Red Lines for the Climate: Why I Blockaded Lord Ridley’s Coal Mine

Pekka Piirainen

Coal, that seemingly innocuous black rock, has been at the heart of human industrial society for the better part of two centuries. From powering the first production lines to fuelling our steamships, that dirty stone has revolutionised our society and defined the great might of humankind to alter its surroundings.

Yet our quest to quest to dominate the world around us has not come without consequence. In the process of lighting our streets and warming our homes we became addicted to a cycle of endless consumption, burning resources hundreds of millions of years in the making to produce plastic bags, toxic children’s toys and Tupperware containers. Fossil fuels have not only brought about a new way of life – they have come to undermine the very future of all human life on this planet.

As in the tale of Cassandra in Greek mythology, the dire warnings of the global scientific community have fallen upon deaf ears. Worse yet, a mounting string of revelations reveal the knowledge about catastrophic climate change held – and suppressed – by the fossil fuel industry over the last three decades. Rather than confront the drastic realities of a rapidly changing climate, the powerful lobby decided to aggressively silence and inquisition those pleading for sanity.  We are at the 11th hour, with rising waves, famines, typhoons and ensuing conflicts already engulfing the most vulnerable among us as the doomsday clock rapidly ticks towards midnight.

Today, I and my compatriots have been left but no option but to put our bodies on the line to stop the dirtiest of fossil fuels. If we have been successful, you will be reading this piece as I linger in a jail cell; we will have hopefully stopped hundreds of tonnes of coal from leaving one of the most destructive open-cast coal mines. We have locked ourselves onto equipment and shut down the access way into a Tory lord’s coal mine near Newcastle not because we are brave or foolhardy, nor because we particularly enjoy risking ourselves to sit in a jail cell. We have done what we have done out of necessity – we have little but our bodies to put in the way of the status quo bent on realising a dystopian future.

In a pivotal year of climate negotiations, we can already see too clearly that the international process has failed. As the nations of the world gather in Paris, current commitments bear no sign of a decrease in emissions – indeed, led on by the fossil fuel industry, it seems that the parties gathered are hell bent as ever on burning their fossil fuel reserves. We can no longer rely on the benevolence and wisdom of the political elites captured by a paradigm of greed, denial and apathy as represented by the coal mine owned by a climate denying Tory lord. Instead we must come together to forge our future anew.

Together as a global movement we must set a series of red lines that cannot be breached. Coal must be the first of these red lines – the fuel of the 20th century must firmly be left in it. Beyond being buried well beneath the ground, it has no place in a society that must quickly become fossil free to avert total collapse. Inspired by similar actions across the world, from Germany to India, we aim for this action to serve as a rallying call for us all to take the future into our own hands. The hour is late and the scale of the challenge ahead of us is unprecedented – the wholescale transformation of our every aspect of our society and economy. Yet with the greatest burden comes the greatest meaning; ours is the greatest opportunity to redefine and remake what it means to live in this age and day.

I lie here in defiance, solidarity – and most importantly in hope. Let us cast away the poisons of old and navigate through the closing path of hope ahead of us before it is forever closed. Join me and let us fight for a future for all, for the red lines that stand between us and destruction and for an end to coal!

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