Skip to main content

You can still find people who say they believe coal has a future. By and large, though, they're the same people who believe their future is in coal.

Perhaps that's just human nature. The more you think you stand to lose, the harder it is to accept -- much less embrace -- progress. That's why Western Union walked away from the telephone, Microsoft fumbled the Internet, and Sony ceded the LCD display industry to upstart Korean rivals.

Soon, everyone will find it hard to believe that we ever thought generating power by burning coal was a good idea. We say coal's "dirty," but that one adjective covers everything from water pollution to mercury poisoning to childhood asthma to climate-disrupting carbon emissions. Coal contributes to four out of the five leading causes of death around the world. If coal-fired power plants had never existed and someone proposed building the very first one today, the public outcry would be deafening.

Thankfully, two developments in the 21st century have sealed coal's fate. First, we have begun holding utilities accountable for some of the health and environmental costs of burning coal (the Obama administration's determination to limit carbon pollution from both new and old coal plants is the culmination of this trend). Coal was never cheap if you considered the health and environmental costs. Second, we have begun to realize there are better, smarter ways to meet our energy needs -- particularly through renewable technologies and better energy efficiency.

Of course, since coal-fired power plants are our biggest source of carbon emissions, maintaining the delusion that coal can compete against cleaner energy sources necessitates dismissing the science behind climate disruption. The Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity has gone so far as to convince (with the aid of copious campaign contributions) more than 150 Republican members of Congress to sign a "No Climate-Tax Pledge" that effectively requires them to vote against any legislation that addresses climate change. That helps explain why, according to a just-released report from the office of Representative Henry Waxman, Republican congressional members representing districts that suffered the most extreme warming last year nevertheless cast anti-climate votes more than nine out of ten times.

How long can these politicians successfully put the interests of polluters ahead of their own constituents? Especially when, compounding the irony, 75 percent of our wind-energy capacity is in congressional districts represented by Republicans (at least for now). In the long run, democracy, justice, and common sense will trump ideology.

Sooner than anyone could have imagined only a few years ago, coal's defenders will find themselves firmly on the wrong side of history. I believe we will not use coal for energy at all within the next couple of decades. When that day finally comes, it won't be the end of a "war on coal," but of coal's war on all of us.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  What of the coal producing economies should they (7+ / 0-)

    sufferthis in isolation or can we find it in us to compensate them for their loss.  This will go a long way and in ways that are very positive but not clear now.  Whenever a human being is sustained by others it is of immesurable worth.  To render care in the face of your own need is the root of love.  Don't let down the coal producing economies, they are our brothers and sisters.  The tone of the diary is a stern contention, coal will go, we will give it up in one or two decades.  The diaryist is to be commeded on honesty alone.

    •  I share your concerns (9+ / 0-)

      about the people who work in that industry, but they'd be much safer and healthier manufacturing solar panels or wind turbines. I suspect it would relieve their families of a lot of worry, too.

      I live in an old railroad town, and most of the cars are either hauling coal west or going east to get more. They run on diesel, of course, so there's some added carbon pollution.

      The way things are now, to keep burning it is suicide.

      "Let each unique song be sung and the spell of differentiation be broken" - Winter Rabbit

      by cotterperson on Tue Jul 09, 2013 at 03:28:48 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I Don't Know Everybody On My Block (4+ / 0-)

        but I know enough folks to know three work in a coal mine. I have never asked what they make, but I am willing based on what a house costs where I live it is $60,000+.

        Why Obama when running for the Senate came here to Southern IL and was totally pro-coal. You come where I live and say you want to do away with coal you might get death threats.  

        In my other comment about that power plant. They have their own roads and railroads. Running coal 24/7.

        •  I hope Obama will initiate (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          cotterperson, JeffW, lehman scott

          retraining and other rehabilitative programs for coal miners. There are some who will not be able to adapt, and some who will resist, but all should be offered some kind of transitional or retirement help. Let's not leave our brothers and sisters out in the cold.

          Now, if only we had Republicans in Congress who actually wanted to work...I can't believe we have to pay these scumbags' retirement forever once they're gone from office...but they can't be gone soon enough!

