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CRIMINALIZE COAL? August 2, 2012

Posted by wmmbb in carbon emissions, Global Warming (climate change), Humankind/Planet Earth.

If climate change is to be taken seriously, banning coal sounds like the right idea.

Of course, that would have social and employment consequences, and Australia, not just the loud-mouthed billionaires, would have to take on an economic sacrifice. But then it would be for a good cause – the well being of all our fellow global citizens, who have a right to life and to flourish, as much, perhaps more than we do.

This is not my suggestion. I then to think of my neighbour and his family. I guess he could do other things but would earn less money. The suggestion comes from Juan Cole. He reflects on the findings of Richard Muller, a physicist from Berkeley, who Professor Cole credits as a sceptic, one who accepts evidence, as distinct form a contrarian. Juan Cole notes:

Muller’s study analyzed all the weather data available since 1750 and found that the average temperature of the earth increase by 1 degree F. from 1750 to 1850, and has increased another 1.5 degrees since 1850, for a total of 2.5 degrees since the beginnings of the industrial revolution.

Muller looked at various natural causes of temperature variation and found that statistically they could explain only a tiny amount of the changes. In contrast, human carbon dioxide production tracked closely with temperature increases to the extent that it almost complete explains the warming observed, just by itself.

One surprise of Muller’s study is that he was able to show fairly rigorously that the human-generated changes began in a steady way in 1750, not, as many climate historians had thought, in 1850 or even more recently.

He then considers the relevance of the date and the implications that follow:

For a historian, the date 1750 as the beginning of the human-induced Great Warming is full of significance. And that significance is coal.

Britain turned to coal for energy after a long period of intensive forest cutting, which reached its height in the 1600s. Wood and charcoal were used for heating, cooking and industrial processes such as iron-making, and as population grew and recovered from the Black Plague, the British isles were largely deforested. The British then reluctantly turned to coal for energy. Coal is smelly, produces clouds of unpleasant smoke, is relatively expensive to transport, and in every way worse than wood and charcoal. But poor management of forests and substantial population growth (British population doubled 1500-1800 and then tripled in the nineteenth century) pushed people to coal. With the development of a practical high pressure steam engine through the 1700s, coal was adopted as the fuel for these machines.

And off we went on the Great Human Warming experiment, fueled by coal and later on petroleum and natural gas.

One obvious lesson of Muller’s study is that coal should be banned immediately and its mining and distribution should be criminalized. We put people in prison for a little pot, but let the coal industry destroy the earth. A few brave souls are protesting environmentally destructive ways of mining coal. But we should all be protesting the poisonous stuff itself.

It strikes me as an odd contradiction that contrarians, especially those of the small government school, are aghast at the thought of decentralized energy production, and presumably greater local government. The problem of storing energy, one hopes is not insoluble, and will not depend as electric cars are said to, on lithium battery technology.

What is good about Juan Cole’s argument, that I have not seen before, is that he has laid down a marker. We should ban the burning of coal. If that is accepted, serious thought will then have to be given to transitioning from reliance on, and mining of coal. By achieving that goal, we would simultaneously address a major issue of ecological degradation.

There has been a campaign to stop coal seam gas:

That was one year ago, and things have not changed – although the planet has got warmer.The proposal made by Juan Cole is all use of coal based energy should be banned.

What makes this behavior a crime, is that there are alternatives-solar, wind and tidal among others. And just to stir the coal pot, we might be better off, with less material stuff that ultimately is mostly sent to the dump.


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