Coal was humanity’s first fossil fuel and quickly grew into the most widely-used source of man-made energy right up to this day.
As of 2018, it accounts for roughly 40% of all industrial activity in the US. In China, India, Russia and elsewhere, the figure is much higher.
For most of the last 200 years, coal has produced the biggest part of human “progress.”
But that progress has come at a terrible price.
Coupled with deforestation, burned coal has done more to degrade the human carrying capacity of the biosphere (HCCB) than any other cause.
The problems started with CO2 emissions as the Industrial Revolution picked up momentum in the first decades of the 1800s.
Strange things happen when you burn coal. Every pound of the carbon content—as much as 90 percent of good grades of the fuel—turns into 3.67 pounds of carbon dioxide.
One ton of coal into the furnace, 3.67 tons of carbon dioxide out. Then the gas doesn’t just go away.
Carbon dioxide is essentially a “forever waste.”
As much as half of it is proven to linger in the atmosphere for a quarter-of-a-million years.
What that means is much of the carbon dioxide emissions produced early in the Industrial Revolution—and every day since—are still with us today, wafting around in the atmosphere, capturing heat from the rays of the sun, warming the biosphere top to bottom.
And, as our ancestors did to us, we the people now do to future generations, but on a much grander scale.
Eight billion tons of coal are now burned worldwide every year, dumping all that CO2 in with all that’s still swirling around in the atmosphere from the olden days.
No surprise, then, that the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere as of May 2015 was 43 percent higher than pre-industrial days–and the highest it has been in millions of years.
The dark side of coal doesn’t end there.
Except for nuclear fuel, coal is the dirtiest source of energy out there…
And coal-fired power plants tie-up and degrade staggering volumes of increasingly precious fresh water just to make the steam to drive the turbines that generate the electricity we all consume with no regard from where it comes from.
Over the centuries, burned coal has injected small doses of toxic heavy metals into the air we breathe at an ever-increasing rate.
Today, the emissions of raw methylmercury alone amount to hundreds of tons annually. The metal is bound-up in small veins in the coal and is too costly to remove. Once emitted into the atmosphere, the mercury is widely dispersed and circulates for years.
Airborne mercury concentrations in the atmosphere today are 3-5 times greater than the pre-industrial era.
In the surface waters of the oceans, it’s even more prevalent.
Mercury is the second most poisonous substance known to science, exceeded in toxicity only by Plutonium.
Lead, cadmium, chromium, arsenic and other toxic heavy-metal emissions from burned coal mirror the rising trajectory of CO2 emissions.
Traces of primary elements like Thorium, Strontium and Uranium are found in coal too, enough to make piles of coal ash more radioactive than the grounds of Uranium mines.
Burned coal in billions of tons also emits degrading levels of sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane and more.
Virtually every element in the Periodic Table is found in some minute amount in coal.
In thousandths of a percentage point or less per ton, there is nothing to worry about. In millions, then billions of tons annually for more than a century, however, the very chemistry of the planet’s atmosphere is altered.
The air out there today is not the same air the human body was adapted to 200,000-300,000 years ago.
Then there’s the solid waste left after all the combustion: great piles of dark, rough bottom ash and slag; fine, silky fly-ash captured in the smokestacks and, starting in the 1970s, coal-ash ponds.
The U.S. alone landfills 140,000,000 tons of coal ash each year in 1,160 active sites, according to the pre-2017 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
That’s enough to cover the two largest airports in the country—Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta and the O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, in 10 feet of primeval brimstone.
There are an estimated 1,000 old “retired” coal ash disposal sites holding more than 16 billion cubic yards of material, enough to bury 1,563 square miles of habitable land under 10 feet of hellish waste.
And nearly half the active disposal sights have no liners to keep the toxins from draining into ground water and nearby rivers and lakes, EPA acknowledged. Outside researchers find that the liners don’t work very long anyway.
In short, “harmless” coal ash disposal is a fiction.
Of course, the U.S. is not the only coal ash producer. In 2009, China produced 375 million tons of the debris, two-and-a-half times the U.S. output.