          •  I'd like to see a National Coal Miner's Pension. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            Something like $1000 per year for each year that a person worked as a coal miner, from some date about 25 years ago to some date about 5 years in the future.  Yeah, it would only top out at $30,000, but it wouldn't blow up or drop rocks on the miner, either.  And with that as a reliable income, miners could afford to quit and do something else that didn't pay as well but was safer and less polluting.  And the miners should still collect their company or union pensions, Social Security, Black Lung, and other benefits.  

            Renewable energy brings national global security.     

            by Calamity Jean on Sun Jul 14, 2013 at 04:26:39 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  Coal is being done end (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    By natural gas

    •  Which may turn out to be (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Odysseus, cordgrass, Roadbed Guy

      more destructive than coal, when all is said and done.

      Something about fracturing the earth's crust to a zillion pieces makes me very uneasy. And queasy.

      •  Not according to U.S. EPA (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        U.S. EPA has not accepted those Howarth/Ingraffea findings predicting that because their calculation on the methane emission characterization.

        I don't foresee that the Howarth/Ingraffea findings for methane emission characterization will ever be accepted by U.S. EPA and used for emission inventory purposes because they didn't survive peer review without many convincing comments attacking the assumptions made in the paper about the level of control and capture of methane typically occurring under present oil and gas industry practices.

        When I mean 'accepted by EPA' I mean that EPA didn't use the Howarth/Ingraffea emission determination when they published their most recent methane and GHG emission inventory that covered the oil and gas industry.

        Sierra Club, for example, should not be citing the Howarth/Ingraffea paper and trying to intimate that it reflects a scientific concensus concerning the methane emission characterization from oil and natural gas well drilling, well completion and production operations -- it does not represent a scientific concensus and the paper is unlikely to be influential in the future in the scientific and engineering process of emission factor and emission inventory determination.

        •  The manipulation (0+ / 0-)

          of the regulatory apparatus in favor of exploitation serves to dismiss or hide too many effects.
          I don't trust scientists in the pay of corporations to tell the whole truth.

          •  a scientific determination that is an emission (0+ / 0-)

            characterization using emission factors to develop emission inventories is a scientific and not a political process.   EPA, the states and scientific and technical organizations are all involved in this process.....and, it is not a political process.

            It all goes on with opportunities for public comment and participation.

            You can read more about EPA's scientific and engineering process for emission factor and inventory determination here:


            See specific information on how the emission determination process is connected to rulemaking covering the oil and gas industry and their regulation under the Clean Air Act that Josh Fox denies here:


            [this is a rulemaking binding on the oil and gas industry carried out under the authority of the Clean Air Act that Josh Fox fraudulently denies exists in the Act.]

  •  Please Help to Promote This Diary (10+ / 0-)

    ... as well as all other diaries about the environment on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks for the diary, Michael.

    Help Us Spread the Word About Climate Change

    For those of you on Facebook and Twitter: Please help to spread the word by hitting the FB and Tweet links at the top of this diary and if you have time, join the discussion with comments.  Share such postings with friends, family, co-workers, and acquaintances.

    Thanks, as all of this helps build the Climate Change movement as well as introducing critically important ideas about renewable sources of energy.

    Please use hashtags #climate, #eco, and #climatechange to tweet all diaries about the environment.

    "Green Diary Rescue" is posted every Saturday at 1:00 pm Pacific Time on the Daily Kos front page by Meteor Blades.  Be sure to recommend and comment in the diary.  

  •  How long can these politicians (6+ / 0-)
    successfully put the interests of polluters ahead of their own constituents?
    Unfortunately, if you don't inhabit a reality-based world like most of our current crop of Republican Congress critters, you can live on a sinking ship long after it's slid into the deep sea. And they will take a lot of their constituents with them, just as many of their constituents have been brainwashed enough by Koch and Fox News propaganda to applaud their own destruction. But for those of us remaining reality-based, we have no choice but to try and turn that sinking ship around, even if a lot of its passengers are kicking and screaming.

    Thanks for posting here, Michael!


    Ecology is the new Economy

    by citisven on Tue Jul 09, 2013 at 03:26:54 PM PDT

  •  My Parents Live Next To The Largest Coal Fired (9+ / 0-)

    power plant in the US. I visit them a lot. The place normally looks kind of "nice." Like it is on a nature preserve. Green grass. Ponds with ducks and geese flaying around. You name it.

    Well my mom was sick and I was there for days at a time.

