The last of coal

Coal mining takes out of the ground what millions of years ago were forests so that we can burn them and throw them into the sky turned into smoke. Our industrial civilization was born, grew and became universal thanks to them.

Someone had to do it, and they were the miners. They are also victims of climate change. Nobody told them, nobody warned them in advance, nobody worried about reconverting them when it was already evident that there was no possible future for their work. Nobody at the bottom, deep down in the mine, cared much.

In the 1990s there were 90,000 miners in Spain. In 2018, when this report was made, there were only 10 mines open and just over 2000 workers in them. La Escondida, in the province of León, was one of the last open underground mines – closed in December 2018 – and its 54 employees were struggling to preserve a livelihood that is inevitably doomed to disappear. Pozo Salgueiro, the other underground mine whose workers I photographed for this job, closed in November of the same year.

Seventeen percent of the electricity generated in Spain still depends on coal. But it is a polluting energy, responsible for 14% of greenhouse gas emissions. The European Union is openly declaring an end to the use of coal to combat climate change and pollution. It has tightened the rules, and the price that plants have to pay for each tonne of polluting gas has doubled. As a result, coal is no longer profitable. Of the 15 remaining thermal power plants, five have already announced their closure by 2020. One of them is the Compostilla plant, supplied by the La Escondida mine. In addition, for those mines that want to continue operating from this year, they should return all the aid they have received for closure, which is estimated at 524 million euros. Given this scenario, the few underground mines that remain open will close in the coming months.

At the beginning of the year 2020, all the coal mines in Spain have closed down definitively.