James Hansen arrested during anti-coal demonstration

| 24th June 2009
Lumps of coal
Activists and local residents in West Virginia are calling for an end to coal mining by means of mountaintop removal
Scientists are leading the charge against political foot-dragging on climate change, with James Hansen arrested for protesting against coal mining and Kevin Anderson warning the UK Government its emissions levels are 'dangerously optimistic'

Increasingly frustrated at the lack of political will to prevent climate change, scientists such as climatologist James Hansen and the Tyndall Centre’s Professor Kevin Anderson are turning to more direct means in order to express the urgency of the situation.

Hansen was arrested yesterday during a protest outside a coal-processing plant in Raleigh County, West Virginia, US.

The plant is operated by a subsidiary of Massey Energy, which specialises in mountaintop removal mining (MTR), exposing coal seams by means of explosives, often blasting more than 300m from the peaks of mountains.

West Virginia’s Appalachian mountains have been the focus of mining concerns for more than a century. Some 500 mountaintops in the ecologically diverse region have been removed through MTR, poisoning drinking water and destroying communities.

‘I am not a politician; I am a scientist and a citizen,’ said Hansen. ‘Politicians may have to advocate for halfway measures if they choose, but it is our responsibility to make sure our representatives feel the full force of citizens who speak for what is right, not what is politically expedient. Mountaintop removal, providing only a small fraction of our energy, should be abolished.’

Also arrested were Goldman Prize-winner Judy Bonds, Rainforest Action Network executive director Michael Brune, 94-year-old West Virginia congressman Ken Hechler and actress Daryl Hannah. A counter-demonstration by supporters of Massey led to angry scenes and a reported assault on Bonds, co-director of Coal River Mountain Watch.

Meanwhile Anderson, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, has warned a committee of MPs that proposals for a 34 per cent cut in carbon emissions by 2020 relative to 1990 levels, were they to be adopted internationally, would offer only a ’50-50’ chance of limiting to 2C the rise in global temperatures. Speaking to the environmental audit committee, he called the five-year caps on emissions set by the independent Committee on Climate Change (CCC)  ‘dangerously optimistic’.

He called the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) and the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) ‘small dogs yapping at the heels’ of other, more powerful Government departments, adding that the Treasury should be ‘dancing to the tune of Decc’.

The Government is to release its Road to Copenhagen strategy document on Friday in advance of December’s UN climate negotiations. Anderson expressed concern at the lack of significant commitment to lowering carbon emissions, advocating an immediate reduction target of 40 per cent and more ambitious action.

‘We are going to come out [of Copenhagen] and recover the deck-chairs in preparation for moving them as the Titanic sinks,’ he said. ‘We're not even at the stage of rearranging them.’

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