    Driving out of Evansville, IN from the hospital towards Mt. Carmel, IL. It is like 60 miles. I recall looking out the window and thinking those clouds are amazing.

    As we got closer I realized those were not in fact clouds. It was whatever comes out of that plant. I'd never seen that before.

    I don't think I have ever argued FOR coal, but seeing that I threw up a little in my mouth. I mean when you produce enough pollution I think is is clouds from miles and miles away you are doing something wrong.

  •  Natural gas has a lot of advantages over coal, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    which is why it is the leading replacement for coal.

    The fact is that fracking, by lowering the cost of natural gas, has made it possible to reduce coal usage.  How bad the negative consequences of fracking are remains to be seen.

    Natural gas is not as bad as coal for carbon dioxide, but it is still a fossil fuel.  The costs of climate change are uncertain, and potentially very high.  So in the end, the externality of the costs of climate change may overwhelm the savings from fracking.  But because it is an externality, we will all have to pay the costs, whether we want to or not.  So much for free market efficiency.

    "The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt." Bertrand Russell

    by Thutmose V on Tue Jul 09, 2013 at 03:32:34 PM PDT

    •  1,000 Years of Market History Has Been in the (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      James Wells, marina, lehman scott

      New World age of discovery of new territories and new ways to exploit old ones more.

      For 50 generations all our traditions and systems have developed under expectation of surpluses of resources flowing into the system, and vast waste capacity.

      The atmosphere meanwhile cannot absorb 1 single new net molecule, anywhere on earth, without increasing the damage to life and property.

      In terms of governance and culture we are worse equipped to respond to this hard limit than at any time in the history of civilization. There is not going to be a genuinely adequate total net response from humanity before there are societal catastrophes.

      We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

      by Gooserock on Tue Jul 09, 2013 at 03:46:21 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I doubt that coal is nearing the end . (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    webranding, Roadbed Guy, lehman scott

    I'm no fan of coal , not at all , but I see what is going on around the world with coal and I don't see that its end is near .

    People will go on burning coal in huge amounts for a long time .
    If you look at how much is burnt every year now
    and then think about what it will take to generate enough electricity from other sources to displace the amount generated from coal , you will see that the task of replacing coal is gigantic .

    8.1 billion tons of coal worldwide ?

    The standard you walk past is the standard you accept. David Morrison

    by indycam on Tue Jul 09, 2013 at 03:47:59 PM PDT

  •  The problem is that while we're seeing ... (5+ / 0-)

    ...a trend away from coal in the United States and Europe, that isn't what we're seeing elsewheres. And exporting coal to those elsewheres from the United States is a big problem since the atmosphere is not partitioned.

    U.S. coal exports in 2012 hit a record 114 million metric tons, which broke the previous record hit in 1981.

    China's imports hit a record 290 million metric tons. The No. 1 destination for U.S. coal exports was the Netherlands, No. 2 the United Kingdom, No. 3 China. Asia accounted for 26 percent of 2012 American coal exports.

    So, while it is good news that there are fewer coal-fired plants operating in the U.S. and existing plants will likely have a very difficult time reaching the EPA's proposed standards (assuming they haven't been watered down too much), it's important to be realistic about the big picture.

    Don't tell me what you believe, show me what you do and I will tell you what you believe.

    by Meteor Blades on Tue Jul 09, 2013 at 03:58:38 PM PDT

    •  Coal is booming in Europe (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      lehman scott

      just google "europe coal boom" for a plethora of links.

      That's in part because of shale gas in NA that makes coal available relatively cheaply and partly because of crazy shit like Germany shutting down perfectly cromulent, non-polluting nuclear reactors . . .

      In any event, I'm not sure if you were saying that or not (your early statement about a trend away from coal in Europe is then countered by examples of record European imports of US coal . . . ).

      •  The growth in coal burning in Europe is ... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        lehman scott

        ...short term. The overall trend has been sharply down and the recent bump is one that even critics of the nuclear shutdown agree will return to the long-term coal trend in two or three years. Likewise with the imports. The Germans are working to tweak their energy plans to meet the goals of 50% renewables by 2050 and 80% carbon reductions, and there is no reason to believe they will not succeed. Asia, on the other hand, has no plans to reduce coal burning, only (in India and China) to reduce the rate of growth of coal burning.

