CONFLICTED THOUGHTS

It is undeniable that we can (and often do) hold two contradictory opinions simultaneously. Most examples of this kind of ‘cognitive dissonance’ are fairly easy to spot; the person who would like to go vegetarian, but still likes burgers is an obvious example. Likewise the driver of a gas-guzzling car who says how bad it is for other people to pollute the environment is similarly using two standards at the same time.  But these all too human fallibilities, where an intellectual position runs up against a basic appetite. These are conflicts of interest, but they are not the conflicts of thought. These are  what I am going to examine. In these instances, where the connection between things is not so blatantly obvious, the opportunities for doublethink grow impressive.

Take the coal mining industry in the UK; this was a continuous source of political and industrial strife since the General Strike, but particularly in the 1970s and 80s. Indeed it was so fractious an issue that Margaret Thatcher decided to close down he entire industry. Already in the 1970s domestic house heating was less reliant on coal fires, as gas heating became more widespread after the introduction of natural gas.  The steam locomotives had vanished from the railways system, replacing coal with diesel. Coal fired power stations were the greatest users of this material, and they were progressively being replaced by gas powered generating systems. So the age of coal was coming to an end, but Mrs T accelerated the demise of coal with a vengeance.

The resulting loss of jobs among coal miners was a terrible blight on communities across the mining area of the land, where coal mining had been a way of life for centuries. Everybody regrets the human cost of the end of mining. Unemployment remain rife for decades and vast swathes of Wales, the Midlands  and the North of England have only just recovered fully from decades of hurt. It is remarkable that these areas of the Red Wall are now increasingly turning to the Tories.

However, who would want to return to the use of such a dirty fossil fuel today? The proportion of electricity generated from burning coal has declined from 100% in 1950 to less than 2% in 2018, and for weeks on end can fall to zero. Unfortunately this change over, which most people would see as a good thing, was inseparable from the devastation of the coal mining industry. You cannot have both happy miners and clean energy. Yet almost everyone celebrates the new generating environment with far less reliance on fossil fuels. The necessary corollary of unemployed miners is ignored. You must take your pick of eventualities however.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

FOR THE STORY OF THE PAST

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