Coal and the Future


During the last few weeks the ‘Coalescence’ installation by Paul Cocksedge, in the Well, has prompted many conversations about conservation and climate change. Those who have been able to see it will have been startled at the suspended diamond-like stones, equal to the quantity required to power a single 200w light bulb for a year. It’s a lot of fuel. The coal came from a pit in South Wales – anthracite – the kind the Cardiff docks used to export all over the world, of the highest quality, and as if to make that point, glistening.

Within the corner of South West Lancashire that is the diocese of Liverpool there has been a long tradition of coal mining, up to relatively recent times. It is only a couple of years ago that the giant Fiddlers Ferry Power Station at Widnes closed – it burned coal, and was built there in the 1960s to burn locally mined fuel, from pits on the Wigan and St Helens fields. The Leeds – Liverpool canal that connected the seaport with its industrial hinterland was built principally for transporting coal, and in my old parish in Wigan you could still see the wharves where Wigan coal was loaded onto barges – the famous ‘Wigan Pier’.

As we weigh the environmental devastation being wrought by the burning of coal across the world today, powering the factories in China and elsewhere where many of the goods we buy are made, we do so with humility. We should honour the hard and gruelling work of miners past and present. In the Litany that sing during Lent there’s a line, addressed to Jesus, ‘by thine agony and bloody sweat’ – but it could also speak to the experience of generations of miners. Part of our humility also ought to be to express our gratitude to God and our neighbours for this cheap and accessible source of energy – it got us to where we are. But we know now that we can’t keep on burning it like there’s no tomorrow, because the carbon being released is seriously affecting the climate. So, there’s also penitence in our humility – asking for God’s wisdom and strength as we look to embrace cleaner ways of generating power in the future. The Cathedral and Diocese are committed to using only carbon neutral forms of energy by 2030. The age of coal is passing, but we honour those who laboured so hard in it.

Canon Philip Anderson