Coal is a gift that we have in abundance. The vast reserves of coal guarantee the United States energy for hundreds of years. Coal is efficient. No fuel, other than uranium, is cheaper. Coal burns clean in modern plants. Strip-mining coal in the modern way improves the landscape. According to the Energy Information Administration, the U.S. demonstrated coal reserve base is 477 billion 2,000-pound tons, enough for more than 500 years at current consumption rates.
In the eyes of the diminishing crowd of believers in catastrophic global warming, coal is evil, a demon. Why? Because it is mostly carbon, and when coal is burned, carbon dioxide (CO2) is created. CO2 is supposed to create a disaster. As the predicted disaster (global warming) fails to materialize, a new disaster (extreme weather) is invented. The disasters that never materialize are blamed on CO2 and indirectly on coal.
Apocalyptic ideology needs scapegoats. Coal and CO2 serve well. According to the Sierra Club, demon coal will destroy our world and poison our children. If the Sierra Club only offered mountain meadows and wildflowers, it would be pretty boring and wouldn't raise $100 million every year. Demons and conspiracies are the stuff that raises big money.
The CO2 released by burning coal is wonderful stuff. Plants breathe CO2, and if there is more CO2 in the air, the plants breathe easy, grow faster, and need less water. Greenhouse operators put CO2 generators in their greenhouses because more CO2 helps plants thrive. Worldwide agriculture is going strong, partly because the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased from about 0.03% to 0.04%.
The idea that "science" proves that CO2 is a demon is most plausible to people with limited exposure to down and dirty science. Down and dirty science is at its dirtiest when it is seeking money or protecting its money. Former president Dwight Eisenhower, in his 1961 farewell address, anticipated global warming:
The prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present – and is gravely to be regarded.
Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.
Eisenhower's fears have materialized. A not so elite alliance of climate scientists and federal bureaucrats has captured public policy, demonizing CO2 and predicting a global disaster. Around 2010, the disaster narrative shifted from "global warming" to "extreme weather." That should have closed down the demonization of CO2. It's not fair to keep changing disasters. But they had to change their disaster, because global warming stopped beginning in 1998. By 2010, the revision of the predicted disaster was well underway.
The failure of global warming to continue after 1998 is powerful evidence that the theories predicting disastrous global warming from CO2 are simply wrong and that the amount of warming that might happen is likely negligible or beneficial. Global environmental data suggests that global warming is a scare story whose time has passed. The failure of the globe to warm for the last two decades is validated by satellite temperature measurements, the most reliable form.
In 2015, an attempt was made to erase the global warming pause by re-analyzing ocean temperatures. That attempt has been discredited by angry whistleblowers.
Psychologically, extreme weather is a good choice for a disaster. It seems that weather is becoming more extreme because the memory of previous extreme weather episodes fades with time. Scientifically, extreme weather clashes with global warming. According to global warming theory, the poles are supposed to warm more than the tropics, decreasing the temperature difference between the tropics and the poles. But weather is driven by that temperature difference. Less temperature difference due to global warming should result in less energy available to drive weather. But extreme weather is an elastic concept. If the weather is nice and uneventful for long periods, that is extreme, too. In the U.S., it is clear that extreme weather is decreasing.
The promoters of dubious science like to add conspiracy theories to discredit objections. Anyone who disagrees with them is part of the conspiracy. In the case of global warming skeptics, they are supposedly part of a conspiracy promoted by the fossil fuel companies.
The Harvard professor Naomi Oreskes deserves the title of global warming conspiracy queen. According to Dr. Oreskes, the oil companies, in league with certain right-wing scientists, belonging to the military-industrial complex, are plotting to spread disinformation critical of the absolutely clear and true science of global warming that has been devised by very sincere and nice scientists. She even made a movie about it.
Dr. Oreskes should get in touch with the many inventors of high-mileage carburetors whose inventions are allegedly being suppressed by the oil companies. Also interesting are the people who claim that General Motors bought up and closed down all the trolley car lines so people would have to buy cars and buses.
The organization that hates coal more than any other is the Sierra Club. Every scrap of literature produced by the Sierra Club on the subject of coal includes a picture of a backlit smokestack. By photographing a smokestack emitting harmless condensing steam with the sun behind the smokestack, the steam can be made to look like black smoke.
It is rare to see black smoke coming from a smokestack. Polluting smokestacks disappeared many decades ago. Below is a picture of the John W. Turk generating plant in Arkansas. Nothing visible comes out of the smokestack even while it is burning 300 tons of coal per hour. Noxious substances in the flue gas have been scrubbed down to a low level by pollution control equipment.
In a modern plant that burns coal to generate electricity, the principal polluting substances – sulfur, particulates, nitrogen oxides, and mercury – are removed from the flue gas and reduced to low levels before the gas enters the smokestack. The ash left over after the coal is burned is buried in a safe landfill. In spite of being overregulated by the government, and demonized by the Sierra Club, modern coal plants are highly reliable and generate electricity cleanly and cheaply. The carbon dioxide emitted is harmless and increases agricultural productivity.
By using coal to generate electricity, natural gas, a premium fuel, can be reserved for low-duty cycle, peaking power plants, for powering transportation, for domestic heating, or to be exported to customers in Asia. Natural gas should not be squandered by using it to generate base load electricity when vast coal supplies are available.
But, if you listen to the Sierra Club, coal is a dirty and outdated fuel. Rather than suggesting natural gas or nuclear, the normal alternatives to coal, the Sierra Club wants us to use windmills to generate electricity. The Sierra Club is especially interested in offshore wind:
Offshore wind produces no air or water pollution as it generates electricity. Coal plants, by contrast, pollute our air with soot and smog that cause or worsen respiratory illnesses, heart disease, and asthma. Asthma from coal plant pollution is estimated to cause 3,000,000 lost work days and 554,000 asthma attacks each year, 26,000 of which are severe enough to require an emergency room visit. Coal plants also dirty our water with toxic mercury that can cause birth defects, neurological disorders, and developmental delays in children.
The medical claims that the Sierra Club attributes to modern coal use are false or at least astronomically exaggerated. Note the fake, nearly exact numbers for asthma attacks and emergency room visits.
The problem with wind power is that it stops when the wind stops. You have to have alternative plants to take up the load. With wind power, you don't replace the fossil fuel infrastructure. It keeps on working, as a backup, part-time and at great cost.
Norman Rogers writes often on environmental and political subjects. He has a website.