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Coal’s war on humanity …

September 20th, 2013 · 7 Comments

As even the most casual student of history knows, yesterday’s friends can be tomorrow’s enemies and vice versa.  Germany and Japan as America’s most mortal allies transformed, post World War II, into two close allies.   It is worth keeping this in mind to consider the overheated rhetoric about a supposed “war on coal”.

Coal was critical for the industrial revolution and was a serious player for transforming the world over the past several centuries.  However, somewhat like international relationships, technology and energy systems can evolve and change.  And, our understanding of costs and benefits can shift as well.

While coal for a long period was an absolutely critical part of our energy scene, technological advances have changed that.  A new filterFor example, ships and railroads that once ran on coal now run more efficiently with petroleum fuels and electricity.  And, the same thing is an ever-increasing reality in the electricity market. Once the ‘lowest price’ out there for new electricity, natural gas is beating coal down right now due to depressed gas prices. And, increasingly, renewable energy projects are beating coal on a price-point basis — even without considering ‘externalities’.

As to those externalities, we now know that there are very real, very serious, very significant costs that fall outside the price contact — are external to the financial relationship — that are costing us as individuals and adults.

We now know that the mining and burning of coal causes tremendous damage, creates costs from …

damaged homes from leaking coal ash storage sites to

brain damage in babies (due to mercury) to environmental impacts (most extreme being climate impacts, but a range of other impacts as well).

If we were to consider rationally those externalities from the mining, transportation, and burning of coal, then coal would be priced out of the market place in market after market after …

While fossil fuel promoters, uncaring about the havoc they create on others (living and unborn), scream that the Obama Administration is undertaking a “War on Coal” there is a quite different angle.  They — the promoters of coal — long ago determined that their own profitability was more important than the pain and suffering that they cause others, that cash in their pocket was more important than the damage they cause for all of us.  If there is such a thing as a “war”, they declared it a long time ago.  It is well past time to recognize that and act accordingly.

Friday’s announcement of proposed carbon dioxide limits for new natural gas and new coal-fired electricity generation has fueled a rash of fossil foolish screaming about a “War on Coal”. Those shrill screams of faux outrage ignore, of course, our expanded (and expanding) understanding of the damage(s) that burning coal causes, all “external” costs like driving up asthma rates, and dismisses the revolution in distributed renewable energy that is pricing new coal out of many markets even without the externalities being considered.

Another angle ignored in that faux outrage, that the coal industry, itself, was the biggest promoter of asserting that “clean coal” was ‘there’ (actually promoting “Clean Coal” for nearly 100 years), ready for deployment, and more than able to foster a “clean” electricity that could go toe-to-toe with and win against renewables in both price and cleanliness. That (dishonest? misleading? deceitful? less than truthful?) truthiness has disappeared from their vocabulary with a discussion of “price” that ignores the vast majority of costs that we all — unborn and born — are and will pay for the burning of coal.

Forget any such “War On Coal”, yesterday’s announcement about emissions rules was simply a shot fired in a desperate defense for our health, prosperity, and security against those who long ago declared war on the U.S. … on all of us.


1.  Ken Ward, Jr, is a must read when it comes to coal and West Virginia. After the President’s Georgetown climate change speech, he wrote Here we go again: Will the mining industry’s renewed ‘war on coal’ rhetoric go unchallenged again?

2.  While it is well past time to engage in the war that fossil fools have been engaged with against all of us, we need to be sure that coal miners are not collateral damage, something the coal mine industry has never cared about. I like Van Jones’ discussion of this re workers.  We need to treat them and their communities as heroes — who literally risked their lives and health to power the rest of us (the rest of the U.S.).  We need to invest in them and their communities, with that investment occurring/beginning before mines are shutting down.  We need to not promise a better future but create it if we wish to convince them that we do have their interests, as well, at heart.

One of the things that is missed is that coal employment has fallen, massively, even when production went up due to automation, larger machinery, mountain top removal rather than mining … The mining industry, in fact, wants to get the miner out of mining. There are efforts underway to make 100% automated mining operations such that no one will get their hands dirty as they rape the earth with ever greater efficiency.

From Australia

“While the large-scale uptake of automation will improve efficiency and create a safer, more attractive working environment, a reduction in on-site roles is likely to reduce economic activity in the local and regional area, and could lead to a loss of population and services over the longer term,” said Professor Brereton.Particularly at risk are Aboriginal Australians in remote communities who have previously benefited from employment and business development opportunities provided by mining companies, he said.

