The Myth of Clean Coal (and the American Lifestyle)

It occasionally distresses me that the Obama administration, which I obviously otherwise admire, has fallen into the trap of believing that there's such a thing as clean coal.

I'm not going to regurgitate the details of how much waste even the most compact coal generates (if you want some, check out The Weather Makers: How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth).

Long story short, though, "clean" coal basically involves shoving the carbon dioxide produced underground, instead of sending it off to the troposphere and stratosphere where it's systematically destroying the climate we've known and loved. Which is awesome as long as you don't ask a) how we're supposed to find the place to store all the liquefied carbon dioxide, b) how we're going to transport it without using up half the output of the plant that's generating it, and c) --which bothers me the most-- what future generations are going to do with it.

The former two are questions that have to be considered before any plans are implemented, and so I won't trouble myself with those because the federal and state governments will work on those.

The third thing, however....

Have we learned nothing from two hundred years of industrialization? The repeated enforcement of short-term solutions (find new oil reserves! oil! coal! natural gas! hydrogen?) has led to what's turning out to be a critical mass sooner than expected.

I'd like to put this idea in the context of James Lovelock's Gaia hypothesis (it should be noted that I haven't read his complete works myself, but that Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth looks like a good place to start, though).

The term 'Gaia', despite suggesting acres of hemp and long smoky sessions behind beaded curtains, is used by Lovelock to mean something that is shamefully unintuitive today.

Think of the world as one giant organism, wherein everything is interconnected: as in the human body, where a clot in the brain can paralyze an entire side, clotting the sky and sea with manmade pollutants will destroy the land. The effects occur in the most unexpected ways--if you don't see this cause-effect relationship as a giant web.

Anyway, every single action you take; every pair of designer jeans you buy, every drop of water you waste, unused product you toss--it's got a consequence. Don't think that year-round fruits and vegetables are unproblematic just because they don't come with a huge markup on your end. Someone, somewhere, is paying for it. (I've decided to stop buying food sourced from South American countries, not just because of the transportation costs but because their looser regulations result in far more destruction than even the lobbyist-poisoned systems within the United States.)

If it sounds depressing to make not a single move without thinking of all the consequences it has for countries and people that you'll never see...it is. But continuing to dwell in the bliss of ignorance and embracing our lack of responsibility will be far worse for the future.


skyrien said...

hey priya,

(1) when the hell did you become such a freakin' eco hippy? what has u of c done to you...

(2) carbon dioxide is not "destroying the atmosphere and the world". it's just causing more of the sun's heat to be retained. you make it sound like they're cfcs.

(3) CO2 sequestering is not *that* expensive. it doesn't result in "clean coal", but it certainly is "cleaner coal".

(4) coal, oil, is not going away. might as well suck it up.

(5) thermo nuclear power ftw!

with love,

The Reporter said...

1) I started reading books. let this be a lesson about the dangers of reading! But when did you become such a capitalist pig?! Is this the dangers of having a real salary?

2) yeah...well, evidently it's messing with how the stratosphere and troposphere are layered, which is responsible for extreme weather. Interpret that how you will.

3) Between the energy costs and space required...I'm sure more conservative estimates are out there, but from what I've read the proposed plant would already be over capacity if opened next year.

4) :P

5) Hell yeah! Did you read the stuff about thorium?

Grace said...

Not to mention the fact that mountains are being blown up to get this "clean coal." I'm not exactly an environmentalist per say, but I don't like the idea of blowing up mountains or sequestering carbon dioxid.