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How to Talk About Coal
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2010

Your Auntie talks a lot about the importance of coal. She’s never worked in a mine, but once in college she knew someone whose sister’s boyfriend was an assistant to a power company executive, so she feels some affinity with the industry. She has an idealized view of coal, though, and thinks that most coal still comes from underground mines. She’s not really sure what mountain-top removal is, but she’s for it nonetheless.

How to Talk About Coal

 

Your Auntie talks a lot about the importance of coal. She’s never worked in a mine, but once in college she knew someone whose sister’s boyfriend was an assistant to a power company executive, so she feels some affinity with the industry. She has an idealized view of coal, though, and thinks that most coal still comes from underground mines. She’s not really sure what mountain-top removal is, but she’s for it nonetheless.

 

Auntie: You know what the coal haters will never get? Jobs. Coal means jobs. End of story.

You: Jobs are important, Auntie. I’m with you there. But the coal industry actually doesn’t create many jobs these days. It used to be that there were a lot of coal miners, but now they’ve mostly been replaced by machines. In fact, coal-mining jobs have declined by the tens of thousands since 1990, according to labor statistics. And a lot of that
coal is coming from mountain-top removal mining.

 

Auntie: Mountain-top removal, huh? I’ve heard some about that. It’s the new high-tech mining, right?

You: Actually it’s pretty basic. Coal companies blow up the tops of mountains and then scoop up the coal seams. Then they dump the waste into valley streams. It’s not high-tech at all. The jobs of the future will be manufacturing and installing clean-energy technologies like wind and solar - and actually, there are plenty of jobs
like that right now. It’s a rapidly growing industry. In fact,  wind  is
the fastest-growing source of energy on the planet.

 

Auntie: Wait there a moment. Coal is cheap and good for the environment.

You: Coal is not cheap, and it’s definitely not good for the environment. Government agency numbers are now showing that much of our country’s coal is becoming more and more expensive to extract. Plus, the real price of coal doesn’t include all of the problems it causes - the externalities. The price we pay for electricity from burning coal doesn’t include the price of cleaning up poisoned water and protecting communities from climate change.

 

Auntie : But you’re ignoring clean coal. Haven’t you even seen a TV in the last few years?

You: You’re right, I do like to read books. But I know that there are lots of industry ads promoting “clean coal” and that it’s a sham - “clean coal” is as real as unicorns. The coal industry is just buying time and delaying action on climate change. There are no clean coal plants in the U.S., and you shouldn’t expect any in the near future.

 

> 2010 Table of Contents

   
   

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