forum discussion #24

Is Coal Here to Stay?

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Listen to a story by The World’s Mary Kay Magistad about China’s growing dependence on coal. That’s followed by our interview with journalist and author Jeff Goodell. He was our guest in this Science Forum discussion.

Goodell is a contributing editor at Rolling Stone and is the author of the 2006 book Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America’s Energy Future.

Despite being the dirtiest of all fossil fuels, coal continues to be used globally at a growing pace.

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Here in the U.S., roughly half of our electricity comes from coal, and utility companies are continuing to build new coal power plants. But not for long, says Goodell. “The era of fossil fuels is coming to a close.”

That’s because coal reserves are finite, and we will eventually exhaust them. Add to that the growing concerns over the human and environmental costs of coal which have led to tighter regulation of the industry here in the U.S.

Goodell says energy companies and local economies can benefit from exploring renewable sources of energy.

But how to wean ourselves away from this relatively abundant resource? And can we do it soon enough? Ask Goodell. Check out our conversation with Goodell.

  • If we accounted for the human and environmental costs of coal, how expensive would it be?
  • How much more are you willing to pay to switch from coal to renewable sources of energy?

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  1. Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Jeff Goodell

    Welcome to this discussion about coal. I’m happy to talk about whatever is on your mind, from energy politics to climate science. For starters, I will tell you the central question that has always fascinated me (and one that I’m not sure I have a really good answer to): Here in the early years of the 21st century, when we have iPads and space stations and genetically engineered tomatoes, why are we still burning black rocks for power?

    I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts and questions.

    Jeff

    • Larry

      Hi Jeff. I have heard conflicting reports about the existence of “clean coal”. Is there such an animal and, if so, what are its benefits and hazards?

      • Ryan T

        Not to answer for Jeff, but I guess that depends in part on what you call “clean”. In the absence of fossil carbon regulation of any kind, anything that contributes little to smog or acid rain could be called “clean”. We see something similar in advertisements for “near zero emission” vehicles. Coal IGCC is considered cleaner, and it has the POTENTIAL to capture CO2 more readily. But it looks like capture, transit, and storage would be expensive and unlikely to be widely implemented, unless carbon is priced and/or other sources become expensive. Then we’d need enough safe facilities, not subject to legal obstruction, to store many megatons of CO2 annually. The modest existing projects tend to pipe it into oil recovery operations (offsetting at least some of the cost).

      • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Jeff Goodell

        Good question, Larry. The answer depends what you mean by “clean coal.” The phrase is an advertising slogan cooked up by coal industry to suggest that new technology has magically fixed all the problems with coal.

        It hasn’t, of course. No one who has ever been to West Virginia, for example, and seen the many square miles of mountains that have been flattened by mountaintop removal mining could ever use the phrase “clean coal” with a straight face. Ditto when it comes to CO2 emissions from coal plants, which, allowing for modest improvements in efficiency, are as dirty as ever.

        When it comes to traditional pollutants — the stuff that causes smog — coal plants that are built today are far cleaner than a coal plant built, say, in the 1970s. (continued in next response)

      • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Jeff Goodell

        (continued from previous response)

        These improvements coal plant emissions came about largely because of new laws and regulation restricting pollution, such as the Clean Air Act in the US. Still, air pollution from coal plants remains a major public health concern. In fact, reductions in emissions have been outpaced by medical research that shows just how deadly certain forms of air pollution (especially particulate matter) really is.

        Bottom line: by any measure, the mining and burning coal is anything but “clean.”

  2. james

    hmmm… seems like democracy may not be the best system! what it has given us is inaction, denial and the guarantee of a 2nd class future for all Americans!

    China is moving ahead on all fronts, while we dither…

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Jeff Goodell

      James –

      An important thought, especially when it comes to transforming our energy system. Dithering, of course, is an important part of democracy. But when it comes to taking on entrenched interests and setting a course for a new economy, it’s easy to see why some people believe that more authoritative leadership gives China an advantage.

