Moving beyond fossil fuels

Gareth Clubb calls for the Assembly to instate a moratorium on opencast mining in Wales.

Wednesday 22 April is no ordinary day. It’s a day that has the potential to send shock-waves around the world, with the epicentre at CF99 1NA.

It’s a moment of tremendous global and intergenerational significance.

Wales, lest we forget(!) was the country that put the oomph into the Industrial Revolution, via its coal. It’s fair to say that fossil fuels (particularly coal) have a large political and psychological resonance in Wales.

In February this year the Welsh Government announced a moratorium on fracking. Now, a cross-party motion is going to be discussed on 22 April in the National Assembly calling for a moratorium on opencast coal mining in Wales*.

With the existing moratorium on fracking and the demise of the deep coal mining industry, this means that Wales has the possibility of opening a new chapter in its history.

It means that Wales could become the first country in the world with substantial fossil fuel reserves to put them beyond use.

Fossil fuels cause incalculable damage to humanity and all life on earth. At the extraction end, fossil fuels cause massive environmental impact. Ask anyone who lives remotely near an opencast site in Wales. Ask the fishing communities of Louisiana, who were so devastated by the BP oil blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. Ask the First Nation communities near tar sand sites in Canada. Or ask people whose lives have been turned upside down by the fracking industry. But these are merely the local impacts.

Because when fossil fuels are burned things get particularly nasty. It causes air pollution, ranging from sulphur and nitrogen oxides through to all manner of the most toxic polyaromatic hydrocarbons. This leads to water pollution, to acid rain, to shortness of breath and shortness of life. And since the producers and users of fossil fuels don’t shoulder the burden off these costs, society as a whole pays for them.

And let’s not forget that fossil fuel use is responsible for 65% of global greenhouse gas emissions (25% coal, 21% oil and 19% gas), and is the overwhelming driver of climate change. Climate change, described by David Cameron as “one of the most serious threats we face”; something that will make life much, much more difficult for every generation that follows our privileged, profligate one.

That’s why this decision, at this moment when the world is crying out for leadership, is so momentous. In decades and centuries to come, when our children and grandchildren are living in a world changed by climate change, they will owe today’s Assembly Members a debt of gratitude. The stance taken in the National Assembly could mean that the world our descendents inherit is so much better than it might have been. That stance can begin a worldwide movement of countries embracing a new, clean future free of the shackles of fossil fuels.

This is our chance. Our chance to make the name of our country – Wales – echo through the centuries.

Gareth Clubb is Director of Friends of the Earth Cymru.

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