As a mineral, coal has a bad a rap as any dirt y, carboncontributing element can have. It’s not as if burning coal for energy – which is its sole funct ion – has a bright side such as t he unquestionable role played by the giving of diamonds in human propagation. Even platinum, not exactly the mineral du jour, can be used to remove noxious gases from automotive emissions.
You just burn coal, an activity that feels as futile as pouring disinfectant down a drain: in the absence of proof, one just supposes efficacy. Similarly, we really have to take it on trust that by burning coal for energy, there’s no better way of keeping ourselves warm, or reading at night.
Attendees representing the world’s coal industry at a recent IHS Energy Publishing conference in Hawaii (ironically, the kind of tropical paradise environmentalists think coal endangers), believe the continued health of their industry is crucial to human progress.
According to Chris Hagedorn, president of the Asia region for the $5.5bn USlisted coal mining firm, Peabody Energy, every tenfold increase in per capita electricity usage drives a ten-year increase in life expectancy. “Electricity enables people to live longer and better,” he said. As such, Hagedorn estimated the world’s coal industry has a rosy future, notwithstanding the pressure placed upon its extraction by green lobbyists and the like.
China, for instance, is expected to double its electricity-generating capacity as part of that country’s enormous urbanisation, a thrust that will require 2.5bn tons of additional coal production. “I get very excited about the role of coal,” Hagedorn said to great applause from the conference audience, clearly equally confident in the virtues of pure carbon. The fact of the matter is that for all the talk of alternative energy
sources, coal-f ired power