    • JohnG

      Democracy is not the problem, senate filibuster rules are, in my opinion and they need to be changed. The minority blocks legislation and the majority gets blamed for not solving problems. Several recent pieces of legislation failed in the senate by votes of about 53 yea’s and 45 nay’s. Sounds like ‘new math’ to me, not democracy!

  3. Ann

    media need to cover the nitty gritty details about coal, from mtn top removal, to impacts on water, to just how much air pollution from coal plants: all the visuals on the devastation caused by coal. If people somehow had to look at it instead of being oblivious. Really it should be covered in school lessons, as well as on TV. The facts of coal.

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Jeff Goodell

      So true! When I wrote my book about the coal industry (Big Coal), one of my motivating ideas was: If people could see what goes on behind the lightswitch, if they could understand the true costs of the “cheap” power from coal, would it change how they think about electricity? Would it make them more willing to pay a few dollars more a month for renewable power? Would it make them take steps to use less electricity?

      I don’t know if this knowledge would really change people’s behavior. Or, more importantly, make them willing to pay more for power. But I like to hope it would!

  4. I am baffled at the fundamental lack of knowledge exhibited–apparently the thinking is “Because coal is black–therefore coal must be bad”.–Now here is the truth: When bio fuel is burned TWO gasses are created–water vapor and carbon dioxide–BOTH are greenhouse gasses. It happens that water vapor is TEN TIMES as powerful a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide–take a minute and Google “water vapor as a greenhouse gas” Coal, as essentially pure carbon emits very little water vapor when compared to natural gas. Coal does have the potential of emitting particulate pollution BUT it certainly doesn’t have to. Properly burned, coal has much less effect on global warming than natural gas–all that said, as a source of energy, we would be much better off using the same one God does–nuclear.

    • Cat

      On the other hand, the extractive industry wreaks exponentially more havoc on the environment than bio fuels do. Water vapor can be captured and turned into a new resource; but once coal has been removed from the earth, the damage sustained can never be repaired.

    • bob frapples

      What do you purpose we do with all this “Godly” waste from nuclear?

    • Ryan T

      Speaking of a fundamental lack of knowledge, Stan, you might want to brush up on the difference between a persistent, climate forcing greenhouse gas (CO2 etc.) and a reactive greenhouse gas like water vapor. Water vapor is regulated by temperature on short timescales (via evaporation and precipitation), and therefore amplifies temperature change rather than causes it. To quote climatologist Andrew Lacis, “The bottom line is that CO2 is absolutely, positively, and without question, the single most important greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. It acts very much like a control knob that determines the overall strength of the Earth’s greenhouse effect…”

      Natural gas isn’t perfect, but it is less carbon-intensive.

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Jeff Goodell

      Stan –

      Here’s a good paper from the US Department of Energy about why water vapor emissions from power plants are not a problem when it comes to global warming.

      http://www.netl.doe.gov/energy-analyses/pubs/Water%20vapor%20impacts_final2.pdf

  5. We are building 2 clean coal units here in lively grove il by st louis,mo.employing 2300 construction workers for 5 yrs.Also will be adding another in taylorville ,il by springfield il in 2011.whats you take on these units and employment.

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Jeff Goodell

      Don –

      I understand importance of jobs in regions where new coal plants are being proposed and built. But how do you balance the good of those jobs with the larger social, environmental, and economic costs of mining and burning coal? Also, as you probably know, building and maintaining renewable energy sources creates just as many (or more) jobs, although not always in the same place.

      This is a hugely difficult question, for a whole number of reasons. But from a strictly economic (ie, jobs creation) point of view, it’s hard to argue against the fact that, in the long term, far more jobs will be created by transitioning away from coal than by sticking with it.

      See above response about the myth of clean coal.

