Cumbrian Coalmine Protest: The Power of Conversation

What is it really like to be at an environmental protest?

When you put aside the relentless government and media spin, what are we actually saying and thinking?

Are we, the people, really so very divided on the crises we face, or are we being set against one another to keep us squabbling and distracted?

The divisions may not be as strong as the media and government would have us believe.

Last month, I travelled with Extinction Rebellion to join Friends of the Earth and other campaigners to protest about the proposed Cumbrian coalmine outside Whitehaven.

At the time of the protest, Secretary of State for Levelling Up Michael Gove had just given the green light for the coalmine to go ahead, the first time this has happened in over 30 years.

All the while, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak continues to seek more ways to criminalise protest.

As I’ve said before, this is a grave new world and we need to sit up and pay attention more than ever.

So, with that in mind, I didn’t simply accompany my friends from XR out of solidarity, I also took my audio gear with me to record the events and conversations as they unfolded so that you could listen too.

You can hear those recordings below and they’re also on the brand new Audio page.

I happen to think they’re eye-opening and very powerful, if only because they completely blow apart some of the myths sold to us by the government and the press.

The sonic collection starts with a long-form soundscape, but scroll down and you can simply dive into some shorter clips if you’d like to.

Scroll down a little further for two extra conversations with Anne Harris from Coal Action Network and climate jobs campaigner Hazel Graham.

Listen carefully to the soundscape and you’ll hear how the protest gradually moves from a ‘classic’ scenario of tensions between those for and against the coalmine to constructive conversations between the two parties as they hammer out the issues.

Like me, you’ll hear opinions that you do and don’t agree with. But what did I learn that cold December day? That the two parties are actually more unified than we realise.

Our perceived divisions are often completely fabricated by the state to set people against one another.

As Hazel Graham says in her speech, we would be so much more powerful and greater in number if we could overcome those false divisions and unite.

Perceived divisions were healed that day and it was very moving to be a part of it in some small way.

Have a listen and let me know what you think, either by commenting below or signing up (free of charge) to our new community space so that you can join the conversation there.

Love and courage,


January 2023



Hugh from Extinction Rebellion tells me why he’s compelled to be at the protest
Tensions during Hazel Graham’s speech, kept in check by local councillor Gaile Stevens
Tom (a local), Tom (XR) and Jack Lowe (XR/me)
Ashley and Terry (local father and son), Tom (XR), Kate (XR) and Jack Lowe (XR/me)


Hazel Graham, Climate Jobs Campaigner
Anne Harris, Coal Action Network

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  1. This is so good, Jack. More than good. Stand out – and the whole picture of the protest, not just a tiny slither of carefully manipulated coverage, aimed at helping to widen that divide. The audio really brings everything to life. I really felt like I was there, listening to those conversations. Such brilliant photographs too (have you thought about doing that for a living? ) It’s so important that the narrative constantly being spun by much of the media is challenged and corrected. So much common ground between both sides, as you say, and intelligent, thoughtful and very knowledgeable points being made.

    1. Thank you very much, Vicki. It’s so rewarding for me to hear people getting what I hoped to convey when putting it all together.

  2. Excellent Jack! Its so refreshing to listen to how people are thinking on both sides. These are important conversations.
    These are beautiful soundscapes – humans in conversation & much more effective than humans in conflict.
    I applaud you my friend

    1. Thank you so much, Gavin. As I just mentioned to Vicki, it’s so rewarding for me to hear people getting what I hoped to convey when putting it all together. Your applause means a lot.

  3. I live ten miles from this site. The history of West Cumbria is rooted in environmentally damaging industries (coal mining, steel making, nuclear reprocessing, making nuclear submarines). Anne Harris is absolutely right that jobs and community are important, but there has never been the economic or political will to transition this community away from such industries. We have top class engineering expertise that could be making offshore turbines, tidal energy devices, materials recycling……..
    The hope I derive from this is that the outcry against this mine would have been unimaginable 20 years ago. Every stupid decision of this sort – like Luetzerath in Germany – looks ever more like the last dying throes of the old order.

    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Ian. Even though these are distressing times, I’m also fascinated to see how it unfolds. I feel that one of the most powerful things we can do (other than talk to one another) is to imagine the world we want to live in, and wouldn’t it be amazing if this is indeed the last dying throes of the old order?

      1. I like to believe that the younger generation are indeed imagining the world they want to live in. But letting them get near power will take a long time. Empires do not fall quickly.

        1. Me too and indeed. Unfortunately, it looks like we’re rapidly heading for a world where Gaia will soon be making the decisions and collapsing empires for us.

          Some more food for thought around the latter in the community space (particularly the Richard Crim and Rupert Read links).