Burning Coal and Global Warming
Coal men delivered coal to every household in London
On Wednesday 25th September 2013 I presented an oral story, The Sixty Milers to the Nepean Retired Men’s Club in a church hall out around thirty-five kilometers from my home. It was my fourth visit to this group and, as all of these elderly audiences go, it had grown smaller through the years. There are probably only half as many in their club now compared with when they started up.
The story was especially requested as one of their members had once sailed on Australia’s eastern seaboard, some of it on a ‘Sixty Miler’ operating out of Hexham and Catherine Hill Bay, though that would have been towards the end of the century-and-a-half-long coal ship era. I think he said he’d sailed on the Pelham Bank, one of the last of the ships plying this trade.
A London 'Smog' in the 1950s
Australia is now the world's largest supplier of coal
It is strange how quickly new generations forget the past. These little ships were indispensable to the commerce of Sydney for so long. They brought blue metal, gravel, rock and, of course, millions of tons of coal into Sydney from the coastal coalfields. These mines have long ago played out, or have become far less significant in the overall mining of coal. Now it’s the huge open-cut fields of the Hunter Valley – in New South Wales anyway - with its endless stream of long coal trains grinding back and forth to Newcastle. It is said that Newcastle, NSW, is now the biggest coal-loading port in the world. I don’t know if that is true, but certainly it’s huge as far as the amount of coal uploaded from there.
Yes it was that bad. This is daytime turned into night
There is one which is believed will surpass it being brought into operation up at Gladstone, in Queensland, so we really are shipping an awful lot of coal out of Australia. As it is, I’m informed we’re the biggest coal exporter in the world today. Hardly something to be proud of.
We humans started burning coal for heat and energy-generation around 250 years ago. You’d think, with the countless inventions, technology, and the way we are now beginning to view the world from the environmental perspective, we’d have moved far beyond burning this un-renewable and polluting fossil fuel. We know its continuing use is bad. Yet how can we get beyond it with so much invested in infrastructure and human resources? But get beyond we must.
Whilst governments around the world play lip service to the plight of some of the smaller, low-lying countries which will be the first to bear the brunt of any rise in sea level due to global warming, the power of Big Mining and Big Oil continues to thwart the wishes of the majority. Of course, jobs will go if the coal mines close. Of course it will be hard, very difficult in fact, for a great many people. But it was hard and difficult when millions of small-holding subsistence farmers were forced off the land to work in the hell-fire-and-brimstone factories of the 19th and early 20th Century.
Bigger bites! Far cry from the picks and shovels of old
Great changes do not generally come easily and with gentleness. Generally they explode out of sheer necessity from a relentless pressure brought about either by Nature or by the combined feelings and beliefs of the many as against the few. This is beginning to happen with coal as far as its use for generating electric power. Certainly more coal-fired power plants are being built than ever before. This is definitely the case in China where, from what I hear, a new plant comes on line every few months. But this is somewhat akin to the latter days of Sail. The biggest, fastest clipper ships, with their myriad of sails, were the ‘last hurrah’ of that era as they began to contest with the coal-burning engine driven ships. There were more of them than ever. They were bigger than ever – then they suddenly went. In the 1840s, 1850s, 1860s they were everywhere. By late in that century they were an acronym, unable to compete with their steam driven sisters. Today what are left of them are museum pieces – or replicas.
Make no mistake about it, coal will be superseded
This will happen to coal. It will be superseded. Indeed, I believe the ‘writing is on the wall’ despite claims of ‘clean coal’ and great reductions in emissions. The time has come for zero or almost no emissions at all. Mother Earth has been battered around by this parasitic life we call Humanity for long enough. It’s time to clear the air – literally. It’s time to bring back the correct oxygen levels and temperatures to what they were before us humans mucked ‘em about. It will happen if enough of us will it. It will get worse if we don’t. Mother Nature will see to that.
Just dig another hole in the ground
Conservative governments are allowing things to get worse
We can no longer afford to keep putting off, deferring, or simply turning a blind eye to the problems that the mining and burning of coal (and oil and gas) is doing to our world. The governments that do hold out will go down in history as further exacerbating the problem of worldwide pollution and the hearting of our atmosphere. They will be the ones blamed by our children’s children for not looking after the world simply because they hadn’t the guts to be the pathfinders the people elected them to be.
Change is never easy, but change is inevitable
Of course we know it isn’t easy for democratically elected governments to turn a blind eye to the campaign funds big Business grants to political parties. Money buys influence. So many politicians do treat their own careers as more important than the welfare of their constituents. The only way to counter this is for the vast majority of people to care, rather than just to shrug off the task of bringing about change as just too difficult. Yes, such moves do split a populace. So many small investors are invested in keeping the status quo as well. Change is never easy. But to reiterate, change we must. Coal burning produces a lot of heat, smoke and all types of pollution. I recall as a boy living in London, England in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The incredible smogs – combined coal fires of hundreds of thousands of homes combined with fog – obliterated vision beyond a few yards. People died from that impure air.
We can no longer pretend that the problem isn't serious
London overcame this problem by banning the use of coal fires in domestic homes. Most of Western Europe did the same. Sure it put a lot of coal-delivery men out of work. Sure it must have caused a lot of angst. But it had to be done. Now, on a far bigger and world-wide scale we need to do the same. And we need to do it now before the effects of global warming begin to escalate to the point where we just cannot deal with them. The ice caps are melting. The oceans temperatures are rising. The lower lands are gradually being inundated and the weather is changing. We cannot ignore these things. The time for change is upon us!
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