The human face of the Coal problem
Here in the UK, the Discovery Channel has recently completed screening a series of programmes about Cobalt Coal, one of many small privately-owned coal mines in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia, USA.
Entitled simply COAL, this puts a very challenging human face on a serious dilemma: However, if James Hansen thinks it is important enough to get himself arrested, I am inclined to think he has good cause for believing that we must soon decide to leave it in the ground.
As someone with an almost lifelong interest – and Degree in – geology (amongst others), I have come very reluctantly to the conclusion that Hansen is right: Just because we can do something does not mean that we should do it; and the same logic applies to the proposed exploitation of all unconventional fossil fuels… Therefore, I think the US government – and all other governments of countries with significant coal reserves – should be actively pursuing investment in alternative technology and/or renewable energy: Apart from anything else this would provide alternative employment for coal miners (whose employers do not seem to be doing a great deal to prevent them from developing chronic respiratory diseases as a result of inhaling coal dust)… When we realised that mining asbestos was bad for our health and our environment, we stopped doing it: How long must all life on Earth wait for us to accept that we must similarly stop burning fossil fuels?
In George Orwell’s dystopic novel, Brave New World, artificial jobs were created. However, Green Jobs would not be artificial, they would be real and purposeful: Indeed what purpose could be better than trying hard to avoid allowing the status quo / business as usual / burn all fossil fuels paradigm continue? …That’s right; there isn’t one!
Furthermore, as the International Energy Agency recently pointed out: “Delaying action is a false economy: for every $1 of investment in cleaner technology that is avoided in the power sector before 2020, an additional $4.30 would need to be spent after 2020 to compensate for the increased emissions.” (World Energy Outlook (Press Release), 9 November 2011).
Finally, carbon capture and storage is almost certainly an inherently dangerous myth peddled by those that have an entirely selfish interest in the perpetuation of business as usual.