By Dr. John Happs
If you haven’t already seen it, let me recommend the 1979 Monty Python comedy film “Life of Brian” where John Cleese plays Reg, spokesman for the People’s Front of Judea. In trying to justify his opposition to Roman occupation, Reg desperately asks his colleagues:
“Alright, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, fresh water systems and health, what have the Romans ever done for us?”
It seems there are still quite a few Reggie-types around judging by the ongoing breast-beating about the Adani coal mine and the endless efforts from Green Reggies to ignore the benefits of coal whilst calling for the end of coal-mining worldwide. There is a good example in a recent article by Stephen Pickard and Thea Ormerod from the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture. In their evidence-devoid piece: “Support for the Adani Coal Mine is Scientifically and Morally Unjustifiable” Pickard and Ormerod tell us that:
“Given the climate emergency that the world now faces, it is morally irresponsible for Australia to allow the building of any new coal mines, coal-fired power stations or other fossil fuel infrastructure. It is furthermore incorrect to promote ‘clean coal’; no coal is clean.”
The alarmism continues:
“Pollution from the coal produced – 79 million tonnes of CO2 – could exceed that of entire countries like Bangladesh with its 160 million people and entire cities like New York.”
Pickard and Ormerod have no idea how trivial 79 million tonnes is when compared to natural inputs of carbon dioxide from various sources.
Nor do Pickard and Ormerod seem to appreciate the quantities of carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere and the huge quantities stored in the soils and oceans. Of more concern – they appear not to know what life would be like if we were foolish enough to phase out the mining and use of this wonderful resource.
Coal was, and still is, like black gold.
Unfortunately we still have a number of Reggies with us today, in the form of those who ask the question:
“What has coal ever done for us?”
Without question, the Industrial Revolution (1760-1850) was driven by coal. It spread throughout Europe, the USA and Japan. It led to dramatic improvements in agriculture and crop yields; textile production; metallurgy with increased iron and steel production; machine tools; mechanisation; transportation by canals, roads and railways; increased employment and higher incomes; vastly improved living standards; population growth; better health and increased life expectancy; reduced infant mortality rates; mass production of industrial chemicals; pharmaceutical goods; street and house lighting; glass manufacture; paper manufacture; paper production; book publishing and an educated society.
A Green Zealot version of Reg, ignoring these facts, might ask again:
“Alright, but apart from those things, what has coal ever done for us?”
Coal saved the forests across Europe that were being cleared to drive steam engines and produce charcoal for iron smelters. Coal also saved the whales that were being slaughtered for their oil, once widely used in lamps in England, the USA and across Europe.
Not persuaded by more hard evidence, Reg might persist:
“Alright, but apart from saving the forests and the whales and all those other things, what has coal ever done for us?”
Coal powered the machinery of industry, which came from inventors and entrepreneurs such as Thomas Savery (1650-1715); Thomas Newcomen (1664-1729); James Watt (1736-1819); Matthew Boulton (1728-1809); Richard Trevithick (1771-1833)
A second coal-driven industrial revolution followed after 1850 when steel was mass-produced by Henry Bessemer (1813-1898) and further technological breakthroughs were made in the chemical, automotive, rail and shipping fields. Transport, including train travel, became available for all.
Coal got everything and everyone moving.
Communication became easier. Information was acquired and more easily shared through books, travel, schools, societies and universities. Education was accessed by an increasing number of people.
There is little doubt that the industrial revolution was kick-started in England and spread to other countries because of the availability of limestone, iron and other metal ores. More importantly, ample reserves of coal with its high energy-density provided the inexpensive, reliable energy that was the catalyst for most of the achievements of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.
Coal continues to provide inexpensive, reliable electricity so essential for modern living where people rightly expect to have energy on tap around the clock for lighting, cooking, industry, transport, education and entertainment.
Those Green-Reggies such as Pickard and Ormerod, who describe coal as a “dirty fuel” should visit those developing countries that are still in a pre-industrial phase to see what “dirty fuel” really looks like. They should be witness to the many people choking on smoke from their indoors “renewable energy fire”, that burns only wood or animal dung.
Developed nations will continue to use coal to produce more goods to meet their needs whilst air and water quality continue to improve. However, in those countries without access to inexpensive electricity it is estimated that up to 4 million people will die each year from household air pollution and an estimated 600-800 million families worldwide are at increased risk of respiratory tract infections, pneumonia, asthma, and lung cancer.
When countries generate electricity from coal, their populations lead healthier and longer lives.
Those, such as Pickard and Ormerod, who describe coal as a “dirty fuel” should also visit a modern high efficiency, low emission (HELE) coal-fired power station. These plants are over 90% efficient. They would see the equipment that captures particulate carbon and the various gases that would otherwise escape into the atmosphere. Fly ash is captured by precipitators in bagging plants and recycled. The HELE coal-fired power plant of today is a far cry from the plants of yesterday.
Coal continues to do much for humanity. The destructive distillation of coal produces many useful by-products such as coke (a solid fuel), coal gas (another fuel), coal tar that provides a range of products used in the manufacture of fats, soap, dyes, plastics, perfumes, pesticides, explosives and pharmaceutical goods.
Green Reggies continue to argue that we should ban coal completely whilst Green groups spend large amounts of money in their efforts to block new coalmines. The Wilderness Society campaigns against coal mining using litigation, campaigns and activism. Wilderness Society Director, Lyndon Schneider stated:
“Australia’s (self-appointed) Climate Council says 80 per cent of our fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground if we are to avoid dangerous climate change.”
The Change Agency claims to work “for a just, sustainable and peaceful world” and its document:“Stopping the Australian Coal Export Boom” explains how they plan to achieve this:
“The first priority is to get in front of critical projects to slow them down in the approval process.”
