Radical Route 3: In Search of Culture and Community in Dark Places

‘…in the era of global warming, nothing is really far away; there is no place where the orderly expectations of bourgeois life hold unchallenged sway.’

Amitav Ghosh, The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable

Setting out at a moment of profound disconnection and disruption – in mid-winter – my journey will trace a route through places often obscured and forgotten by the growth model consensus. In visiting sites that are, in the weary phrase ‘left-behind’ – I want to ask what models for cultural and community-based resilience remain when the vanguard of late-capitalism has long since disappeared from the horizon.

Focused on a set of mining communities: the journey will be dark, literally and figuratively. I want to propose that this ‘darkness,’ as in much European folklore, is rich with the potential for discovery.

The journey will take in coal communities situated in diverse geographic and cultural contexts, poised at various different stages of transition – from pits long-defunct, to those still powering the factories of Central Europe. Along the way, I will connect with local activists contending with the pervasive challenges of ecological destruction and the rise of the far-right.

I will travel with artefacts from the Scottish coalfield, sourced from the archive, to provoke discussion about communities built around extractive industries – where ‘de-growth’ of local economies has long been a lived reality. Older, slower, forms of movement, fundamental to Scotland’s once vast carbon export industry, play a role here too. These links demonstrate that commerce and cultural exchange predate the carbon era, and, even at the height of the coal industry’s massive export boom, facilitated the emergence of cultural and social ties.

A key inspiration is Jan Moir and John Berger’s 1975 work of narrative non-fiction, A Seventh Man, which observed the transient life of migrants across Europe — revealing the notionally marginal figure of the migrant as absolutely central to modern experience. Similarly, by looking closely at the lives of several European carbon communities, often located in geographically peripheral areas, this journey sets out to map a new geography of power and change. By channelling voices from communities that have generally been viewed as marginal to life in contemporary Europe, I will ask what it means to be the last generation of workers in an industry so central to the continent’s historic dominance. The journey is premised on the certainty that we can only pursue a worthwhile low-carbon future, by first exploring the links, cultures and solidarities forged in the carbon era.

I also want to consider what a Green New Deal will mean in radically different contexts across the continent – with an eye on the origins of the European project in the Coal and Steel Community – a fundamentally resource based effort, but also a great moral venture.

Where might a new founding moment be located? Rather than the towering glass centres of financial and political power, I want to look underground – in the hills and forests so often dismissed as dirty, dark and backward – the places where transformations have always taken place.

Chris Silver is a writer and researcher, with a particular interest in culture, community activism, working class heritage, and post-carbon transition.

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