  6. Steph

    There will not be an abrupt stop to coal powered energy. Do we need to work towards the end of coal burning, yes, but the technology is not there yet. The progressive paradox of new technologies is that it too will have side effects. An increase in alternative energy like wind powered increases the need for more power lines to be put on the grid to transmit that energy. They would be installed in pristine agricultural and forested land. We are only ready to give up coal environmentally, not economically or psychologically. There are other greenhouse gases that could be more easily approached like methane gas released from harvested rice paddies left to rot. We need practical technological advancement and practical awareness.

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Jeff Goodell

      Steph,

      It’s true, there is no free lunch. And it’s true, to tackle global warming, we need to focus on all greenhouse gases, not just CO2. But CO2 really is the elephant in the room here, and there is no way that just focusing on, say, methane, is going to solve the problem of global warming. I agree with you 100%, we need practical technological advancement and we need practical awareness of what we can and can’t do. But if we want to have chance of stabilizing the climate, we also need to stop burning coal, or at least figure out a way burn it without dumping millions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere.

  7. MotherLodeBeth

    Having seen the dreadful pollution near the Grand Canyon because of coal powered plants what do you think it will take for Americans to demand and end to coal? Like more suburban kids with ashma because of air pollution? What?

    I also want to know if ‘clean coal’ is just a word game or does it reallllly exist?

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Jeff Goodell

      Another great question. And unfortunately, I have no idea how to answer it. I have no idea what it will take to wake Americans up to the consequences of our dependence not just on coal, but on fossil fuels in general. The fact is, Americans are terribly ignorant about where their energy comes from and what it really costs. Look at the recent spill in the Gulf –did it change anyone’s views about our dependence on oil? Sadly, not many. At least not in Washington.

      With coal, I think that the only thing people will respond to in the near-term is price. When coal power is more expensive than other forms of energy, then people will move away from it. And this is not just a question of technological innovation but also of politics.

      As for clean coal, see response to earlier question

      • MotherLodeBeth

        Maybe its because of where I live and grew up that energy costs are a serious concern. Here in the CA Sierras it can cost up to 20k to get a power line from the end of the driveway up the 1/4 mile driveway. Same with drilling a water well. So wasting these resources is NOT something we tolerate. Even off the grid with solar/propane one is careful.

        Then there is the fact I grew up in a home on an island near Seattle where my conservatibe parents insisted that when we paid the bill we were paying to make some CEO well off and that the goal was to NOT pay needlessly and thus make us better off.

      • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Jeff Goodell

        Wasting energy resources is not something anyone should tolerate. But energy has been cheap for a very long time, and when energy is cheap, nobody thinks about how much they are consuming. That era, however, is coming to an end, and a lot more people are likely to be thinking about energy the way that you do.

      • wade

        Energy is very cheap now.
        From http://rogerpielkejr.blogspot.com/2011/01/reader-writes-in-with-renewable-energy.html
        “Comparing the wind average against a single relatively modern natural gas plant, wind cost 3.1x more to construct and cost 47,092x more to generate 1MWh of electricity.”
        Thus wind power looks way too expensive.

  8. james

    it is a conundrum – american coal is “clean and green”. chinese coal is “dirty and polluting” according to the chinese (and others).

    ask any economist, coal is economical, when you leave out “externals” such as health care costs… that’s what china is realizing and running from.

    sadly they are gonna clean our clock!

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Jeff Goodell

      James

      That is certainly true. If you price in the “externalities” — the air and water pollution, the mining damage, the contribution to global warming — coal is anything but cheap.

      Although if your point is that China has an advantage because they are building dirtier coal plants, that’s just not true. New coal plants in China are nearly as “clean” as coal plants here in the US. Which is not saying much, of course!

      • james

        excuse my lack of clarity – yes they are building new coal plants which are cleaner, and that’s important for their growing economy.

        what i was unclear about was they are also investing heavily in green technologies and that’s where they are gonna surpass us.

        they are investing in both short AND long term solutions. they are building the energy industries of the future and the innovators – not us.

      • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Jeff Goodell

        James

        Agreed, China is quite serious about being a leader in clean tech. As US Sec of Energy Steven Chu said the other day, this is a Sputnik moment for the US — except this time the race is not into outer space, but for economic power in 21st century.

