Reducing the use of coal, as outlined in the Kyoto Protocols would not only have its advantages, but its disadvantages as well. In 1997 the ‘Kyoto Protocol’ was negotiated, outlining plans for “Developed countries to reduce their Green House gas emissions by, on average, 5. 2% below 1990 levels in the period 2008 to 2012. 1 This concern for emissions arose from the growing awareness of global warming, of which the burning of coal for energy is one of the largest contributors of carbon-dioxide emissions, however, reducing the use of coal would have its drawbacks, as well as its benefits, as this paper will outline. As a readily available and comparatively cheap source of energy, it is one that developing worlds rely on and developed worlds relish. Unfortunately it’s more eco-friendly, renewable replacements are not always a practical option in relation to location or economy of a country.
On the other hand, the cost of reducing C02 emissions, its extensive transportation needs, not to mention its significant contribution to Global warming are all reasons to encourage the reduction of its use. Reducing the use of coal as an energy source would greatly ease the effects of Global warming, for, Carbon Dioxide constitutes for 64% of the green house gases present in the atmosphere, far greater than its nearest competitor Methane, at only 19%2.
The burning of coal is the top contributor to greenhouse gas emissions when it comes to electricity production, therefore, reducing the use of this particular fossil fuel would have the greatest positive effect overall. However, if things continue at their current pace, global C02 emissions are estimated to be 50% higher in 2010 than in they were in 19903. The warming up of the earths atmosphere has more dire effects than an unbearably hot day, agriculture all over the world is affected, consequently changing the price of foods and even shifting the economy, with third world citizens fairing the worst.
With the temperature increase will come the gradual melting of ice-burgs and rising of sea levels, meaning that low lying countries such as Holland and Bangladesh will experience real problems in the near future. Green-house gases also destroy the ozone layer which protects us from the suns harmful UV rays, this increased exposure is accompanied by increased risks of skin cancer. With such long term negative effects, it is no wonder that there has been a push to find efficient methods of reducing the effects of coal burning.
Three basic methods of reducing the pollutants are ‘coal benification’, ‘Post combustion’ and the use of ‘electrostatic precipitators’. The ‘post-combustion’ method is the most effective, “removing more than 90% of the sulfur dioxide emissions from coal combustion”4, and while this number looks impressive, so is the cost of implementing these processes. Admittedly the Kyoto Protocol is aimed at developed countries who can probably afford such devices, however, developing countries utilize coal at a much higher rate, with 68%5 of the worlds coal demand generating from them.
Unfortunately, these methods would be financially out of reach. Additionally, waste management is also an issue with this process. The ‘post-combustion’ method turns the sulfur dioxide into a “wet sludge”, which is sure to have an adverse effect on the environment wherever it is dumped. Regardless of all this, however, are the long term effects of burning Coal. While the ‘post-combustion’ method appears to be affective, it is very expensive, and subsequently not the only method used.
Regrettably, other, cheaper alternatives may not filter out as much pollutant and so, while there appears to be an improvement in the amount of chemicals in the atmosphere, this is but a short term solution. Carbon Dioxide is not only released into the atmosphere as a result of burning fossil fuels, it is also naturally released by humans and other animals, plants and even through the soil. Previously, the environment would balance this input of C02 as plants use it up during the day and turn it into oxygen, or it is absorbed by rain or ocean.
Now, on the other hand, there is simply too much input and not enough to take it out again. This combined with the fact that Carbon-dioxide has a much longer residency time than other fossil fuels, means that reducing its pollutants a little, will not be sufficient enough when thinking about the future. In spite of of all of these known facts, Coal is still the most popular source of energy simply because of its extensive availability, especially in the USA and Russia where coal fields are in abundance. The United States reserves of coal are estimated to be about 31% of the total world deposits, about 3. 2 trillion short tons of the estimated reserves between nine and twelve trillion tons. “6 This accessibility means that coal is also one of the cheaper fuels to acquire. It is estimated that by 2030, coal demand will rise by 53% until it covers 45% of the worlds power needs. 7 As a result of this immense availability, Coal prices are much lower than those of other fossil fuels such as Crude oil or Natural gas.
