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Monday, October 12, 2009

A VERY CLEAR AND EVER-PRESENT DANGER

I have always been interested in the ecology and our place within it. I have always recycled everything that I could, and have done so for the past 25 or so years. I have always believed that, given the right opportunities, people will overcome their greed for profits and their callous indifference to the impact that both have on peoples’ lives, especially when it comes to the environment. That belief has taken quite a few not-so-subtle whacks in the past 3 years, but I STILL believed that people in the various polluting industries would at least try to clean up their acts. I even believed that Al Gore winning both an Oscar and the Nobel Prize would change things, would make people in the coal and the oil and gas industries want to be more responsible for being more green, and for helping the green tech revolution really get going.

Naïve much? You BETCHA! Especially about the coal industry.

Please read the article on the following link: http://www.planetshifter.com/node/1348

I had no idea just how toxic coal ash is. I had not one clue as to just how awful the “clean” coal industry is. I did not understand that the EPA cannot – and probably will not – do anything about it, either. Bureau of Red Tape and Sealing Wax – more studies, more delays, and in the end, who suffers? WE do, and we will continue to.

Raise your hands if you remember Rachel Carson’s SILENT SPRING. Nobody? Well, yeah, I guess that you DO have to be at least 50+ years old. Anybody UNDER the age of 50+ remember DDT? No? and yet, we would have NO EPA if not for Rachel Carson. Carson's work had a powerful impact on the environmental movement. SILENT SPRING, in particular, was a rallying point for the fledgling social movement in the 1960s. According to environmental engineer and Carson scholar H. Patricia Hynes, "SILENT SPRING altered the balance of power in the world. No one since would be able to sell pollution as the necessary underside of progress so easily or uncritically."

So, how does this tie into the “clean”coal technologies that we’re being bombarded with these days? The coal industry has responded to environmentalists’ criticisms by running advertising touting clean coal in an effort to counter negative perceptions, as well as by putting more than $50 billion towards the development and deployment of clean coal technologies, including carbon capture and storage. The expenditure has been unsuccessful to date in that there is not a single commercial scale coal fired power station in the US that captures and stores more than token amounts of CO2. So, what’s the benefit again? And why should we care, as long as we get our electricity at cheap rates?

Well, it’s the environment, stupid. (See this article in Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingston_Fossil_Plant_coal_fly_ash_slurry_spill) for an overview of one of the worst ecological disasters in modern history. Environmentalism is different than conservation because it involves a concern for environmental quality, especially with respect to the control of pollution while conservation usually entails the preservation of natural resources. Coal ash is one of the most toxic substances known to exist. Coal, which is primarily used for the generation of electricity, is the second largest domestic contributor to carbon dioxide emissions in the USA. Coal ash also contains toxic metals including arsenic, copper, barium, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, nickel, and thallium, not to mention lead, mercury and arsenic. OH, and some of the coal – the bituminous coal, the medium soft stuff that just about everybody uses – also carries a high percentage of NORM (naturally occurring radioactive material) to boot. Lovely mess we’ve got, isn’t it? We burn so much coal in this country for electricity that every year that process generates 130 million tons of waste. Most of it is coal ash, which as I’ve pointed out previously here, is toxic beyond belief.

So, what’s being done? Basically, nothing. There are only a few companies that are doing coal waste remediation in this country. Right now, one of them that’s headquartered in Houston has a process that removes and precipitates toxic materials from coal tar waste. It’s a start – but it’s just a start. So, what can you do as a private citizen? Get involved. Read about the subject, learn about it, talk about it, join the Sierra Club and various other environmental groups and work with them to help alleviate the problem. Don’t make the presumption that somebody else is going to do it for you. Do it yourself.

Otherwise, we’re not going to have much of a world left to enjoy.

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