When writing a post on the advantages and disadvantages of a such a controversial resource as coal (and being something of an environmentalist myself), it seems almost blasphemous – not to mention borderline impossible – to even discuss an “advantage” of coal. But even I have to admit that certain advantages do exist, at least if your perspective allows for them.
Regardless, below you will find a complete discussion of coal from both sides of the table and you can decide for yourself which side out-weighs the other. You can get even more information regarding environmental issues, including answers from a former White House economist, with this awesome Energy Economics and the Environment course.
Advantages Of Coal: A Wizened System
Let’s start with the good news. First of all, we’ve been mining coal for so long that our methods and technologies are extremely advanced. We understand the entire process (almost) and there are few, if any, questions remaining concerning how to deal with emergency situations, how to enhance efficiency, etc. In other words, coal is a tried and true energy source (as opposed to, say, nuclear energy).
No End In Sight
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, if our use of coal continues to grow as expected, we have coal reserves to last us for approximately 194 years. And that is only considering the coal reserves that exist in the United States. Needless to say, there’s a whole lot of coal out there, and it is estimated that the world could survive on coal for at least another 300 years (by which time global warming will have snuffed us out). But one thing is undeniable: if we need coal, there’s no shortage of it.
A Luxury We Didn’t Know We Had
You probably weren’t aware of the difficulties that exist in supplying constant and consistent energy to millions of people during both slow and peak hours. As it turns out, this is incredibly difficult, but coal is so reliable and predictable that it makes the process relatively easy. The reason there are so few blackouts and why the energy that flows through our homes is almost eerily accurate all the time is because of coal.
Think Your Energy Bill Is Expensive? Think Again
That’s right: coal is cheap. It is not expensive to extract from the Earth, or to refine, or to produce. You might think your energy bill is expensive, but think about what it gives you: a temperature controlled home (in many cases, a perfectly regulated environment), perfect lighting, perfect preservation of perishable foods (refrigerator and freezer), and about a thousand other miscellaneous tasks that were not possible even one- to two-hundred years ago.
But this is no reason to waste energy or to be unconscious about your carbon footprint. Read this blog post on how to go green effortlessly to help yourself and the environment.
Disadvantages Of Coal: An Outdated System
While coal is a proven energy source and relatively safe, it is also outdated. As the overwhelming scientific evidence builds, we are realizing that coal was never meant to support the energy needs of a planet of seven billion consumers. Coal pumps ungodly amounts of greenhouse gas emissions into our relatively tiny atmosphere (that’s right, the atmosphere is pretty small, rising a mere 60 miles about the surface of the Earth (a commercial airliner covers that distance in six minutes); i.e. it’s not as hard to pollute as you think). To continue burning coal is to risk, literally, everything.
Fortunately, going “green” doesn’t require re-structuring your entire life. Get 25 green ideas from this free post to start living a more sustainable lifestyle.
The End Of . . . Something
Have you ever seen a picture of mountain-top removal mining? Here’s a good one to get your justice-juices flowing. As someone who was born and raised in Virginia, I have the right to say that this is a crime that can never be forgiven. Mountains – literally, entire mountains – are being destroyed (decapitated might be the better word) in the Appalachian range that runs through Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia.
Here’s how I look at it: we are cutting off the tops of some of the oldest mountains in the world to burn a fuel that is ruining life as we know it. And for what? A cheaper electric bill? Light bulbs that don’t flicker? An extra one-thousand low-paying jobs? Enough with the B.S. If this is not insanity and inhuman greed masked by convenience, then I don’t know what is.
The Beginning Of Something Else
And what do 500 million-year-old mountain tops turn into? Millions and millions of tons of waste. And this isn’t waste product that can be recycled, that can be re-used, that can serve any purpose whatsoever. The waste products of mining are highly toxic and the one place where mining has not evolved is its waste disposal facilities. Is it really so easy to cut off the top of a mountain and so hard to dispose of waste properly? Coal companies love that we believe that.
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Maybe You Don’t Care About The Environment . . . What About Your Family?
I’m assuming that you already knew coal was destructive to a planet-threatening degree, but were you aware that it displaces human beings with the same impersonal attitude with which it disposes of mountain tops? When coal is mined, several things happen: the Earth is hollowed and the by-products of actually “mining” coal make the surrounding areas unsafe for human life (and, well, just life in general).
Thus, not only are nearby communities at risk for collapsing into the hollow Earth, they are at risk when they breathe air, or drink water, or eat plants and animals that live in the area. Think I’m over-blowing this issue? Check out this article published by Deep Green about how 220,000 people were displaced by one open-pit coal mine.
A Final Detail Or Two
How the displacement of 220,000 people unfolds is none too pleasant. First, between 50,000 and 130,00 people are immediately displaced because of their proximity to the mine. But the other 100,000 or so are slowly forced to move as irrigation channels are sucked dry by the mine’s vast water needs, as wells turn to mud, and as the surrounding ecosystem becomes more and more polluted until it is incapable of supporting life.
I don’t know about you, but man, I’m getting awfully tired of story after story after story of clever corporate justifications ripping down the world. But what can you do? The best thing to do is to continue educating yourself and BE MORE PRO-ACTIVE about issues you care about. So go on. Get started. Learn something else today with this mind-broadening course on the complexities of globalization and how it shapes our economic, environmental and cultural relationships.