These two vital factors make Coal an energy resource that most are unwilling to give up, they are not, nonetheless, the only reasons. The Coal Industry generates millions of jobs, from the mining sector to the Corporation heads. Cutting back on coal as a fuel would mean cutting back on these jobs, a task that nobody is eager to take on. If the use of coal as an energy source is reduced, there needs to be a replacement source for that energy and the most logical replacement would be a renewable source such as hydroelectric power, solar power, wind power or Nuclear energy.
Using Oil, petroleum or natural gas would be completely pointless and almost as bad as using coal. That said, a significant number of jobs would be lost by using these renewable sources. An area of the coal industry that would experience considerable job loss would be the transportation sector, as most renewable/natural sources of energy are converted to energy at the site of the source. With coal, this is not always possible and so many different modes of transportation are used, the first and foremost being trains, with the coal being transported cross country to the place of burning.
This is an inconvenient and often time-consuming method. Sometimes the coal is transported as coal slurry, in pipelines built above ground and needless to say, this method serves as a great disturbance to the surrounding ecosystem. Converting the coal to electricity on site is another process used, the problem with this, however, is that the energy then needs to be moved to other locations for use, and when electricity is transported it loses a great deal of its energy, thus, a lot more coal is needed for the same amount of final product.
Neither three of these methods are very cost effective, so money would be saved in that particular area should the energy source be replaced with a renewable, natural one. “Coal comes from ancient plants buried over millions of years in Earth’s crust”8, thus, making use of the natural resources available to us, coal and other fossil fuels like it will be available for a longer period of time. Then again, natural resources require technology and machinery to turn it into electricity.
The fuel in itself costs nothing to obtain, it is freely available everywhere, harnessing the resource and extracting the energy from it is an altogether different process. Solar panels and turbines are expensive pieces of equipment to begin with, add to this the fact that natural resources are fickle resources and the price gets higher. “At a wind speed of 25 Miles per hour, a 12 ft. propeller plus attached generator optimistically produces only 5 kilowatts – the power to generate one electric range. 9 The solar panels used for solar energy are also large but weak. For both of these energy sources it would take hefty amounts of land to generate an amount of electricity of any real use. Also, because the energy is being generated from the environment, it is unreliable and useful only in certain weather conditions and locations. What good is a solar panel in the rain or at night? What happens to a hydro electric dam in the event of a violent storm or flood? On the other hand, the equipment would require a “mass of labour for maintenance”10.
Making up for some of the jobs lost with the reduction in coal use. Another source of clean, but not natural or renewable energy, is Nuclear Power. This controversial electricity source has its opponents for obvious reasons. Nuclear power is thought to be unstable and not worth the risk of exposure or explosion. However, scientists say, that nuclear plants are a perfectly safe working environment and that “far more people have died and been injured due to fires and explosions in coalmines, oil refineries and natural gas containers”11.
A lot of money is spent in Nuclear plants, ensuring that everything is in working order and all employees are safely protected, this, combined with the big “what if”, are usually what turns people away from this particular energy resource. Nevertheless, Nuclear energy does not produce smoke or carbon dioxide therefore, contributing to global warming is not an issue. It is also extremely efficient, as huge amounts of energy can be had from small amounts of fuel, effectively resulting in small amounts of waste.
Reducing the use of coal, as outlined in the Kyoto Protocols would be enormously beneficial for the environment and for future generations, however, it would also bring with it huge ramifications for the present generations. People are used to a certain way of living, and any cut-backs or compromises are not usually welcome. Loss of jobs, along with the probability of paying more for their electricity, at least for a while, are circumstances that most citizens will not welcome.
It is obvious that in order to help the environment, and effectively ourselves, certain sacrifices have to be made. The renewable choice is the right choice, but coal, is definitely the more appealing one. In the end, it must be remembered that our sources of fossil fuels are not infinite and eventually, whether we choose to or not, alternate energy sources will have to be tapped into. We should use the time we have now, to improve on and perfect renewable resources, instead of shunning them because of their little “inconveniences”.