Taking action against Whitehaven coal mine

Maggie Mason from Kendal and Sedbergh Area Meeting discusses the legal action against Whitehaven coal mine and the work which led her there.

People standing in a town centre holding a banner which reads: " Nofuture in coal! We need climate jobs, not dole"
In attempting to speak truth to power, the response of power has been illuminating. Photo: South Lakes Action on Climate Change (SLACC)

I am a member of Kendal Meeting, and a retired Minerals and Waste Planner. Towards the end of a 10-year stint at Cumbria County Council, I heard that an Australian group wanted to reopen an underground coal mine on the Cumbrian Coast.

10 years later I am preparing, with a legal team, for a hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice challenging Michael Gove's decision to approve that mine. How, and why has it come to this and what might our Quaker testimonies bring to such a situation?

The proposal and its impacts

In 2016 Australian owned West Cumbria Mining wanted to extract 2.78 million tonnes of coal until 2070. There have been good reasons to oppose it, mainly its impact on the climate crisis, but all we have achieved so far is to reduce the duration of the mine to 2050 and a lot of complicated planning conditions.

You can view the details at the website of South Lakes Action on Climate Change (SLACC) , the small charity I had helped start in 2007, and whose Trustees bravely backed legal action against the mine. Friends of the Earth (FoE) joined us in a parallel challenge. You can even donate to our legal fund if you have money 'spare' and agree with us.

What, how, why?

I have now spent 5 years effectively opposing an action of my former employer. I waited several years after I took voluntary redundancy, but the professional and ethical disquiet of my last years of work has been clarified and confirmed by all that subsequently transpired.

Following a Public Inquiry, SLACC and FoE are now the claimants in a legal challenge; West Cumbria Mining and the Government (as of 16 June!) are the defendants. The more reasoned and lawful our opposition to the mine has been, the more shocking the written justifications presented in its defence.

In attempting to speak truth to power, the response of power has been illuminating, shining light on what might be politely described as 'different perspectives'.

Escalating conflict

Less politely, it is a battle, if usually non-violent in the UK. One side says, "Keep it in the Ground", the other talks of "fossil fuels for decades to come". Just Stop Oil activists are attacked by members of the public, and climate protesters are being imprisoned for explaining their motivation in court. Jurors are still warned they could be imprisoned if they use their conscience, even after Quakers led the Defend our Juries protests.

A Quakerly approach

Another Friend and I in Quaker Climate Action, retired from different 'sides' of the divide had a constructive discussion over several weeks. In combination we had a deep understanding of the predicament and some common conclusions:

  • Climate action was much more urgent than we realised.
  • We didn't do enough.
  • Those now in power are more ruthless.

I think these admissions are actually liberating, not depressing. Could Friends across different fields of employment arrive at fresh understandings? Retired or employed, let's talk gently.

Please do email faithinaction@quaker.org.uk in confidence if you would like to be part of such conversations.