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Re-attaching to coal in a Climate Emergency: The case of the Whitehaven mine

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

E-pub ahead of print
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>18/03/2024
<mark>Journal</mark>Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space
Publication StatusE-pub ahead of print
Early online date18/03/24
<mark>Original language</mark>English


This paper draws on the concept of ‘attachment’ to examine pro-coal sentiment in Whitehaven – an English town at the centre of global political controversy because of a plan to open a coal mine in the area. Drawing on fieldwork data, I show that pro-mine persuasions among some residents are underpinned by a process of ‘re-attaching’ to coal. I argue that the case of the Whitehaven mine is a warning about how fossil fuels might re-emerge as promissory objects in other parts of the world, even when a transition away from fossil fuels has been completed. Paradoxically, the very disorientations and deepening traumas that climate change is causing threaten to spur on the rise of fossil fuel (re-)attachments. The paper also examines how pro-coal discourses linked to wider vested interests are received in a context where coal exists as ‘afterlife’. Consequently, local actors construct narratives that legitimise new coal extraction by (re)articulating discourses of delay. My findings are thus a reminder of the need to guard against over-valorising ‘the grassroots’, arguably a risk in environmental justice scholarship. I conclude by calling for further empirical research on the way attachments to high-carbon objects are (re/de)composed, an urgent task given the need for rapid societal decarbonisation – one which has received very little attention to date.