        Don't tell me what you believe, show me what you do and I will tell you what you believe.

        by Meteor Blades on Tue Jul 09, 2013 at 07:19:18 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  People have been telling me this for years (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          lehman scott

          I will believe when I actually see it happen.

          More likely, with all the NEW coal plants now being built in Germany and coming online - e.g.,

          Germany’s dash for coal continues apace. Following on the opening of two new coal power stations in 2012, six more are due to open this year, with a combined capacity of 5800MW, enough to provide 7% of Germany’s electricity needs.

          Including the plants coming on stream this year, there are 12 coal fired stations due to open by 2020. Along with the two opened last year in Neurath and Boxberg, they will be capable of supplying 19% of the country’s power.


          coal is going to be a big part of German electrical generation for a long time to come (40 to 60 years, at least).

          •  You're citing a climate change denier... (2+ / 0-)

   me? Please.

            Germany is adding new coal-fired plants. But it's retiring more megawattage from coal than it is adding new coal.  Some 18.5 gigawatts of old, inefficient coal-fueled generators will be decommissioned by 2020, but only 11.3 gigawatts of new coal-fired power will be  installed by that time. I apologize for linking a pdf that is in German, but that's where the numbers are.

            Don't tell me what you believe, show me what you do and I will tell you what you believe.

            by Meteor Blades on Tue Jul 09, 2013 at 08:06:05 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Exactly (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              lehman scott, Meteor Blades

              I think Germany's approach to coal is actually quite pragmatic.  The new power plants are nearly twice the efficiency of the old ones being taken offline, which means halving the CO2 right off the bat from said coal consumption.  But more than that, they're designed for rapid stop and start.  Which means that the the more renewables go online in Germany, the more the plants transition from baseload to operating as peakers.  In the end, they'll basically end up as backup generators for when there's a shortage in renewables.

              I think some people freak out when they hear the word coal.  Indeed, coal is awful.  But overall this is a very practicable and economical way to quickly and dramatically reduce CO2 emissions.  And once these plants, in the end serving as backup generators, reach their end of life, there should be cheaper alternatives for energy storage or baseload renewable available to take their place.

            •  It is a matter of record that the coal plants are (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              lehman scott

              being built.

              Does it matter who I'm citing wrt that?  Over time the stats from any source bear this out.

              but in any event, you probably have been aware that I have been saying exactly the same thing (that - except for economic plight - European coal use is not declining) right here at DailyKos for the past 5 or 6 years and have yet to be proved incorrect.   I'll be happy when I am!  (but am sad that that is unlikely to be the case for the next 20 or 30 years.

              •  Sigh. You are missing the big picture... (0+ / 0-)

                ...The long-term drop in European coal consumption and the short-term increase are matters of record.

                Yes, consumption's up recently, but that is NOT the long-term trend. The recent small increases hard coal and lignite consumption must be considered against the far greater long-term drop in both and again the drop predicted by the EU over the next few years.

                First graph: hard coal.

                Second graph: lignite.
                The recent surge, particularly in Germany, is well explained. But it's only a temporary situation.

                Deutsche Bank forecasts a drop of 26% in coal consumption by 2020.

                Don't tell me what you believe, show me what you do and I will tell you what you believe.

                by Meteor Blades on Wed Jul 10, 2013 at 08:37:41 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

    •  Exported American coal is pretty GD cheap. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      The Department of the Interior is ripping us taxpayers off by leasing coal mines so cheaply.  If a more reasonable (higher) price was charged for coal leases, other countries might be more eager to convert to renewables.  I suspect other coal-exporting nations would be happy to raise their prices to make more for themselves.

      Renewable energy brings national global security.     

      by Calamity Jean on Sun Jul 14, 2013 at 04:34:27 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I suppose the market will decide the future... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lehman scott

    ...of coal.  And if the demand is there and it's outlawed it will just go on the black market - more business for the mob.

    Warren/3-D Print of Warren in 2016!

    by dov12348 on Tue Jul 09, 2013 at 04:11:34 PM PDT

  •  It's almost a full time job (0+ / 0-)

    countering these "end of coal" diaries

    luckily I have a link handy from just a day or two ago . . . .

    I'm confused what the impetus for these diaries might be - to me, what good is false optimism that (if it does anything)  lures people into complacency or ignorance?

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site