Energy of the Past

What is coal?

Coal is also known as "mineral of fossilized carbon". It is the rock that started the industrialized revolution and it is the material that allowed society to be what it is today.

We have used coal from as early as 1000 BCE when the Chinese first used coal to smelt copper. Today we still use the same old fashioned coal as a source of energy that powers some of the world's most industrialized countries. It is primarily burned for the production of electricity and/or heat, and is also used for industrial purposes, such as refining metals.

We need this resource to feed our never satisfied appetite for energy. Although there are alternatives for sources of energy, corporations and governments cut corners and rely on coal so they can keep a couple of extra bills in their wallets. We need this resource to feed our greed.

Where exactly is coal from?

How Do They Do It__ Coal Mining Video.flv

What's wrong with using coal?

Coal 101: What's Wrong with Coal?

Summary of impacts:

Mining: Destroying mountains

  • Mountaintop-removal mining, has damaged or destroyed nearly 2,000 miles of streams and threatens to destroy 1.4 million acres of mountaintops and forests by 2020
  • Pollutes waterways and allows toxic heavy metals such as cadmium, selenium, and arsenic to leach into local water supplies
  • Many of the toxins that pollute mountaintop-removal sites are carcinogens, and cancer rates are twice as high for people who live near mountaintop-removal sites.
  • Read more about it:

Burning: Carbon pollution and climate disruption

Burning: Smog, soot, and asthma

  • Smog exacerbates conditions like bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma
  • Children are at the greatest health risk from air pollution because they are more likely to be active outdoors and their lungs are still developing
  • Soot pollution—a by-product from burning fossil fuels that results in small particles in the air composed of a mixture of metals, chemicals, and acid droplets
  • Deadliest and most dangerous air pollutants, linked to premature death, heart attacks, lung damage, and a variety of other significant health problems
  • A potential social cost of $100 billion in annual health costs
  • Read more about it:

Burning: Toxic mercury

  • Mercury is a powerful neurotoxin that can damage the brain and nervous system
  • coal-fired power plants are the largest single source of unregulated mercury pollution in the United States, emitting over 33 tons of toxic mercury each year
  • Read more about it here:

Disposal: Coal ash waste

  • In the US coal plants produce 140 million tons of coal ash pollution, the toxic by-product that is left over after the coal is burned
  • It is dumped in the backyards of power plants across the nation, into open-air pits and precarious surface waste ponds
  • At risk from potential large-scale disasters like the massive coal ash spill in Tennessee in 2008
  • Dangerous contamination as coal ash toxins seep into drinking water sources or are blown into nearby communities
  • Coal ash pollution contains high levels of toxic heavy metals such as arsenic, lead, selenium, and hexavalent chromium
  • Increased risk of cancer, learning disabilities, neurological disorders, birth defects, reproductive failure, asthma, and other illnesses
  • Living near a wet coal ash storage pond is more dangerous than smoking a pack of cigarettes a day
  • Read more about it:

Exports: A bad investment

  • Due to America turning towards clean energy, the coal industry is not selling coal to Asia
  • Coal terminal exports are nor being built on the US coast
  • Coal will be extracted from places such as Montana, Wyoming, and Appalachia
  • Will be transported by uncovered coal trains through cities and towns and loaded onto cargo ships
  • For more information, watch "Nurse Julie"
  • Read more about it:

Nurse Julie

Disposal: Coal plant water pollution

  • According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 72 percent of all toxic water pollution in the country comes from coal-fired power plants
  • 4 out of 5 coal plants in the U.S. have no limits on the amount of toxics they are allowed to dump into our water
  • Read more about it:

Who uses it? What are the consequences?

Emily Leung 7

who uses it and consequences by Emily Leung 7

Why do we still use coal if there are so many negative effects?

it is cheap, with cheap labour and readily available. After all, what else does society run on other than for the economy?

So what are we doing about it?

What we have done:

In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the Clean Air Act requires the Environmental Protection Agency to take action to address carbon pollution. And in March 2012, President Obama and the EPA made history by proposing the first-ever national limits on carbon pollution for new power plants

In 2011, the Obama administration introduced new landmark protections. This will establish the first-ever nationwide safeguards against toxic mercury from dirty power plants—our largest source of mercury pollution—and reduce mercury emissions from power plants by more than 90 percent.

America has also reduced the amount of coal we consume, hence reducing the amount of coal we burn. Instead we are directing ourselves towards clean energy. The amount of electricity that America gets from wind and solar plants have more than doubled within the last few years. Some states in the United States, such as South Dakota, get 20% of their electricity from solar farms.

Furthermore, governments are now turning to carbon taxes which will encourage industries to reduce the amount of carbon they emit.

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What we should now now:

Newer technologies such as scrubbers, carbon sequestration capture (CSC) and activated carbon injection technology can help reduce the amount of mercury and carbon that we release into the atmosphere when we burn coal. All coal plants should by law, be required to have these technologies put into place to ensure minimal impacts.

Moving to clean energy will create a new job sector in North America. However, in places like China where 5 million people are employed in the coal industry, removing coal plants is not an option. Instead, policies should be implemented and followed to ensure the negative environmental impacts are minimized.

Countries all over the world are beginning to implement carbon taxes. However, is it important that once these policies are made, they must be followed have have consequences for people who do not abide by the policies.

Governments should review their current existing environmental guidelines to ensure that they are up to date with the developments of the coal industry. The Environmental Protection Agency in the US has acknowledged that the existing standards of governing water pollution have not been updated in 30 years.

Coal exports should be limited. Exporting coal promotes the fossil fuel industry internationally when we should be promoting renewable and green energy. The export of coal delays the "clean energy movement" internationally and especially in Asia (China).

We, as citizens can help push green energy forward by calling our electrical supplies (such as Enersource) and as to switch from fossil fueled energy to energy that comes from renewable sources.

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