Breaking up with coal

Talking about renewables, we often talk about the phasing out of oil and vehicle fuels.

Sure, that’s one side of the coin, but another, even bigger problem, is the coal dependency around the world.

Not only are the CO2 emissions from burning coal greater than the emissions from equivalent amount of energy content in oil and gas, coal is also the source to more direct environmental impact and is causing more deaths when extracting, but also from the dust and particles – many of them toxic and radioactive such as arsenic and mercury – heavy metals that goes into the water and the fishes, but also causes cancer, brain damages and prematurely death.

In the U.S., in which coal are used for approx. 50% of the electricity production,  there are about 600 dams containing 600 million cubic meters of a sludge with these toxic ingredients. Imagine one of them to break and you have a disaster far greater than the BP oil spill in 2010. In fact, breaks and leakages have occured. Massey energy owns some of these dams, and during the last decade, 24 leakages occured.

But, breaking the coal dependency is thought to be an even bigger challenge than phasing out oil. Coal is heavyily subsidised and energy companies are spending billions on lobbying pro coal. But more important -coal is also cheaper than oil and the reserves much bigger .

U.S. also holds the biggest reserves, an here the coal mining industry employed 81,000 Americans in 2010. Many more are employed in power plants and other industries associated with coal, such as transportation and services. Estimates from a report from PricewaterhouseCoopers for the Coal Mining Association put the number as high as 550,000 jobs.

We already know that competing with renewables to oil is a hard matter, but when renewables has to compete with something even cheaper, bigger, dirtier and political delicate, things get really tough.


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