Coal: Obsolete, Finished, A Very Bad Thing


Ellen Gibson, on behalf of Matt Ridley’s Conscience

In March 2015, Matt Ridley published a blog entitled ‘Fossil fuels are not obsolete, not finished, not a bad thing.’ It’s a pretty long blog so we thought we’d summarise it for you:

  •       The fossil fuel industry is flourishing and will never die
  •       Renewables are evil
  •       Climate change isn’t really that bad

Ridley closes his blog in what can only be described as a rant against some sort of renewables-industrial complex:

The one thing that will not work is the one thing that the environmental movement insists upon: subsidising wealthy crony capitalists to build low-density, low-output, capital-intensive, land-hungry renewable energy schemes, while telling the poor to give up the dream of getting richer through fossil fuels.

What 5th Viscount Ridley fails to mention here (though he does touch upon it earlier in his blog) is the enormous open-cast coal mine in operation on his ancestral land in Northumberland, his inherited place in the House of Lords and his own personal (and pretty spectacular) wealth.

He also fails to mention his nasty habit of forgetting his significant financial interests in the fossil fuel industry. His £50,000 ‘personal interest’ in the Weir Group (a fracking big dog), for example, was conveniently forgotten when discussing the Energy Act, to the reprimand of the House of Lords.

You could argue that Matt Ridley is in fact the definition of the ‘wealthy crony capitalists’ he claims to despise. The only difference is that his business involved wrecking the planet to fill his personal pockets.

Now for a fact check…

The fossil fuel industry is flourishing and will never die

This is an easy one. You only need to look at the words of Mark Carney or Goldman Sachs to see that the fossil fuel industry – and Ridley’s precious coal in particular – is facing some problems.

Renewables are evil

In his blog, Ridley dismisses renewables on the ground that they are too expensive, they don’t produce enough power and -failing to see the irony – they are bad for the environment. Recent research, however, has demonstrated that wind is in fact now the cheapest source of power in the UK and a report by Greenpeace has shown that with enough investment, we could produce 85% of our power from renewables by 2030.

Ridley’s argument that fossil fuels are necessary to prevent the deaths caused by wood-burning stoves, of course, does not mention grassroots renewable power initiatives which have provided thousands of homes with power for the first time in developing countries and frontline climate communities such as Bangladesh.

Climate change isn’t really that bad

Do we really need to address this one? Although Ridley might not feel the worst effects of a changing climate in his stately home, he conveniently seems to forget about the world outside of his country estate, a world he just proclaimed to be protecting from evil renewables.

Not to mention the fact that the evidence he’s provided for climate change being ‘alright really’ has been categorically proven wrong – based on misquoting an already incorrect report.

Of course, Ridley isn’t the sole cause of climate change, or the only voice of climate scepticism in our society. But him – and his opencast coal mine – do symbolise some of the worst injustices of the situation we find ourselves in.

Ridley’s public platform, provided to him by his hereditary peerage, vast wealth and weekly Times column, has been used to espouse climate denial for years, and his interests in the fossil fuel industry are acknowledged but dismissed as somehow irrelevant to this fact.

Today, we shut down his coal mine to let Ridley know that, despite his claims, fossil fuels are categorically A Bad Thing. We must keep them in the ground, and make sure they are finished once and for all, whether he likes it or not.

Follow live updates from Matt Ridley’s Conscience taking direct action against coal mines on Matt Ridley’s estate on Twitter @viscountridley

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