Altogether, the solid waste left by burned coal globally exceeded one billion tons in 2014, a one year outpouring that could entomb the combined areas of Washington, D.C. and New York City’s Manhattan Island under 10 feet of toxic ash.
All that to make electricity—when there are now four or five better, cleaner ways to do it!
Society has never bothered to educate itself on the fuels that drive its progress.
Scientists warn us about the dangers of coal, but businesses rooted in the product (the coal and electricity industries, primarily) and their allies in the conventional energy realm spend hundreds-of-millions of dollars on slick misinformation to convince regulators and the public that the science is wrong and the “product protectionists” are right.
And the strategy works.
People brush-off the science, then contend they don’t know what to believe.
So, nothing changes.
Perfect for Old Energy!
And it keeps on doing what’s slowly destroying the human carrying capacity of the biosphere (HCCB) every moment of every day.
How do consumers change this equation?
At this juncture in human history, coal-powered anything is shameful, and WE should not stand for it.
Instead, let’s exhibit such a resounding preference for the good alternatives to coal power that the business community is forced to start giving us what we want.
Here’s how to get the ball rolling….
Coal waste reduction starts with electrical efficiencies, residentially and organizationally. Start with the easy to overlook LED lightbulb.
It is a hot commodity in the commercial arena where companies are always looking for cost savings (Lux Solutions).
And the bulbs are the best, most powerful starter product available for budding green-consumers who want to do something directly and immediately to protect the habitat today’s newborns must have for a healthy life in old age.
Ultra-efficient lighting makeovers are all about getting more for less and reducing pollution too.
Few products or services can deliver those benefits.
The front-end cost of the bulbs is more ($7-$10) versus older bulbs, but LED devices last up to 25 years and deliver the same light on 85 percent less electricity, reducing conventional fuel emissions by that much in the process.
A few years of this, and the extra cost of the LED bulbs is recovered in electricity savings.
The switch to ultra-efficient lighting, motors and other devices since 2011 have already reduced expectations for electricity needs 25-30 years down the road.
“Old Energy” pays attention to these kinds of things.
The entire industry is at a watershed moment in its history… what is it going to be 30-40 years from now?
A dying relic of the Industrial Revolution, or the energy provider of the future that finally put sanity in electricity, profiting all the while?
A wholesale push by green-consumers to LED lighting from this point on will help tip that scale in the right direction.
Get familiar with the possibilities, as a resident and as an organization.
On-site Solar Electricity
It’s important to understand the terminology attached to solar-generated electricity.
From best to worst, the hierarchy is this: rooftop solar systems, nearby solar systems and grid-delivered solar power.
It is electricity generated by the sun on or adjacent to the premises that use the current produced.
The energy industry calls this system “distributed solar,” as opposed to current delivered via the grid system from some big plant far away (i.e., centralized electricity).
By whatever name, rooftop installations are the ideal setup for solar electricity.
From production to use, the current doesn’t have far to travel, so little is lost in transmission.
That is a huge drawback with conventional grid-delivered electricity.
The further the current has to travel to the user, the more of it is lost to the resistance encountered in the transmission wires (up to 99 percent in some cases).
The only way to make up for the loss is to crank-up the power plants by burning ever-greater quantities of life-altering fossil fuels and nuclear power.
Rooftop solar eliminates this problem, less solar-electric apparatus is needed and system costs are reduced.
Still, front-end costs for rooftop solar systems turn off a lot of potential customers, but rebates, tax credits and electricity savings take much of the sting out of that obstacle–enough that solar installations in the U.S. have surged from 645,000 in 2015 to 1.6 million units by the end of 2017.
That kind of growth—despite multiple regulatory obstacles put in place to kill or slow the development—is fearful to the energy establishment.
Unfettered rooftop solar electricity can drive Old Energy into obsolescence, so the “anti-environmental product-protectionists” fight the technology relentlessly.
Thirty-two state legislatures have thrown some kind of monkey wrench into the installation of rooftop solar systems.
