Posted by: r.m. | April 16, 2010

let’s talk dirty

Okay, now that I’ve got your attention.

I  want to talk about Coal. Coal and climate change and big money and workers and public health and the sadness that is inherent in capitalism.

On Wednesday (two days ago), four representatives from the  (U.S.) coal industry appeared the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. Why? To fight climate legislation.

Committee chairman Edward Markey (D-Mass) castigated the industry representatives for resisting measures to reduce carbon emissions and compared them to auto executives who ignored the need for change until it was too late.

Markey, who is co-author of a bill passed by the House to limit greenhouse gas emissions, urged the coal industry to get on board with the efforts to fight global warming.

And in the New York Times, we read that:

Committee Republicans and Ohio Coal Association spokesman Michael Carey said the carbon proposals, in concert with tighter water quality rules for Appalachian surface mining, amounted to a “war on coal” being waged by the Obama administration.

“The coal industry knows what Congress and the administration is doing,” Carey said. “These workers and communities won’t soon forget the increased taxes and restrictions forced upon us.”

Ah, I just love it when they talk about those workers. Those coal miners. But more on that in a moment.

Let’s talk about coal. Some have spoken about coal being “clean”.

“We can provide a safer and cleaner path for coal in the future,” said Gregory H. Boyce, chief executive officer of St. Louis-based Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private-sector coal company. “Deployable (clean-coal) technology should be available before legislation. We need to take the time to get this right.”

Well, okay, those people touting that line are the businessmen themselves and their lobbyists.

What do others say?

From the Pew Center on Climate Change:

One of the most significant challenges in addressing global climate change is reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions resulting from the use of coal.

  • Coal use, primarily for the generation of electricity, now accounts for roughly 20 percent of global GHG emissions.
  • Rising energy demand will continue to drive up coal consumption, particularly in countries with large reserves such as the United States, China and India.
  • Coal is inherently higher-polluting and more carbon-intensive than other energy alternatives.

From the Economist, quoting US scientist James Hensen: “Coal is the dirtiest of fossil fuels, producing twice the carbon dioxide that natural gas does when it is burned”

James Hensen, who recently received an award for his work and advocacy, wrote in The Guardian recently:

Coal is not only the largest fossil fuel reservoir of carbon dioxide, it is the dirtiest fuel. Coal is polluting the world’s oceans and streams with mercury, arsenic and other dangerous chemicals. The dirtiest trick that governments play on their citizens is the pretence that they are working on “clean coal” or that they will build power plants that are “capture-ready” in case technology is ever developed to capture all pollutants.

Climate Change.  I don’t want to talk about the consequences of climate change now.

Let’s step back.

What about those miners? Those workers who dig the earth to get the coal.

A Colombian man, Jairo Fuentes Epaiyu,…is on a speaking tour to tell us — the people who use the coal buried beneath his village — about how his ancestral home has been destroyed by the owners of the largest open-pit coal mine in the world. …

The removal of topsoil and enormous excavations deep into the earth have destroyed the land and rivers on which his people farmed and fished for generations. The mining operation polluted their water and made the villagers’ life unsustainable. There is coal dust everywhere, especially in their lungs.

Before the mine was built, Jairo and his neighbors in Tamaquito depended on the nearby village of Tabaco for services such as health care, schooling and mail delivery. Then, tragically, the multinational corporation took over the mine and bulldozed Tabaco, scattering its inhabitants in diaspora. Now Jairo’s villagers must travel great distances for these vital services and connection to the outside world. Their simple dwellings form a small island in a wasteland. Their social fabric has been ripped apart; their livelihood has disappeared.

And it is not just Colombia. Not just indigenous (native) people of South America.

This week, in West Virginia, 29 coal miners were killed in an explosion in the long-wall mine. In China, 25 coal miners died in a flooded coal mine and 13 are still missing; there were more than 2,600 mining deaths in China last year. Last week, the coal-carrying ship Shen Neng collided with Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, spilling fuel oil over this unique marine habitat. These recent events have brought temporary attention to the human and environmental costs of removing coal from the earth and transporting it long distances to be burned. We may not hear of it, but similar disasters occur week after week after week.

And, today, I read in the (US) National Public Radio

Rise In Black Lung As Coal Miners Work More Hours

This cycle of destruction — from its start with the miners, to the Big Money lobbying efforts in the hallways of official power, to the all encompassing changes to come from us becoming ‘the weather makers’ — all of it reveals that it is the system that needs to change. We don’t need just a new energy source. We don’t need just a new form of government, that protects the people from Big Money. We need a new economy, a new and more basic, more humane, way of life.

A new vision.

I asked my students to write about what they would do if they could change everything. No obstacles in your path, I told them. What would you create? What new world would you envision?

The vision…


  1. I was surprised when reading that “Coal is the dirtiest of fossil fuels, producing twice the carbon dioxide that natural gas does when it is burned”, and that it also affect oceans and streams. And I was more surprised when reading that government are making fun of us by talking about “clean coal” instead of applying a strict rules on coal’s consumption. Unfortunately, giving the attention to human and environment had taken place after losing 2,600 mining deaths. We wish that it will not also take place after having many bad consequences of climate change.

  2. i think that it is about time to start using machines instead of human beings in extracting coal. It is also important to provide new jobs for those workers who are surely suffering from breathing issues…As for coal, well as much as we need energy, we also need clean air and a safer plannet. I know that there are lots of discoveies that have been made to replace our current energy sources in a way that is safe to the environment. But the gain of money for most people is more important than living in a safe place…I’m sure that they will change their minds when they will have no coal and no money to make in the future when most poeple are dead because of their inorence

  3. i think that it’s time for people to wake up and start investigating what is happening around them…it’s true that the challenge is in reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that result from the burning of coal, but this is not the only challenge. we have to consider all the possible greenhouse gases that are depleting our planet indirectly through the effect of climate change and try to find alternatives for energy production that are more environmentally friendly.(PDHP212)

  4. for me it was interesting to read this article because i learned things that i didnt know about them,one of them was “Coal is the dirtiest of fossil fuels, producing twice the carbon dioxide that natural gas does when it is burned”. really it is the time for people to WAKE UP and its the time to realize what they are doing to their own planet! In addition , i beleive that the governments should fight and take serious preventive measures against them,

  5. Coal is one of the dirtiest energy sources, in addition the uncontrolled political and authorities domination and misuse. Why don’t we use other energy sources as wind, sun, water flow and others too? However sometimes in the future the coal will end but after what? After transforming the world into hell!

  6. the thing is that even though coal is a “dirty” source of energy, it still is really cheap to aquire and use(despite the adverse effects from pollution). One must remember that many countries such as china have their economies depending on this coal and trnsferring to other cleaner more effecient sources of energy would be expensive and might negatively impact the country and its citizens. the truth is that most clean technologies are owned by industrial countries whilst the coal is mainly used by developing ones. Forsaking such an energy source might render the devloping country powerless and force it to submit to the top industrial countries. There is always more than one aspect to a problem.

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