Carbonized plant matter, better known as coal is a limited resource on planet earth. Calling it a resource is not really a good thing, but unfortunately, in these modern days, it currently is.
Somewhere around 360 million years ago, from what is known as the end of the Devonian Period to the start of the Permian Period, the earth had a very large amount of plant life and dense forests in very swampy and low-lying wetlands.
As these plants grew and died off, their decomposing material drifted to the bottom of the swamps and were compressed to form peat. As this process continued over the 60 million year period, pressure and heat caused the peat to become coal.
This process nearly destroyed planet earth as we know it today. The over abundance of plant life sucked the atmosphere of carbon dioxide and nearly turned the earth into a snowball. If this had occurred, we would not be burning coal today and pumping carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere. Consequently, we are moving toward creating a fireball which will cause our extinction. If we had only left the coal alone, we could be swimming in diamonds, or so the story goes. This is not true.
While coal and diamonds are both carbon based, coal is not pure and contains many other elements, some of which are toxic to our atmosphere when burned. Some of these are hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, sulfur, arsenic, selenium and mercury. Burning coal for energy, while possible and effective, comes with some very measurable and detrimental side effects.
So why do we continue to burn coal for fuel and electricity? The bottom line here is economics. It is cheap energy and many are seeking to profit from societies insatiable consumption for electricity.
Click on the below image to see how electricity is produced in the United States. The gray states are still predominately coal. Tan states use propane, the red ones nuclear and the blue ones are hydroelectric. Hawaii, still uses petroleum to generate electricity which is a huge expense for transport of the fuel, not to mention the greenhouse gases being generated. Hawaii could easily use wind and solar, and there is an initiative to move to 100 percent clean energy by 2045.
Societies are addicted to electricity and the luxuries it provides; health, food, warmth, places to live, safety and to be able to provide for their offspring, the most fundamental primal need of life on earth.
So why do we continue to pollute our home when our life and those lives we create depend on it for survival? Why don’t we just move to better ways to satisfy our modern needs? Why is it so difficult to stop our ship from sinking, when we are after all, suppose to be the smartest life form on earth? Perhaps after all this time, which in fact is quite small, we are just a bad element for the most beautiful place we know. The below image is a simple depiction of how long we have been here. This link is a more detailed account of time.
I’m an optimist, and the last thing I would want is be labeled a bad element, so let’s put our intelligence to work and figure this one out and stop the use of coal. It took 60 million years for our biosphere to make coal and at the rate of our consumption, we will have used all of it in less than 250 years.
Featured image is Mark Ryan’s Carboniferous Forest.