Dirty, deadly, coal

Posted April 6th, 2010 in Blog, Featured 4 Comments »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Today from Margaret Swedish:

No, no more, no more this business about ‘clean coal.’ Coal-powered energy is brought to you at the cost of human lives and vast ecological destruction. This issue is not just about CO2, though coal is the largest single source of CO2 emissions and that must end. But even if we did that (and it won’t happen anytime soon), it would be a mere tip of the iceberg, because this is not just about greenhouse gas emissions. It is about stripping away mountains and forests; it is about poisoning rivers, streams, ground water, and what flows in the taps of Appalachian communities; it is about… it is about this:

Between 1900 and 2005, more than 104,000 coalminers just in this country have died in accidents so that we can power up our TVs and recharge our cell phone batteries, to power up our factories and ethanol plants, so that we can turn on our lights and a.c.’s, and to power up all that light pollution in the night that has robbed us of our relationship with the stars in our galaxy. They have died so that Apple could introduce its new iPad. Some 10,000 miners have died from black lung disease just in the past decade, and an average 3 miners die each day from this disease.  (Click here for more info.)

Now coal has taken at least 25 more lives in West Virginia.

Source: ilovemountains.org

Massey Energy Company – the record of death, destruction, and ecological ruin from this single company, just one, but the largest in that region, should make us all hang our heads in shame – because it is all of us who protect them by not making this issue  one of the most morally urgent of our generation (more on Massey here and here).

All of us suck up the energy that King Coal, Dirty Coal, brings to us. Every time I drive over the Hoan Bridge from my Bay View neighborhood towards downtown Milwaukee, I see the coal piles that the ships bring in. Wisconsin does not have coal; all of the coal we burn comes from somewhere else, from someone else’s human and ecological damage.

President Obama and many, many others see our huge coal reserves and find there “energy independence,” a CHEAP domestic source of energy (if you don’t count the value of mountains, valleys, streams, rivers, groundwater, polluted air, human lives – and they don’t, because if they did coal would quickly become completely unaffordable). Many, including our president, are excited about the potential of liquified coal to replace gasoline.

25 dead miners in West Virginia. Then there’s that coal-hungry country called China where a miraculous rescue of more than 100 miners just occurred after yet another devastating accident.  But in China, they measure human lives from these accidents in the hundreds rather than dozens as in Massey’s mine. Human beings made cheap for the sake of industrialization.

Valley fill disasater (2002), Lyburn WV, Bandmill Coal. Corp, owned by Massey

Friends, if I tell you we must wean ourselves from coal, I am stating something fairly profound and controversial. To save lives and the planet for human habitation, we must wean ourselves from the economy fueled by coal, and that is no small thing.

But when you think this hard, or you feel the resistance to make changes of this magnitude, please, think of these 25 miners and their families; consider the mountains being blasted away.  Even more, think of the world we are passing on to our children.

I am, I confess it, deeply affected by the death of these miners. I know my, our, way of life has something to do with this. We must stop Massey. We must insist on laws that would put the people who run companies in this way in jail. We must be in solidarity with the miners and their families. And we must be willing to change our lives – so that the people and the mountains can live.


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4 Responses

  1. hombredelatierra

    There are other cogent reasons for getting off the coal wagon: economic self-interest, national security, humanist (or faith based) morality, common sense..

    What the public doesn’t know: the data on coal reserve levels are outdated, of “poor quality”, and inflated:


    Richard Heinberg (Post Carbon Institute) reveals shocking facts that the oil – coal – nuke lobby don’t want you to know! : 0

    Heinberg did not dream up his numbers; they are based on an April 5, 2007 report to the German parliament by the Energy Watch Group:


    In essence, world coal production will peak about 30% above present levels circa 2025. At current production rates, it is estimated that world coal reserves should last 155 years (as opposed to 45 years for oil and 65 for gas).

    These estimates, it should be noted, are over-estimates as they based on CURRENT (circa 2007) rates of production of the various energy sources. In reality, China and India, in a desperate attempt to maintain internal social and political stability, are “forcing” their economies along high growth trajectories using unsustainable – fossil fuel based – technologies assuring rising demand levels for coal, oil and gas. Even taking the standard estimates at face value one sees the absurdity of present models of “development”: why would anyone IN THEIR RIGHT MIND base their economies on infrastructures which will become obselete in less than 45, 65, 155 years for oil, gas and coal based technologies? Can anyone answer this question for me..

    Heinberg (first link above) writes that coal prices should rise as production peaks (this happened in the summer of 2008 when oil hit 147 $ US per barrel, providing one of the triggers for the US financial crisis – the infamous subprime mortgage scam – which, in turn, metastasized into the current global economic recession).

    Heinberg then makes the following comment which deserves to be reread at least once by serious activists:

    “Nevertheless it makes more sense for climate activists to embrace the news and use it to advantage, rather than to deny or marginalise it. They can argue that, even if society finds steep voluntary cuts in the use of coal to be economically onerous, there is really no alternative: declines in production will happen anyway, so it is better to cut consumption proactively than wait and be faced with shortages and price volatility later.”


    Heinberg: “time will be needed in order for society to adapt proactively to a resource-constrained environment. A failure to begin now to reduce reliance on coal will mean much greater economic hardship when the peak arrives.”


    Can’t be much clearer than that.

  2. hombredelatierra

    “Can’t be much clearer than that.”

    Hmmmm…. not so sure: last section reads “..WHEN THE PEAK ARRIVES” and not “..THEN THE PEAK ARRIVES”.

    :0 OMG

    At any rate, the precautionary principle is involved. It’s why you discourage your teens from smoking, doing drugs, road racing or playing Russian roulette: the behavior in question has a high (and avoidable) risk associated with it.

  3. Margaret

    Problem is, this message will not get through the ‘noise’ any time soon. In the rare moments that it does, the focus on individuals is distracting and short-sighted. I can turn up my thermostat a couple degrees in the heat of the summer, sure, or put in more energy efficient light bulbs. But this keeps the onus off the real energy monsters – industry itself, all those industries supported by coal (like ethanol plants, industrial agriculture, factories, car dealerships, and even the demand on the grid planned for all those plug-in hybrid cars).

    Oil keeps things moving, coal keeps the lights on. Both will peak this century. It’s going to get very interesting around here.

  4. hombredelatierra

    That’s a good point. I think climate change and peak oil may prove to be godsends in the sense that they may – IF WELL “MANAGED” – serve as wake up calls. The hick is that they are dangerous medecines indeed and may end up killing the patient before the disease..

    I just had short exchange with someone involved in promoting Transition Initiative. They asked what can we do to reach out to groups – under 25, immigrant, nonwhite.. – who seen under-represented in local Transition Initiatives. I brought up an idea I have toyed with recently: making contacts with ecology groups and activist circles in universities, colleges, high schools and even elementary schools. For maximal effect, we should involve their teachers too. Perhaps we could propose projects for Science Fairs and, where possible, provide some support (info or other).

    I concede that getting the message out is hard. I get the impression the “fossil fuel lobby” and their friends have got a headlock on the media (Fox and company).

    I personally believe that it is crucial to get the message of (re-)building community resilience out to as many people as possible in order to minimize the damage of the transition and to create as many “seeds” of potential regrowth as possible: “community based survivalism”, I guess – for those too poor to own their own bunker and arms locker..