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Aaron Thomas Kreider

Semih Eser
Semester Paper
28 April 2016

AMERICAS BURNING DESIRE: HOW THE USE OF COAL HAS IMPACTED


ECONOMIES AND CARBON FOOTPRINTS
Abstract
Since the Industrial Revolution, coal has been at the epicenter of
Americas energy use. While coal is Americas most abundant energy
resource, cleaner and renewable sources are at the center of energy
engineering research. While coal provides countless jobs and cheaper
energy costs to Americans, it also has a number of adverse effects.
From high CO2 emissions, to irreversible environmental compromises,
coal is an energy source that is dirtier than nearly any other energy
source. This paper examines coals growth since the industrial
revolution, and the social, economic, and technological ramifications of
using coal. Throughout this paper, the researcher sought to answer the
question: Would halting the mining of coal be more or less beneficial to
the general population?
Introduction
The United States uses coal to harness over 40% of our
electricity. Coal is Americas most abundant resource, and has been at

the center of production and electricity generation since the Industrial


Revolution. While coal has boasted a global economy and has
contributed to more than seven million jobs worldwide, it also has
serious detriments in its environmental effects. So, which is more
harmful: going without coal or continuing to use it?
The problem with depending on coal is just that - Americans are
dependent. In our highly globalized, fast-paced, technology dependent
lifestyles, its hard to imagine scaling back our energy use. In order to
meet the demands of the general public, researchers have to find new
or unharnessed energy sources to meet the demands of the lifestyles
to which many westernized societies have become accustomed.
Without a clear alternative or developing forms of CO2 filtration,
society will continue to be reliant on nonrenewable fossil fuels like coal.
However, there are plenty of renewable energy sources that humans
can cultivate in order to produce as much electricity and fuel as our
society demands. Many alternatives to coallike solar and wind energy
(to name two)produce little to no CO2 and can be both beneficial to
our economy as well as our environment.
So why havent we taken advantage of renewable and clean
energy sources? For starters, the infrastructure that we have
developed already fits itself around nonrenewable energy sources like
natural gas and oil. Secondly, renewable and green energy sources
require quite a bit of money upfront. For example, green energy usually

requires those who develop and install these plants have at least a
bachelors degree. To contrast, the majority of jobs provided by the
coal industry do not require extensive education, and workers can be
trained very quickly. Green energy technologies also require quite a bit
of money in development and installation. For this reason, it has been
cheaper (in the short run) to continue powering our country by
maintaining the status quo.
Throughout this paper, I plan to examine how coal affects our
economy and environment. I hypothesize that there are clear
advantages to cutting out coal, but that the notion of phasing out coal
completely in a short amount of time is unfeasible. I plan to answer
this by examining the economic, technological, and environmental
effects of using coal as a primary energy source.
Literature Review
The Industrial Revolution
According to Clark and Jacks in Coal and the Industrial
Revolution, 1700-1869 (2007), coal became part of the popular
imagination in economic accounts of the Industrial Revolution
spanning from 1830-1913. However, the 1980s saw the retelling of
Industrys economic boom without the accreditation of coal (p. 39).
Despite this lack of emphasis, it is important to recognize the role coal
played in this developing society.

Clark and Jacks go on to argue that the switch in a self-sustaining


organic economy to a mineral resource-depleting inorganic economy
was central to the British Industrial Revolution (p. 40). The authors
note that coal prices fell by 40% as annual coal output expanded 18fold. Technological advances in the 1700s to 1860s allowed the price
of coal to drop dramatically and become a commodity in British society
(69). Demand was also quite high. As Turnbill (1987) notes, coal was
needed as a primary source of power to build infrastructurecanals in
particular (537).
Modern Economic Influence
There are quite a bit of job opportunities to be found in the fossil
fuel industry. Not to mention, job security in fossil fuel industry is at an
all time high (Deore et al, 2014). With such an influence in the world
economy, it is easy for lawmakers and blue-collar workers alike to
make arguments for keeping coal around. Coal generates about seven
million jobs worldwide (Hurst, 2014). Because coal generates so many
jobs, it is easy for anyone to make the argument that coal should
continue to play a role in local and global economies.
According to Kvitkovich (2009), the 2007 coal price surge should
be an indicator of the unpredictability the coal economy is going to
begin to experience in the next 30 years. It is apparent that even
though coal produces an economic upturn, that the environmental

effects are detrimental the environment in which humans currently


reside.

