Sunday, June 11, 2006

Book Review: Big Coal--The dirty secret behind Americas' energy future.

This is my first book review. I was approached by Houghton Mifflin Company about reviewing the book...In general this is an interesting development; from my experience it seems that bloggers are increasingly being taken seriously as small scale media outlets.

Big Coal
The Dirty secret Behind America's Energy Future
by Jeff Goodell

In 'Big Coal' the author, Jeff Goodell, takes a critical look at coal power. The book is divided into three stages; getting coal out of the ground and to the power station, burning that coal and finally, the consequences of this carbon in the atmosphere. Looking at coal power generation Jeff shows quite clearly that besides greenhouse gases and electricity the biggest output from this form of generation is political power--power that is not constrained by wires.

Destroying the Myths of Clean Coal

"There are an estimated one trillion tones of recoverable coal in the world,
by far the largest reserves of fossil fuel left on the planet"

Later we are informed that coal produces over twice the carbon dioxide emissions of natural gas per unit energy--taken with the previous statement this is not a good combination. In the first section of the book many of coals' most potent myths are crushed. Chief amongst these myths is that 'clean coal' technology is clean. People are dying in there thousands, landscapes are being decimated by mountain top removal, climate change is being accelerated at an alarming rate.

A few things to consider when listening to a debate about 'clean coal' (clean doesn't usually imply carbon capture and storage).

  • Coal doesn't bring wealth to a region. Over the last 150 years 13 Billion tones of coal have been carried out of West Virginia. The state isn't wealthy because of this, in fact it has the lowest median household income in the country!
  • Coal isn't a small health problem. During the last three years--incidentally 3 of the 4 hottest years on record--72'000 people died prematurely as a result of coal fired power pollution, that is more than died from Aids, murder or drug overdose.
  • Carbon Dioxide is pollution. No technology that emits huge amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere can legitimately be called clean. Destabilisation of the global climate is already killing tens of thousands and will have an increasingly severe toll on the worlds people and environment.
  • Coal is't a secure form of energy. Centralized energy generation is never going to be secure against terrorist attack, one large generating unit is much easier to take out than millions of small wind turbines, solar panels and biomass boilers. This is particularly the case when the only way to get fuel in is on one railroad that traverses half the country!

The main reasons for reading this book would have to be the superb short stories; tales of valiant efforts by republicans who actually care to put in place strong regulations, tales of industrious scientists working out the links between particulate pollution and deaths, tales of very many smart people being hampered by very many highly resourced people with vested interests. This is a fascinating and enlightening book, despite the darkness of its subject matter.

For an interview with Jeff Goodel head over to global public media and hear more about this book from the man himself.

Postscript; Climate Change; ReviewA;


Climate Change Action

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At 4:56 AM, Anonymous cjohnson said...

It doesn't make any sense - fossil fuels should not even be part of the future energy equation. Going to coal only aims to sustain the unsustainable for a while, allowing us to continue using inefficient personal cars and natural gas so cheap we turn the thermostat to 80 degrees in January and sit with shorts and no shirt on the couch.

Fueling that kind of behavior with coal has serious consequences that the coal companies and politicians seem to be willing to ignore, there's just too much short-term economic gain tainting their thinking.

Renewables and Nuclear - The only way to go. Car Manufacturers: Ever hear of a plug-in electric hybrid - who needs to burn fuel in the car when people usually travel only about 20 miles per day? Better yet, public transit!

At 8:45 PM, Anonymous Earth Day Network said...

Thanks for posting that great info on the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Earth Day Network plans on coming out with an "Urban Environment Report" this fall which will examine many things about U.S. cities, including many of the cities within the Mayor's Climate Change Agreement. This is an exciting time for U.S. cities, evironmentally speaking. Since the Federal government is ignoring climate change, it's up to all of us to combat it in our own communities!


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