In January 2018, Donald Trump imposed tariffs (i.e., jacked-up the price 30 percent) on solar panels made in China, South Korea and other foreign countries.
Despite it all, solar electricity keeps gaining, shouldering Old Energy out of its comfort zone.
Lend a hand—push those suckers over the side.
There are far better ways to produce and deliver electricity, and it’s long past time the world’s energy providers cut the cord to the past.
You can help that to happen in short order.
If you can afford it, think seriously about buying or leasing a rooftop solar electricity system.
There are a variety of options and providers (Home Advisor).
Explore the options in your locale. Get some installation quotes. See what the possibilities are. Maybe there’s a way to serve adjacent homes or businesses with a single system.
You may be surprised.
Nearby Solar Electricity
More and more, environmental entrepreneurs are building solar electricity systems sized to serve nearby communities, businesses and other applications.
The electricity generated doesn’t have to travel far, so the product lost in transmission is greatly reduced.
This “nearby” strategy for delivering electricity and reducing pollution will play a big role in energy production in the future.
Buy the product where available. Learn more about it. Lobby to bring systems to your town.
See if you can invest in good solid developments.
Grid-delivered Solar Power
To get in the solar game, some old-time power companies sell vague access to solar electricity via the grid system from some far-off site (Home Power—Solar Electricity).
Until the grid system is largely filled with non-polluting/low-polluting types of electricity, this form of solar power ranks at the bottom of the options.
But it is better than nothing, if only to show growing consumer preference for the smarter way.
So, buy grid-delivered solar electricity if the better choices are not available.
Recommend it to anyone in the same position as you.
The more demand for the product consumers display, the more the conventional electricity business will get the picture.
There’s no reason the energy establishment can’t get into the non-polluting/low-polluting electricity business.
They just need an unmistakable push from the marketplace.
Small Scale Wind Power
If the wind blows steadily where you live and you are inclined to curb the habitat destruction today’s newborns are destined to incur from coal waste, look into residentially-sized wind machines.
It’s clean energy of the best kind and much more feasible than you might think.
See what the possibilities are.
Maybe there are ways to split costs with one system that serves multiple properties. Talk it up with your neighbors.
You might be pleasantly surprised.
Geothermal Alternatives to Coal
Heating and cooling systems powered by heat from the mantle of the Earth is well-refined and serves happy customers far and wide.
Well-designed, installed and maintained, geothermal systems are legit.
Look into it in your area.
Here too, there may be ways to spread costs and benefit across more than one property.
Every property owner and organization that can switch into some source of non-polluting/low-polluting electricity is a decided assist for the future of today’s newborns.
But help your city to “go green” and the impact can be greatly magnified.
With little more than trees, ornamental plants and sod, the air-conditioning and heating costs of big cities and small can be dramatically reduced.
With those reductions, pollution is also reduced.
Switch into LED lighting wherever possible and the reductions increase. Get behind these movements. They are very important.
Let the powers-that-be know that you are one consumer prepared to spend his or her money where it will do the most good for the children’s ecological future.
It will matter.
Missing in the economic sphere are banking services that enable consumers to readily switch into the better alternatives to polluting technologies, products, services, processes and practices. Those alternatives include eco-lighting makeovers, rooftop solar installations, wind systems, electric car battery chargers, catchwater systems and more.
Over time, there’s payback enough in the utility savings to start banking a green-consumer movement.
Who in the banking community will step forward with the financing arrangements that would expedite the transformation into a whole new green-economy?
That’s where every advance economy has to go if society is to survive long-term.
Why not get the ball rolling sooner than later?
Check out the rest of the “Consumer Solutions to the 7 Deadly Sins of Ecological Destruction” series now:
- An Introduction to… The 7 Deadly Sins of Ecological Destruction
- Solution to Sin #1: Deforestation
- Solution to Sin #2: Coal
- Solution to Sin #3: Oil-based fuels
- Solution to Sin #4: Natural gas
- Solution to Sin #5: Nuclear electricity
- Solution to Sin #6: Chemical waste
- Solution to Sin #7: Water loss & contamination