Lack of Environment

A blog on the politics and psychology underlying the denial of all our environmental problems

The human face of the Coal problem

with 8 comments

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.

COAL - Image: Discovery Channel

COAL - Image: Discovery Channel

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.

8 Responses

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  1. “Just because we can do something does not mean that we should do it” — I’ve been saying this for years. Nobody listens.

    “How long must all life on Earth wait for us to accept that we must similarly stop burning fossil fuels?” — How long? Until the end of time. Literally, since time is a concept invented by the large brain possessed by homo fatuus brutus. The former will cease, quite simply, when the latter succeeds in exterminating itself…


    6 January 2012 at 14:58

    • PS typo on “carbon capture and storage is almost certainly an inherently dangerous myth pedalled…” — I think you mean ‘peddled’, though what we need is definitely more pedalling.


      8 January 2012 at 14:48

      • Thanks as ever, being well into my fifth decade, I do seem to get confused easily.


        8 January 2012 at 16:46

      • Hmmm… not sure exactly where this reply will appear, but I can’t see how to reply to your ‘fifth decade’ post:
        I recently embarked upon my sixth decade; and I don’t believe that the mind necessarily fogs with age… unless bombarded with constant reminders that this is ‘true’.


        10 January 2012 at 21:09

      • Well, whaddaya know, lucky guess on the reply positioning (if only all interfaces were consistent, ah, can’t stop ‘progress’, eh?)


        10 January 2012 at 21:10

      • Despite worrying reports on the news about our brains going into decline in our mid-40s (i.e. connections between neurons begin to breakdown and not be replaced), I agree with your warning to beware of self-fulfilling prophecy element to this sort of thing. So I will try not to repeat my folly…


        11 January 2012 at 14:02

  2. I completely agree that we have to “keep it in the ground”. And, there are so many reasons, including the healthcare costs of burning fossil fuels, the cost of oil spills, the ecological impact of mountain-top removal. And we can’t forget the health of the workers. I worked as a mechanic for almost a year and I remember what came out of my nose after a shift at the garage. I can’t imagine what the lungs of coal miner look like. Something tells me installing windmills and solar panels is better for your health!

    Also, for the sake of our climate, we absolutely have to leave most of the remaining fossil fuels in the ground: According to a report by The Carbon Tracker Initiative (, in order to reduce the risk of raising global temperature above +2 degrees Celsius, we have to limit our emissions of CO2 to less than 565 GtCO2 over the next 40 years. Proven fossil fuel reserves are around 2795 GtCO2, or nearly five times more than our “budget”.


    7 January 2012 at 19:48

    • Thanks for the alarming statistics: I knew we had sufficient fossil fuel reserves capable of doing a lot of damage but have not seen it presented quantitatively like that before.


      7 January 2012 at 20:29

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