      • wade

        China is rolling out nuclear power too. In China, now with 13 operating reactors on the mainland, the country is well into the next phase of its nuclear power program. Some 23 reactors are under construction and ten more are likely to be so by the end of 2010 and with 28 more by 2020.

  9. neighbor

    Mr. Goodell,

    in your opinion is there any way (or even a need) to reframe the discussion on decreasing coal use which currently tends to pit “wacko environmentalists” against the “needs” of big business and status quo? Obviously this divisiveness has been applied across many resource extraction conflicts: logging, damming of rivers, etc. – preventing people from working together to find creative solutions to global problems. Those who adhere strongly to the opinion that there’s nothing wrong with digging/cutting/damming it all up and using it for present gains have no interest in this conversation. I’d be curious to know more about how you see communities and organizations finding new ways to counteract or transcend old assumptions about resources & consumption.

    Thank you very much!

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Jeff Goodell

      Neighbor –

      That is a very good question, and one that I think about a lot. Many debates about coal certainly are divisive, with enviros and clean energy activists on one side wanting to shut coal down, and coal industry advocates on the other arguing that any attempt to increase restrictions on coal mining and burning will destroy the american economy.

      In my view, there are two factors that make rational debate and discussion difficult: first is the fundamental ignorance of most americans when it comes to cost and consequences of energy consumption. Most Americans have no idea that half the electricity in the country comes from coal, much less are they able to make judgements about reality of things like “clean coal.”
      (cont. in next post)

      • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Jeff Goodell

        (cont. from above)
        The second factor that makes rational debate difficult is the political power of the coal industry — not just mining companies, but electric power utilities and railroads, too. They are all deeply wired into the political system, both regionally and nationally, which give them big advantage in any “reframing” of the debate.

        That said, I do think that arguments about economic advantages of clean energy tech (as NYT columnist Tom Friedman often makes) are helpful in breaking old paradigms, as is a focus on national security, esp as it relates to consequences of global warming.

      • neighbor

        I’m not active in environmental organizations or campaigns in part because of this ignorance and my lack of desire to enter what amounts to a yelling match. I have the luxury (?) of starting from the premise that other life forms (and by extension the ecosystems that sustain them) have a right to exist. Others assume that their right to a (familiar) livelihood trumps all other species’/generations’ needs. An utter refusal to consider that there are costs to be born out far into the future makes it difficult to find any common ground. I tend to avoid such “dialogue” – yet as you say, reiterating the economic costs does make sense – it seems to be the only thing most people will listen to (concepts such as the rights of nature, etc. seem too far off the wall for many).

      • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Jeff Goodell

        neighor,

        Yes, economic costs (ie, money) is the great motivator. Moral and ethical arguments, not so much.
        Wish it were otherwise, but it is not.

  10. I also wondered two other things: given that big coal IS powerful, were there any particular difficulties you encountered in researching/writing or publishing your book? Any resistance (or worse) from the big players?

    Also, these industries wouldn’t exist unless there was a demand for what they produce – do you see that there has been any positive outcome toward stemming demand by the social “movements” that emphasize simplicity and a rethinking of the value of consumption as a national pastime? Energy, of course, is in high demand, and a lot of energy consumption is outside basic household consumption, but I wondered if you had a sense that voluntary simplicity is a viable tactic (since many people feel otherwise powerless against corporate mentality)?

    Thanks again!

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Jeff Goodell

      Neighbor,

      Yes, I had lots of difficulting in researching my book. Many people in the coal industry, top to bottom, refused to talk to me. But many did talk to me. We (I) talk about Big Coal as if it were a uniform thing, but in fact the industry is made of very diverse players and types of people, and many of them, I discovered, were very intersted in talking frankly about their business, in part because they are proud (often justifably) of their work, and sometimes because they want the truth to come out.

      AS for social movements that emphasize simplicity, I’m all for it. I think this really does go to the heart of our energy problem, which is, to be blunt, mindless consumption. But cutting back, or simplifying, is not a message that resonates in America.