“A growing number of major mining companies have made both voluntary and binding commitments to promote Aboriginal training, employment and business development.
“However, many of the entry-level jobs currently held by Aboriginal workers in the mining industry are likely to disappear as automation and remote operation becomes more widespread,”

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7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Johnny Gee // Sep 21, 2013 at 12:41 pm

    Lord, I’d love to give you a free bus ticket to Logan, West Virginia. At best, your perspective is paternalistic and at worst, outright hostile.

    You know, people who live in coal-producing regions don’t want to see their economic base destroyed. They have worked for generations to achieve living wages and safe working conditions. During most of that time, the Democratic Party has supported them and coal-mining counties used to have the most lopsided Democratic voting. That is certainly a thing of the past – thanks in no small part to people like you and your compadres.

    You and other urbanites may not care whether you live in Washington, Chicago, or Los Angeles – other than career opportunities and/or politics vs beaches – – but many rural people with a strong connection to the land do care where they live. To assume that people in Southern Appalachia ought to just pick up and move to Atlanta is akin to relocating Lakota people from the Dakotas to Dallas or the Yanomami to Roaraima. Two non-Indian groups in the United States are increasingly viewed as indigenous – rural whites in Southern Appalachia and Hispanics in rural northern New Mexico.

    Rural peoples don’t want your sympathy. They don’t want your job retraining programs, either, so they can work in seasonal, minimum wage service jobs in the tourism industry. (Cleaning $300 per night resort rooms or cutting grass on the golf courses.)

    McDowell County went 77% for Romney – that in a region where evangelical Protestantism is deeply suspicious of Mormonism. In 1980, it went 70% for Carter in his landslide loss to Reagan. Heading west, Campbell County Wyoming – 40% of current U.S. coal production -went 85% for Romney.

    Yes, there has been a drop in coal production over the past 7 years. But that is largely due to the glut of natural gas from the fracking boom. As recently as 2012, they were practically giving gas away. Not surprisingly, many on the green-left are hostile to gas production as well. And not surprisingly, people in energy counties are hostile to Democrats. Romney got 73% in Williams County, ND – the center of the Bakken boom.

    What it comes down to is that the green-left is basically reactionary. Although perhaps not intentionally so, they are the lackeys of international capital at the expense of working people worldwide. High-paying jobs and relatively low energy prices have been central to the economic advancement of working people. The fact that union workers in the 1960s would upgrade from a Chevy to a Caddy suggest that when economic advancement is central to the political program, environmental gains can come in tandem. But when the approach is reversed, it produces neither benefit.

    The number of people in West Virginia or North Dakota with advanced degrees may be well below the national average, but they do understand where their interests lie. And those interests do not lie with people such as you – sorry to say.

    Love your consistent attacks on me, without the context that you know exists across my work and thinking.

    Apply the logic suggested for Missouri:

    Rather than fighting with the twisted logic that, somehow, climate legislation will “unfairly punish West Virginia’, why not seek to assure that clean energy legislation will ‘unfairly’ favor West Virginia?

    A simple fact: the seeming intention to fight to protect West Virginia‘s archaic and heavily-polluting energy system and extraction based economy will foster continuing to dig a deeper hole, on multiple grounds, for West Virginia rather than crafting a strategy for a more competitive and prosperous West Virginia in the years and decades to come.

    West Virginia coal mining jobs are down roughly 90% — and that isn’t because of environmental regulation. And, well, it wouldn’t take much to create more well-paying jobs supporting a wind industry with underground hydro storage in West Virginia than exist in the existing coal mining industry.

    Answer one question – Why have people in resource-producing counties gone from being some of the strongest supporters of the Democratic Party to some of the strongest opponents?

  • 2 Johnny Gee // Sep 21, 2013 at 1:03 pm

    You do realize that if West Virginia had voted for Gore in 2000, then the whole issue of hanging chads in Florida would have been moot?

  • 3 Johnny Gee // Sep 21, 2013 at 1:11 pm

    Just one more comment for now – –
    West Virginia – # of counties voting Dem
    2000 – 13 counties
    2004 – 9 counties
    2008 – 7 counties
    2012 – 0 counties

    As for race, West Virginia voted strongly Democratic in 1960s when the Deep South abandoned the Dem Party. In 1968, WV maintained its Dem support 7% above the national average while voting for Wallace at 4% below the national average and far below Wallace’s Southern averages.

