Black –you don’t know the meaning of the word until you’ve been down a mine shaft,” yells my friend Nat over the noise of machinery. Gazing at the yawning hole in front me, I start to wonder if I really want to find out what Nat means.
Over 70 percent of the steel produced worldwide is processed by coal-burning blast furnaces. In addition, the makers of bricks, tiles, cement, plastics, dyes, and explosives use chemicals derived from coal.
By far the biggest consumer of coal, however, is the power industry. Australia generates 84 percent of its electric energy from coal-fired power plants. In China, South Africa, and Denmark, approximately three quarters of the electricity is generated from coal. The United States relies on coal for over half of its electric power. Worldwide, more than a third of the electricity produced comes from coal.
To put it another way, if you own an electric stove, you consume approximately half a ton of coal a year. Two tons of coal will power your electric water heater for the same period, and your electric refrigerator will devour a further half ton annually.
Scientists estimate that one million million tons of coal remain in the earth’s “cellar” –enough to last hundreds of years at the present rate of consumption.
COAL AND POLLUTION: smoke and small particles from burning coal cause more than 50,000 new cases of chronic bronchitis a year in 11 of [China’s] large cities, “states a united Nations Environment Programme report. The technology to remove much of this pollution is available but is considered too expensive for many power-starved countries to purchase.
COAL AND CLIMATE CHANGE: The burning of coal already produces over two thousand million tons of carbon dioxide gas each year. And coal is forecast to remain the second-largest source of carbon emissions, at about 34 percent in 2020. Many see these statistics as cause for alarm.