      (cont)

      • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Jeff Goodell

        cont from above

        We are a frontier society, and believe deeply in endless horizon and inexhaustible resources.

  11. Richard Stein

    I have recently co-authored an Op-Ed in our local newspaper, The Sprongfield (MA) Republican on “Moving Mt. Tom Past Coal” and have sent a petition signed by over 80 local residents to the administrators of this French owned coal burning power plant in Holyoke, MA concerning their emitting 1,000,000 tons of CO2 a year. We are calling this to the attention of residents and requesting that steps be taken to change. Such changes have taken place in the Univ. of Mass. (Amherst) power plant that recently shifted from coal to natural gas and employed cogeneration, appreciably reducing its CO2 output

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Jeff Goodell

      Richard

      I think this kind of community activism and education in incredibly important, especially in light of the larger failure of political leadership on climate issues. It’s one thing to make a conscious choice to burn coal for power. It’s quite another to choose to do it out of ignorance and apathy. Keep up the good work!

  12. DavidC

    I’m surprised I did not see any mention (did I miss it?) about large amounts of toxic coal-ash (toxic because the scrubbers are now taking heavy metals, etc., from the combustion “gases”). Isn’t toxic ash a serious issue too?
    Also, given the success in solving the acid rain problem (requiring the mentioned scrubbers)–is there maybe some hope in a political effort to meaningfully address the current issues?
    Finally, what will really change things, IMHO, is economic incentives: much bigger subsidies for development and deployment of clean renewables, in a non-technology specific way, so solutions would be valued based on real benefit. A carbon tax could be part of that, but not sure it’s politically feasible, and might be tricky to manage. Thoughts?

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Jeff Goodell

      DavidC,

      You are right, coal ash is a very big issue — and one that the US EPA is wrestling with right now. Coal ash, as you know (but others might not) is the residue from burning coal, which often contains heavy metals like arsenic and lead and other toxic substances. The amount of coal ash a big plant generates is enormous — and so is the problem of how to dispose of it. Usually dumped into impoundment ponds, which, if properly constructed and monitored, can provide reasonably safe (if temporary) storage. Problem is, many coal ash sites are NOT properly constructed or monitored, and may contaminate drinking water and cause other problems (not to mention catastrophic failures of coal ash dams, as happened in Kingston TN last year.)

      (cont)

      • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Jeff Goodell

        Yes, the Acid Rain program, which established a cap and trade system to reduce SO2 pollution from coal plants, is a model of an efficient, market-based system to encourage innovation and reduce pollution at the lowest possible cost. It is often cited as a model for a larger CO2 cap and trade program. (At least it was, until cap and trade became a dirty phrase in the US)

        Finally, yes, agreed that finding a way to put a price on carbon, either through a cap and trade system or direct tax or whatever, is the best way to level the playing field and encourage development of clean tech. Unfortunately, here in the US, there is no political will to put a price of any type on carbon — although in the long run, it is, in my view, inevitable.

  13. Frank

    What about the population problem? If the earth has less people to support, she can more easily support them? If everyone plans to use energy as we currently do in the US, we are doomed….

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Jeff Goodell

      Frank,

      Yes, of course it is true that if there were only 1 billion people on the planet, everything would be much simpler. But we have nearly 7 billion, heading quickly to 9 billion. But as others have pointed out (see discussion about “Defusing the Population Bomb” here on PRI’s Science forum), it’s not only a problem of numbers, it is a problem of consumption, esp here in the rich industrialized west. We are responsible for by far the largest percentage of fossil fuel consumption, as well as pollution.

  14. Norman Youngsteadt

    Population growth is a serious problem that we in the U.S. fail to address. It reduces the per capita availability of any finite resource and this becomes more problematic the closer those resources come to depletion. China recognized this and established its one-child family policy, which has slowed its population growth such that there are about 300 million fewer Chinese(about the size of the U.S.) than there would have been without the policy. This must account for a considerable reduction in their coal consumption. As we face ever more economic stress due to growing resource shortages, is it not time that we in the U.S. begin to seriously explore no-growth economic models and address the problem of continued population growth?

