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The wages of cheap

TedNield024.jpgThe 50th anniversary of the UK’s worst mining-related disaster, Aberfan, falls in 2016.  One hundred and forty four died, including 116 children, most of them my contemporaries. 

Ironically Merthyr Vale Colliery, where my Great Grandfather was an Overman until his death in 1922 (happily, long before the tips on Merthyr Mountain were begun), had never suffered a major disaster.  Not a single working miner died in Aberfan’s great disaster, and so, by the rules of the National Coal Board, there was no formal requirement for it to be reported to NCB headquarters.  Indeed, for this reason the news of a grimly prophetic slide in 1944 never reached the NCB – that ‘ignorant and arrogant monolith’ as the Disaster Tribunal described it. 

Aberfan is dwarfed, however, by Soma, Turkey, where the toll (at time of writing) has reached 301 – all miners.  Sadly this comes as no surprise.  Turkey’s recently privatised mines have a lamentable record.  Since 2000, there were 1308 fatal accidents before Soma.  In 1992, 263 miners died in a single event.  In 2012, over 10% of all work-related deaths in Turkey were of miners - most of them in coal.

The miners of Soma inevitably accept the personal risks they run, albeit unwillingly; but this level of risk, in this day and age, is not reasonable.  Once again, coal mining, especially deep mining, is found to be the lot of poor people with no other means of supporting themselves - thanks to a global market where price per tonne is all that counts.  In this wide world there is always someone, somewhere, prepared to do the job for less money; in a country that does not have, or enforce, the costly but necessary environmental standards and safety practices that we would afford ourselves. 

And so, the unregulated global energy market leads to safe mines closing, the import of unnaturally cheap energy (and deflation), and the export of poverty, environmental degradation - and death.  We who are now too posh to mine our local rocks are not too bothered about allowing others to die doing it for us.

So far, 25 officials have been detained and three charged with negligence.  But their prosecution, if it transpires, will not cure Turkey’s mining malaise, any more than if Lord Robens had resigned in 1966, this act would have solved the systemic problems of the NCB.  Whether food, raw materials or energy, Homo oeconomicus must learn to pay the proper price.  Otherwise, the planet is despoiled and people die, either of this generation or the next.  It really is as simple as that.



@TedNield @geoscientistmag