September 8th, 2010 by Zachary Shahan
Continuing on with our Going Green Tips series, Going Green Tip #6 should be no surprise (we’re starting with the big boys). The general tip is to stop using coal power. Easier said than done, right? Maybe, but it is VERY important, and there are a lot of reasons why it’s easier now than ever.
Although it would be fun to talk about all the great energy sources and programs you can use to cut the coal, I think I will save those for future going green tips posts. In this one, I’ll focus on why cutting the coal is so important (so that everyone is clear on why this is such a high priority).
To start with, here is a nice intro on what coal is from the Power Scorecard:
Coal is the solid end-product of millions of years of decomposition of organic materials. In truth, coal is stored solar energy. Plants capture the energy from sunlight through photosynthesis, which directly converts solar energy to plant matter. Animals that then eat the plants to convert that energy again, storing it in their own bodies.
Over millions of years, accumulated plant and animal matter is covered by sediment and stored within the earth’s crust, gradually being transformed into hard black solids by the sheer weight of the earth’s surface. Coal, like other fossil fuel supplies, takes millions of years to create, but releases its stored energy within only a few moments when burned to generate electricity. Because coal is a finite resource, and cannot be replenished once it is extracted and burned, it cannot be considered a renewable resource.
One major issue with the burning of coal is that it is a leading contributor to global warming pollution. In fact, 73% of carbon dioxide emitted from electricity generators comes from coal power plants.
But coal is also a major source of numerous other environmental problems.
- “[C]oal power plants are responsible for 93 percent of the sulfur dioxide and 80 percent of the nitrogen oxide emissions generated by the electric utility industry…. These emissions spawn the acid rain that is eating away red spruce forests in the Northeast and Appalachia, and rob previously pristine streams of brook trout and other fish species in the Adirondacks, upper Midwest and Rocky Mountains,” the Power Scorecard reports.
- “Coal emissions also cause urban smog, which has been linked to respiratory ailments,” the Power Scorecard adds.
- “Coal plants are also a major source of airborne emissions of mercury, a toxic heavy metal…. In the West, about 87 percent of coal is removed from the earth through strip mining, which can contaminate soils with heavy metals and destroy near-surface aquifers. In the East, coal is sometimes mined by removing entire mountain tops to more easily extract the subsurface mineral reserves.”
The Union of Concerned Scientists, which also delves into the massive environmental damages related to coal mentioned above in much more detail, reports that, “Coal generates 54% of our electricity, and is the single biggest air polluter in the U.S.”
Coal and Human Health
Even if you care not for the environment at all, the human health consequences of all of this are humongous. And if you actually took those (alone) into account, the price of coal would be almost twice as high. “In 2005, the health damages caused by coal power cost $120 billion” (emphasis added). Unfortunately, we don’t take the price of our health problems or the price of the environments we destroy into account, and our governments actually subsidize coal to a great degree.
But, you can take these issues into account and can switch to a cleaner power source, yourself. And, at the least, if you are financially strapped and have no affordable options in your area, you can cut your energy usage, in general, which is good for addressing all of the concerns above and is also good for your finances.
Perhaps this should have come earlier in our series, but without a doubt, cutting coal is a major “going green tip,” and something I think we will come back to repeatedly in this series.
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