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Jeff Goodell

      Norman

      As I pointed out in above post, there is an excellent discussion about this very issue in another forum here on PRI. It’s called “Defusing the Population Bomb,” and it’s hosted by Fred Pearce, who has written widely about population matters.

  15. George S. Stanford

    Bob:
    Sorry for the tardy response, but you can take comfort in knowing that the nuclear waste is no real problem. For one thing, the new variety of reactors called “fast” can extract virtually all of the energy that’s in the uranium. That means there’s less than 2-1/2 pounds — yes, pounds — of long-lived isotopes (half-lives greater than 1000 years) included in the annual waste from a large, 1000-megawatt power plant. The activity of the fission products (the main waste — there’s about a ton of them) decays to insignificance within 500 years, and can readily be managed safely.

    • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Rhitu Chatterjee

      George,

      I think many experts would argue otherwise about nuclear waste.

      For anyone interested in the topic of nuclear energy I suggest you check out a previous Science Forum discussion we did about nuclear energy.

      The featured guests have now left the discussion, but the conversation (and the related story and interview) would be useful.

      You can find it here. http://www.world-science.org/forum/india-asia-nuclear-energy-ramana-glaser/

      Rhitu

      • Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Jeff Goodell

        George

        I would a agree with Rhitu above. Nuclear waste from existing reactors is a huge problem, and one that, despite decades of effort, has still not been solved (witness Yucca mountain debacle).

        That said, it is true that a lot of work is being done on next gen nukes, especially in China, that much reduced waste. But as with all this kind of next gen technology, there is a big gap between design and deployment.

        Jeff

  16. George S. Stanford

    Rhitu:
    Thanks for the link. I have scanned the discussion there, and found nothing substantive to negate the contention that nuclear waste is not a serious problem, even though it’s uppermost in a lot of (non-specialists’) minds. It’s not a topic that can be adequately covered in two paragraphs. I recommend boning up on the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) — a U.S.-originated technology whose development was aborted in 1994, for non-technical reasons, just as it was becoming ready for a commercial demonstration. There are lots of opinions about the likely cost of fast reactors, but the fact is that so far there’s no hard data, since no commercial-scale IFR systems have ever been built. At present, however , there is no reason to think that they will not be competitive.

  17. Error: Unable to create directory /home/worldsci/public_html//wp-content/uploads/2014/04. Is its parent directory writable by the server? Jeff Goodell

    I just want to thank everyone for participating in this discussion. I enjoyed the exchange, and learned a good deal from it. I hope you did too. And thanks to everyone at The World for putting together an excellent series about coal and for hosting this conversation.

    Best,

    Jeff

  18. Talk about problems with coal pollution. In South Africa about 95% of our electricity comes from coal and the worst part is that they’re using low grade coal which polutes even more. The high quality coal is exported! This is a terrible situation. Fortunately the momentum towards clean energy is starting to show results, with wind farms and solar panel farms shooting up all around the country.

  19. Ava

    Hi Jeff,

    I’m from Dublin (Ireland) and remember the smog that hung over the city during the Winter time when I was a kid due to coal burning. If you had any sort of breathing condition then you would be in a bad way during the Winter. Luckily we don’t use too much coal anymore so the air is cleaner now.

  20. I totally agree that we need to move away from fossil fuels, but right now the biggest barrier to moving away from coal is its low cost compared to other forms of energy. Renewable sources such as wind or solar are still nowhere near as competitive as coal (though they may be in the future). This makes coal generators particularly favored by developing countries and (unsurprisingly) China.

    However, the carbon emissions associated with coal are drastically reduced if you are implementing carbon-capture-and-storage technology (CCS). So my recommendation going forward would be to encourage the construction of coal plants only if they incorporate CCS. This will help create a clean transition to renewables further down the line when they become more economically viable.

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