I’m going to talk about coal today. This is a post I meant to make on Earth Day. I often talk about environmental issues on my blog, but I am also a human being and while I’m not a fan of coal as a fuel source, I do have empathy for the coal miners who are losing their jobs.
Coal miners got a lot of attention during the last presidential election. One big promise was the increase in coal jobs. The sad truth for coal miners is that their jobs are not coming back, despite what some would have you believe.
So what’s going on with coal? The industry as a whole is in decline. Why? Renewable energy is on the rise, but it’s not the main driver for the decline fo coal. It’s natural gas exploration that is hurting the coal industry. Many tout natural gas as the stepping stone to cleaner energy and while I do think it is a step in the right direction, I’d much rather see the growth of renewable energy. And to be fair, natural gas has its issues too, fracking anyone? I recommend watching the documentary “Gasland” as it really delves into the issues people have had with fracking, specifically their water supply being contaminated.
At any rate, natural gas is cheaper to refine and sell versus coal. There’s also government incentives for natural gas, making it seem like a natural replacement for coal. It’s less dangerous and easier to extract from the ground. Pipelines can move natural gas from the well to a refinery and then transferred to transport trucks. Even the auto industry has spent a decade or so developing cars that run on natural gas.
Coal is dirty while natural gas is cleaner (emphasis on cleaner). Even technologies that try to make coal better for the environment, affectionately referred to as “clean coal,” the truth is the process doesn’t make the pollution byproduct of coal suddenly disappear. They still have to do something with that stuff, which usually means sticking it in the ground. That’s really just a temporary solution. Also, “clean coal” processes do nothing to make it safer to extract coal nor does it make it more efficient to process.
The cost effectiveness of natural gas makes coal less attractive in the free market. Natural gas is better than coal in some ways, but it’s not perfect. I’ve already covered briefly the problems with natural gas and I’m not advocating it. I’m just making the case why coal is being replaced. To be fair, we’ve been using coal for a very long time.
There’s nothing wrong with replacing coal with something better. Old technology becomes obsolete at some point. The same could be said about energy sources. After all, electricity replaced the candle for every day use. Even so, I understand the fear of losing coal jobs. It’s been a part of American life for a long time and no one likes losing their job.
To be blunt, coal jobs aren’t coming back, period. And for some people, that really sucks. Especially when that means losing your job. So let’s have some compassion for the men and women who work in the coal industry. Promising to bring coal jobs back is disingenuous, instead, we should work on helping coal miners transition to a new industry, or get new jobs.