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A survivor of a mining accident is brought to a hospital in Siemianowice Slaskie, Poland, Friday, Sept. 18, 2009. A methane leak in a Polish coal mine set off an explosion that killed 12 miners on Friday, Sept. 18, 2009 officials said. (AP Photo)
This week ended tragically, with a methane gas explosion that killed 12 miners at a coal mine in Ruda Slaska-Kochlowice, southern Poland.
Drummond, of course, was already the target of a federal court lawsuit alleging that the coal company paid millions of dollars to a Colombian paramilitary terrorist group responsible for the deaths of 67 people in an effort to disrupt union activities at its South American mine and railway operations. Read Sue Sturgis’ account of that here, and learn about the protests in the U.S. against Drummond’s Colombian activities here.
One of the best stories out there this week about coal focused on coal’s impacts on global warming, and the continued inaction by Congress on this problem. Living With Coal: Climate Policy’s Most Inconvenient Truth, was written for Boston Review magazine by University of Californi-San Diego professor David Victor and StanfordUniversity researcher Richard K. Morse. The piece is part of Meeting Demand, a year-long series of articles on resources and climate change. The coal article concludes:
Getting serious about global warming will require efforts on three fronts. One is to put a price on carbon dioxide and emissions of the other warming gases. Higher prices will help encourage efficiency and some switching to less carbon-heavy practices. But even in Europe, where carbon dioxide prices are the highest in the world, prices are still much lower than needed to stimulate investment in low-emission coal technologies, notably CCS. And prices in the United States are likely to be even lower than Europe’s.
A second effort must be technological. Stopping global warming will require deep cuts in emissions worldwide over the coming decades. Reductions on that scale will require new technologies. No private company will back those technologies on its own initiative. A major effort is needed to find new, more efficient ways to burn coal and also to bury the pollution. So-called clean coal is now the object of scorn from skeptical observers, but to serious engineers and environmentalists it is a key venture in need of support. Only governments can credibly justify and afford the kinds of investment required.
Developing countries sit at the third vital front. Coal is abundant, cheap, and indispensible. Developing countries, which already account for most of the world’s coal consumption and nearly all of the coal industry’s growth, are not likely to shift to rival fuels. Huge success in driving down the cost of technologies such as advanced wind and nuclear power systems might allow them (and the rest of the world) to shift away from coal without much economic pain. The decreasing cost of more efficient coal technologies has already made it possible for China and India, among others, to justify buying some of the most advanced technologies on commercial terms. But the more likely scenario is that the best low-emission technologies, including clean coal, will be more expensive than what these governments are willing to pay on their own. An indication that the world is not yet really serious about global warming is that no system exists to finance the use of these technologies in the countries that will dominate the energy future.
The United States has a critical role to play in this effort. At home it must adopt serious policies to push investment in new technologies to reduce emissions. Abroad, it must be prepared to help pay developing countries to test and deploy these technologies as well. And the keystone to all these efforts is coal. So far, however, real investment in low-emission coal is at a tiny fraction of the level needed. As the politicians dither, the world keeps warming.
While our nation’s colleges and universities should be leaders of innovation and technology, they have a dirty secret: most are still running on dirty, 19th century coal. Whether they operate their own coal plants right on campus, or purchase coal-generated electricity form the grid, these schools are stuck in the past. They need to act now, investing in 100 percent clean energy solutions, to move beyond coal.