The Australian Anglican Priest Evan Pederick has been most critical of the coal industry, saying:
“The church of God simply can’t profit from an industry that damages God’s creation or which destroys the lives and livelihoods of human beings.”
On the contrary, the evidence clearly points to coal saving lives, extending lives, improving lives and providing employment and a better standard of living for so many.
New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg has provided 50 million USD to the Sierra Club in support of their efforts to close down coal-fired power stations. The Sierra Club maintains that coal is:
“Our dirtiest energy source”
With the support of other groups such as CoalSwarm and the approval of former President Barack Obama, over 100 proposed new, highly efficient coal-powered stations were stopped in the US.
Working closely with Obama was the activist Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with its goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 30% in just 10 years. The EPA stated:
“The president (Obama) is doing his best to stop coal use in America by issuing emissions standards that are so stringent it is not feasible to build a coal fired power plant.”
In Australia, Green Reggies continue to promote their dream that:
“The end of coal is coming, and here in Victoria we have the opportunity to get on the front foot and lead Australia in the transition away from dirty fossil fuels to clean renewable energy.”
Those who promote climate alarmism usually refer to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as their source of climate alarmism even though it is now beyond doubt that the IPCC is a political/ideological group that has masqueraded as an impartial scientific body since its inception in 1988. The IPCC’s statement of intent made clear that this pseudo-scientific group never intended to consider factors other than human activity and carbon dioxide emissions as principal drivers of climate change. Coal was in the IPCC’s sights.
The UN/IPCC’s agenda is one of de-industrialisation of the western world by targeting hydrocarbon fuels and the transfer of wealth from the developed to the developing countries. This is socialism and advocacy. It is definitely not science.
Maurice Strong, founder of the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), from which the IPCC was spawned, was unequivocal about his position:
“Isn’t the only hope for the planet that the industrialized civilizations collapse? Isn’t it our responsibility to bring that about?”
Ottmar Edenhofer, a leading member of the IPCC also appears comfortable about shutting down coal mines and all western industry. He appears to be content in sacrificing scientific integrity for the IPCC’s ideological goal of transferring money from developed nations to third world countries, using (imaginary) global warming as his excuse. He made clear the UN’s position:
“We redistribute de facto the world’s wealth by climate policy.”
“One has to free oneself from the illusion that international climate policy is environmental policy. This has almost nothing to do with environmental policy anymore.”
The IPCC’s former Chairman, Dr. Rajendra Pachauri showed his lack of impartiality:
“I am not going to rest easy until I have articulated in every possible form the need to bring about major structural changes in economic growth and development. That’s the real issue. Climate change is just a part of it.”
Banning the mining and use of coal would certainly help to achieve the IPCC’s goals as Dr. Roy Spencer warned:
“Unfortunately, there is no way to “fix” the IPCC, and there never was. The reason is that its formation over 20 years ago was to support political and energy policy goals, not to search for scientific truth.”
Atmospheric scientist and former IPCC contributor Dr. Richard Lindzen agrees that the IPCC is all about de-industrialisation via restrictions on hydrocarbon fuels:
“Future generations will wonder in bemused amazement that the early 21st century’s developed world went into hysterical panic over a globally averaged temperature increase of a few tenths of a degree and, on the basis of gross exaggerations of highly exaggerated computer predictions combined into implausible chains of inference, proceeded to contemplate a rollback of the industrial age.”
Fortunately, whilst Green Zealots campaign to stop the mining and use of coal worldwide, hundreds of millions of people, from developing countries continue their use of coal to escape energy poverty. In doing so they have dramatically improved their living standards and health. As World Bank Vice President Rachel Kyte observes:
“Access to energy is absolutely fundamental in the struggle against poverty. It is energy that lights the lamp that lets you do your homework that keeps the heat on in a hospital that lights the small businesses where most people work. Without energy, there is no economic growth, there is no dynamism, and there is no opportunity.”
That energy has to come from a reliable and efficient source. Germany and the UK have learned that “alternative energy” means just that – an alternative to reliable and efficient coal-power. As Nationals senator Ron Boswell observed:
“We can’t afford to follow the example set by Germany, which now has some of the highest power prices in the world, in large part due to its headlong rush into renewables.”
Germany spent billions of dollars on solar panels and wind turbines and found they provided an unreliable 15% of their energy needs – when they were all working. So the coal industry came to the rescue with new mines being opened. Ten new coal-fired plants will be built in Germany over the next few years and other countries will build even more. 1,200 coal plants are planned across 59 countries, with about three-quarters in China and India.
China, India, Brazil, Russia, South Africa, Indonesia, Pakistan, Poland, South Korea, Japan, the UK, Canada and the USA will continue their economic growth and increase their use of coal. With over 100 years of proven reserves, in politically stable countries, coal will continue to be their fuel of choice and their people deserve it.
The world now appears to need coal more than ever. Investment in coal continues to dwarf investment in renewables and Milton Catelin, chief executive of the World Coal Association predicts:
“Within a year or two, coal will surpass oil as the planet’s primary fuel.”
All this positive information about coal has probably given Green Reggie a headache and he might want to take a couple of aspirins.
Better not tell Reggie – aspirin is made from coal!
DISCLAIMER: Dr. John Happs has no financial interest in any energy provider although his Father and both Grandfathers were Yorkshire coal miners.
Dr. John Happs M.Sc.1st Class; D.Phil. John has an academic background in the geosciences with special interests in climate, and paleoclimate. He has been a science educator at several universities in Australia and overseas and was President of the Western Australian Skeptics for 25 years.