    As late as 1992 and 1996, West Virginia continued to vote more Democratic than the national averages. Then something happened.

  • 4 Johnny Gee // Sep 21, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    Still haven’t answered – in three years – why West Virginia has gone from one of the most Democratic states to one of the least.

    Why is that analysis my responsibility?

    I am not attacking you. Our interaction started out as a balance and then you decided to change, fundamentally, the terms of discussion. When you adopted a take-no-prisoners viewpoint, when you uprated a comment comparing me to British fascist Nick Griffin and Hansen compared those in the coal industry to Nazi mass murderers – – yes, then my view did change a bit.

    Amazing that you hold on to this in this way. I “uprated a comment” … As written then:

    her intent is amply clear” to you and not others. I (and others … likely) read her comment(s) here, in this discussion, as that — comments here. I am not going to do a trail of discussions & comments to try to judge whether outrage is merited … or created.

    And, are you ever going to acknowledge / recognize / become self aware as to the damage that coal is creating for humanity today and our prospects for tomorrow?

    I believe that posts like this latest one are perfect examples of why the green-left has painted itself into a corner. How many times do I have to repeat “Australia”?

    voters were probably not sending a message about carbon policy. Only 37 percent of Australians support eliminating the carbon tax and replacing it with the policies of Abbott and the Coalition. The tax didn’t even break voters’ top three concerns, with those spots going to concerns about the economy, asylum seekers, and health care. In fact, most Australians think the country’s climate policies should remain the same or stronger.

    Look at what happens to the Green Party in Germany tomorrow.

    You adopt a rigid, uncompromising perspective; you denigrate in the harshest terms those with whom you should largely share political affinity; and you wonder where all your support went?

  • 5 Johnny Gee // Sep 22, 2013 at 3:14 pm

    I find it illustrative that in three years you lack the character to apologize for what you may have thought funny at the time.

    I find it illustrative that you are caught up in a uptick related to a specific comment — out of 10,000s of comments to my posts over the years — which you demand that others read and interpret the way you chose to read between the lines.

    I find it illustrative that you are so blinkered in your self-observation that you are so focused on that reading rather than examining how blind you have been to the damage that coal — extraction and burning — is creating.

    I find it Illustrative that you feel free to directly insult others (as per below) while holding onto outraged over others’ not reading between the lines exactly the way that you do.

    If I recall, Hansen refused to apologize for his “crematoria” comments as well.

    Have you actually read the specific words and reflected on them? Read Singer’s perspective?

    The brittleness of your and others’ petty bourgeois greenism wears thin on many – and most certainly, on working people and the vast majority with a moderate/center-left political leaning.

    I’d be willing to bet that quite a large number of Americans are grateful that Henry Hub natural gas prices are a third what they were 5 years ago. Most of that decrease due to new drilling techniques and dramatic new production.

    And for someone to entitle a post “Coal’s War on Humanity” and then say that he has no need to address why West Virginia is no longer Democratic shows clearly how much that person suffers from cranio-rectal inversion syndrome.

    Again, you have the audacity to be whining over your reading of an implied insult stretched to the extreme because of a click as to ‘upticking’ a comment that had multiple elements.

    Again, you show zero ability to reflect on the people dying, the damage that is occurring to humanity’s security already, and the risks for our future due to burning coal.

    And, far from the first time, my work has included multiple paths for viable economic development associated with clean energy within West Virginia and other coal-dependent arenas.

    The only reason that the Republicans haven’t had a bigger field day is because so many of them are just bat-shit crazy.

  • 6 Johnny Gee // Sep 23, 2013 at 8:38 pm

    Sorry, the burning of coal, although not ideal, is rather low on the hierarchy of threats – the jeremiads of Hansenites notwithstanding.

    You have provided zero scientific analysis as to the benign nature of coal.

    The single greatest environmental threat remains human overpopulation – habitat destruction and species loss far exceed anything that climate change “might” do. Take a look at Malawi’s demographics and economics.

    Look hard in my work to see anything that asserts that overpopulation is not an issue.

    Yet, if you look at the demographic analysis, human population is plateauing.

    And, there are paths to addressing how humanity lives — that helps address climate change and other environmental issues — that can accommodate those numbers at higher living standards.

    Carrying capacity is another incredibly complex arena — how humanity is living is exceeding the planet’s carrying capacity.

