Suicide by Coal

01.16.07 | Comment?

According to the American Heritage Dictionary, a suicidal act is one that is “dangerous to oneself or to one’s interests; self-destructive or ruinous.” By this standard, the coal boom that is currently sweeping America is the atmospheric equivalent of a swan dive off a very tall building. At precisely the moment that scientists have reached a consensus that we need to drastically cut climate-warming pollution, the electric-power industry is racing to build more than 150 new coal plants across the United States. Coal is by far the dirtiest fossil fuel: If the new plants are built, they will dump hundreds of millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year for decades to come — virtually guaranteeing that the U.S. will join China in leading civilization’s plunge into a superheated future.

That’s a quote straight from Jeff Goodell contributor to Rolling Stone magazine. Now I know there are technologies (gasification for instance) that can make coal cleaner than it has been, but that’s still orders of magnitude more polluting than renewable options available. What if, instead of doing “the easy thing” of investing in more coal plants we did “the right thing” and rechanneled that money into renewable plants (a mix of geothermal, wind, biomass, and solar?)

Here’s the thing, according to the US Department of Energy, for each 1,000,000 watt hours (1 MWh) of electricity generated by burning coal, 1,000 kg of carbon and around 14 kg of NOx and SOx are released into the atmosphere. Let’s say we make coal 50% less polluting, great. But that would still result in 507 kg of pollutants produced per MWh.

We’re obviously not as smart as we purport to be…

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