Discussion
As weve learned, coal has been an integral party in determining
economic trend and supplying the world with the energy it needs. So,
is coal good or bad? What were going to learn throughout this
discussion is that the issues surrounding coal are not just black and
white.
It is extremely difficult to determine what the appropriate course
of action is. One one hand, coal provides seven million jobs worldwide.
On the other hand, coal reserves are quickly running out, and the
damage done to the earth before then will be substantial.
In deciding if one should advocate for or against coal, one must
be calculated. What do we have to gain from the continuation of using
coal? What do we have to loose? For starters, halting the mining of coal
would put those seven million people out of work. According to the
World Coal Association, there exists 892 billion tons of coal that will
last humanity another 110 years. So, the economic impact from
halting coal production would stop seven million jobs (which would only
grow) that we would seemingly have for the next century. On the other
hand, renewable energies only provide about 5.4 million jobs.

One thing readers should consider, however, is that renewables


do not really produce fewer jobs than the coal industry. Renewable
source of energy provide about 77% of the jobs that coal currently
provides. However, coal currently produces about 4 times the amount
of energy as renewables. So, if we switched from coal to renewables,
we could create over twenty million jobs.
Now, when I say renewables, what energy sources are we
referring to? A renewable energy source is an energy source that
humans cannot deplete. For example, solar energy is a renewable
energy because humans cannot deplete the sun of its solar energy.
Other forms of renewable energy are hydro power (harvesting waters
kinetic energy by utilizing dams and ocean currents), wind power,
geothermal power (harvesting the natural heat from the earths core),
and biomass (utilizing heat through the burning of waste).
These renewable resources, unlike coal, have little to no CO2
emissions. While there are negative aspects to renewable resources as
well (such as infringing on the animal kingdoms environmental safe
havens), they are clear winners over the environmental damages of
coal. The little CO2 emissions that the environment incurs with these
renewable resources are primarily through the installation of these
technologies (like a wind turbine/farm).
Coal, by contrast, has huge environmental effects that incur with
its use. Lets start with the beginning of coals environmental impacts:

mining. Mining is extremely invasive. With harsh techniques (such as


mount top removal mining, in which they use explosives to transform
the landscape to get to the coal beneath the Earth), the environment
surrounding the mine can be irreversibly changed. Any animals that
lived on or near the mountain in which the mine now finds itself is
forced to relocate. These mines also are at extreme risks for flooding.
When water gets into these mines, they begin to flood and then empty
the same way any mountain water gets removed: by emptying into the
nearest rivers, lakes, and streams. This is referred to as slurry, and
leaves the water sources that it infects toxic.
CO2 emissions are also the center of attention in coals
environmental effects. Coal accounts for one third of the United States
CO2 emissions. These emissions are known as greenhouse gases.
Greenhouse gases are any gases that get caught in the Earths
atmosphere and do not allow for excess heat and energy to escape
into space. This is commonly referred to as the greenhouse effect.
Now, normally the greenhouse effect is natural. We want some excess
heat to stay in the atmosphere to regulate our Earths temperature.
However, so much heat is currently being trapped in the atmosphere,
that sea levels have begun to rise and can soon inundate places in
which humans reside.

Conclusion

Ultimately, the notion of humans completely stopping with coal


production is unreasonableat least for now. Developing the
infrastructure that will allow for green energies to replace coal
completely will take timebut it can be done. These renewable
resources still require the technologies to be developed to allow for
easy installation and relaxed maintenance. So what can we do now?
Individual steps can be taken to reduce carbon footprints. Simple
steps like installing heat pumps in our homes can held reduce on
greenhouse gas emissions. However, these individual steps are not
enough to cut down on carbon emissions that will dramatically impact
the state of our environment. It is up to the legislators to help societyat-large cut down on our CO2 emissions.
Many news pundits like Bill Nye the Science Guy and Neil
DeGrasse Tyson have discussed a carbon tax that will help society cut
down on carbon emissions. If lawmakers and other influential civic
leaders attempted to punish big businesses for having high carbon
footprints then society will be on the right, aggressive track.
Ultimately, society is not going to switch from coal to renewable
resources within the foreseeable future. It is important to note that any
switch in primary energy sources will require education, planning, and
funding. While these changes are not going to happen tomorrow, there
are viable solutions to the current environmental crisis.

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