Thursday, May 14, 2009

CWL---Off Topic: Coal, A Somewhat Human History

Coal: A Human History, Barbara Freese, Penguin, 320 pages, i15 illustrations, index, notes, bibliography, paperback,$14.00.

While entering the Metro in Washington D.C.there are four posters, each depicting an myth: Bigfoot, Loch Ness Monster, Easter Bunny and Safe Coal. When Barry Obama was confronted with a question regarding the future of coal generated electricity in America, Joe Biden shoved his face of Obama's left shoulder and said that the only place coal fired generators will be built is in China.

America loves coal but hates it smoke. Freese, an assistant attorney general of Minnesota whose task is to enforce environmental law, offers a short chronicle of a description of coal's geological formation and its the rise as a source of heat and energy. The Romans and the Chinese and other ancient civilizations used coal ornamentaly. In early Roman Britain, coal replaced wood as a heating source. After a about 1200 years, the mineral ignited in Britain the Industrial Revolution by firing the newly invented steam engine to pull water out of coal mines. Quickly the steam engines were laid on wagons and the wagons were placed on tracks to hall the coal from the mines to the ports. Freese briefly tells the discovery of coal in the Britain's American colonies, and the ensuing development of the first American coal-fired urban community, Pittsburgh.

Coal: A Human History describes the side effects of the industry on miners and the cities of Pittsburgh, Manchester and London. The book also compares the U.S.'s coal mining and electricity generation history with China's current use of coal. A cheap, warm, dirty energy source, as coal burning leaves sulfur and carbon dioxides in such quantities that both buildings and lungs suffer. Offering EPA studies, Freese states that coal emissions kill about 30,000 people a year, which is approximately the same figure of deaths caused by influenza and automobile crashes.

Fresse spends a little effort on differentiating between anthracite and bituminous coal and offers next to no information on coal labor unions or black lung disease. In Coal: A Human History people as workers and consumers receive little attention. Freese closes her monograph with a denunciation of coal; she advocates an immediate reduction of coal's primary pollutants, sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide, and in the future its replacement as an energy source. There is no discussion of how coal would be replaced and no substantive discussion of efforts to clean coal or store or reuse its waste.

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