Saturday, November 27, 2010

The cost of coal

Coal is a combustible black brown sedimentary rock composed mainly of carbon and hydrocarbons. It is a non renewable source of energy. In other words, the supply of coal will eventually run out.

The biggest use of coal today is to produce electricity.(94% in the United States for example.) Coal is burned to produce steam which is pressurized and then used to drive turbines which creates electricity. Coal is also used in iron, steel and cement production. It is used to make a multitude of everyday items like car brakes, pencils, washing machine powder, aspirin and other medicines, and fertilizer. Coal is used for road surfacing, waterproofing, the production of paint and, of oil which is then used to make petrol for cars. Is anyone sensing any addiction to coal? We need coal. Can't live without it in fact. This isn't, or shouldn't be news to anyone.

Some forecasts have world coal consumption nudging ten billion tons by 2030. I don't care if we, because of our insane lust for power and comfort, exhaust the earth's supply of coal. I don't. I don't lie in my bed at night fretting about the coal well running dry. People say we should switch to other, greener forms of energy production, in order to save the coal and save the environment. Sooner or later, one way or another, we will be using alternative methods of energy production. However, I have no anxiety related to this issue. That isn't the sound of my teeth grinding that you can hear.

What does trouble me though, is the fact the people die to get the coal. The only loss of life involved in the production of the food I eat is that of the plants and animals themselves. That's okay with me, that is their purpose: to feed me. But coal mining is dangerous. In the 21st century it has been less dangerous thanks to technological advances but men and women, and let's not forget that children worked and perished in coal mines during the glory days of the industrial revolution, die to extract the coal that society craves.

Last week 29 men died in a coal mine explosion in Greymouth, New Zealand. In the United States coal mining is listed as the second most dangerous occupation. Thankfully, multiple fatalities are rare in developed countries but in less developed countries like China, death rates are shocking. Think about 6 027 people dying in coal mines in 2004 alone.

What's my point? I am not an environmentalist but I do care about people, and I appreciate sacrifice so I simply want to say thank you to coal miners. Take care.

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