MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Digging for truths about global warming

The 2009 "Copenhagen Accord" on Climate Change represented a massive betrayal; one that can be spelt out in a phrase: "Two Degrees Too many!"

That's the increase in global greenhouse gas emissions (GGE) that most states are now prepared to allow for the forseeable future, even though this threatens devastation of the Asia-Pacific and "death for millions" in Africa.

Even many delegates who refused to sign up to this fraudulent accord didn't have much better to offer. They still pin faith on dubious market mechanisms which carry their own human and ecological toll.

This special web page focuses on critical realities that most governments, and some NGOs, continue to ignore - specifically the global role of coal.

While there are manifold triggers of adverse climate change, coal usage plays a greater role than any other. This is confirmed, not only by the man who "discovered" global warming, but also in a sober scientific study released a month pior to the 2009 Copenhagen summit.  

Coal is for burning

The mining and burning of this fossil fuel has now become more vital to electricity generation than oil or gas. Although its use has recently declined in some Northern jurisdictions, elsewhere plans to excavate the "black stuff" are advancing faster than ever before.

For example, India – already dependent on coal for two-thirds of its power – will actually emit more GGE over the coming decade than at present, primarily from burning coal. South Africa intends to build a massive coal-fired power plant, partly to serve requirements in its platinum belt.

Mongolia – miniscule as a GGE "culprit" compared with most other states – is about to permit mining of a world-class coal deposit. Despite its favourability as a site for wave and wind power, the Philippines is threatened with having even more coal-fired power plants on its shores.

This isn't the total "coal toll" by a long shot. Much of its output goes towards the refining and smelting of metals (notably steel) and into firing cement kilns, where their contributions to GGE are highly significant.

Mining coal releases exiguous amounts of methane – 23 times more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2, and the prime cause of underground explosions that kill thousands of workers each year.

The burning of coal is also more egregious to human health than has been generally recognised. Turning coal into liquid fuel (CTL), to serve the growing transportation sector, releases 40 percent more carbon dioxide than oil when burned, according to one scientific report.

Is coal for turning?

This is not to say we can or should ban dependence on coal overnight.

Mines and Communities is acutely aware of the misery that such a precipitate decision would bring to millions. A "just transition" to alternative fuels will take time, but this makes it all the more urgent to embark on such a course right now.

We also need to develop a realistic picture of how many people and species are likely to be uprooted, thanks to exacerbated global warming; and how much of such involuntary eviction can be ascribed specifically to coal and other mining.  

Arguably, there are ways to exploit this carbon resource, which may lay claim to being "clean" and without requiring it be dug up.

In the long run, however, every proposal bulwarking the case for mining further coal, is flawed.

The big three C’s –  carbon emission credits, carbon cap and trade, carbon capture and storage – depend on untested science, dubious economics and flagrantly self-serving market manipulation for their success.  Add to this, strong evidence that there can actually never be "clean coal".

The "hoaxes" involved in trading carbon emissions permits are now being exposed. But these schemes still underpin the European Union's initiative to combat global warming.

And they comprise what passes as a climate "policy" by other states, including the US and Australia - the world's biggest per capita carbon culprit.

Meanwhile, as insurance agencies warn they may not be able to cope with claims following climate-related disasters, the World Bank sets its own cap at financing projects which risk compounding these very events.

The longer we fail to keep coal forever in the ground, the dimmer will become any prospect of saving our planet.

Climate Change

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