, with sooty men wearing hard hats sweating on the molten metal.

But companies are trying to produce alternative electric arc furnaces that are cleaner and can melt old cars down and turn them into the refrigerators and dishwashers of tomorrow. And mining supporters say long after that 2035 deadline, steel will still be needed. These wind turbines that produce green and clean energy do not grow on trees.

And then there are the jobs about 500 of them. Local support is behind the mine and the project has been adopted twice by local council planning authorities. The national government decided not to intervene in the planning process, which meant that it looked like the mine would indeed go ahead.

Decision under review

More than one member of the government suspected that there was hope that the project would get off to a good start with as little hassle as possible. This is of course wishful thinking. Now even Greta Thunberg has gotten involved with the loudest elements in the environmental movement, and the brakes have been put on the mine as the decision is again under review.

The problem, however, is not just a local problem. There is a broad international agreement that carbon emissions must be reduced as this blue planet that we all share on its travels around the sun is getting warmer with each passing month.

Naturally, nations with vast reserves of fossil fuels will not necessarily want to forget them.

By 2024, all electricity used in the UK will come from renewable sources. That’s good, but the UK is a leading voice in the global Powering Past Coal alliance of nations trying to convince others to swap jobs in the coal industry for jobs in clean industries. . Allowing the Cumbria mine to move forward would then clearly be a case of doing what I say not to do as I do.

The mine planning request was referred to the country council level so that local politicians could re-examine the case and assess the environmental information available when they made their initial decision. If they approve it, the British Secretary for the Environment will have a say. And probably the Prime Minister too.

Either way, I have a feeling that the final decision on the mine will be postponed as a full and thorough review of the case will be carried out. And that will allow this UN summit to move forward with the issue safely set aside for a few more years.

No decision in political terms is better than any decision yet.

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