    For me the climate change movement has all the aspects of a religion – sin, punishment, and redemption. Not to mention revealed truth. I find it astounding that when weather computers cannot even remotely get the 2013 hurricane season right, warmists still worship the prognostications of climate from these same computers of centuries to come.

    Your vitriolic disdain for science does shine through at times … and you remain outraged, years later, for being called a climate science denialist in a blog comment?

    “religion” … “warmists” … linking weather/specific year analysis to general trend analysis … E.g., using both the attack words and talking points of those seeking to undermine science and the scientific method.

    Slavoj Zizek has it absolutely right when he talks about greenism as reactionary – and how environmentalists want to consume their way to an environmental nirvana by buying eco-friendly Guatemalan coffee or driving a Prius – meanwhile sniffing disdainfully at those so unenlightened as to drink Folgers or drive a ’98 Ford Taurus.

    There are those who focus on / promote greensumption … See my discussion.

    When we talk about dealing with Global Warming as “good for the economy”, we risk falling into this trap. While there are many economic values for ways to deal with Global Warming (such as increasing energy efficiency, reducing waste) The way that it will be “good” for the economy is when we are able to be more holistic in our understanding of “economy”, to understand that people’s health and well-being “count” as well.

    Per above – There are a few carefully worded polls which suggest that Australians do not want to see lost government revenues from the elimination of the carbon tax, but these are layered questions – dubious in survey methodology. Australia has the highest electricity cost of developed nations and consumers are pissed.

    Actually examine why Australia’s electricity prices are high. It is not because of “green” — which might (MAYBE) have added a bit less than a penny to the price (and even that is a high end analysis) — but because of how the market is (mis)managed to create massive profits for the sellers (including government utilities). For a reasonable discussion

    In the past we could smugly point out that while we might be horrible polluters, and incredibly energy inefficient, we paid some of the lowest prices for electricity in the world. Now we’re losing on all counts.

    Something is clearly going wrong here and it’s got absolutely nothing to do with the carbon price (the carbon price would only add 1.74 cents to the above figure, according to the AEMC).

    But it’s not anything to do with the wholesale electricity market – wholesale market electricity prices today are stuck at close to their historical lows and are well below those in most of the countries illustrated above. Prices in Australia are likely to rise in the future due to the boom in coal and gas exports, but they aren’t driving any real problems now.

    And it’s not due to renewable energy support policies, which according to the AEMC add less than a cent to the price illustrated above. Plus, there’s plenty of countries in the chart above with far more aggressive renewable energy support programs than Australia that are paying far less for their delivered electricity.

    The problem lies squarely with electricity networks. The regulator signed away $40 billion over the next five years and there’s nothing we can do about that. What we need to worry about is making sure we don’t make the same mistake at the next regulatory approval stage in another few years time.

    Don’t blame “greenism” for Australia’s electricity prices.

    (Note ABC News – One has to be careful about Murdoch media outlets.)

    That might not be such a bad thing for Australians who have largely escaped the Great Recession due to natural resource exports to Asia (including coal to Japan), but such costs are crushing to people in Spain with 25% unemployment (50% youth unemployment) amid the collapse of Rube Goldberg financing for green energy projects.

    When greenism causes such economic harm,

    “Greenism” is not causing that economic harm in Australia.

    It did not cause the economic harm in Spain. (Want to look, seriously, at Spain … with the massive over building and speculation with massive crash that followed in the world-wide financial (semi)real estate paper Ponzi scheme? Or, why not discuss the economic impacts of how the real price of oil has grown. Spain imports 1.8 million barrels / day or roughly $180 million/day in costs or roughly $65 billion/year. Spain’s trade deficit was $77.5 billion in 2009. Hmmm … attacking that oil import deficit would have what impact? )

    It did not …

    based on little more than prognostications, to hundreds of millions of working people worldwide – when it becomes the focus of political energy of supposed progressives while core economic issues languish – then, yes, it is reactionary.

    PS – Your concern for West Virginians is duly noted.

  • 7 If there is a “War on Coal”, would the Export-Import Bank be tried as traitors? // Oct 17, 2013 at 12:20 pm

    […] a “War on Coal”.  While reasonable analysis would suggest that one can say that it is actually ‘coal industrial interests’ that is engaged in warfare on humanity, the Administration’s on-again, off-again actions to address health and environmental […]