It is time to stop quivering in our boots in pointless fear of the future and just roll up our sleeves and build it.
- Ray Pierrehumbert

Monday, June 11, 2007

Coal is not the enemy of the human race

David Roberts, Grist's editor, has been banging this "coal is the enemy of the human race" drum, and as a Grist contributor I seem to be associated with it. It will be interesting to see if he lets me write a rebuttal. Apparently a fair number of people do read Grist and I'd hate to give up that soapbox, but on the other hand I think this meme is a disastrous error, both tactically and morally.

Update: David writes and graciously informs me that it is OK if we disagree, and hopes that nobody on Grist has to take responsibility for what everybody else writes. Fair enough. Now I have to write a Grist article on coal. Oh, well...

Certain coal interests have behaved very irresponsibly and I don't forgive them, but coal is a resource as well as a threat, and at this point we can't afford to take anything off the table.

In case you missed it, coal is a mineral. Minerals mean you no harm.

Pogo identified the real enemy long ago.

2 comments:

Hank Roberts said...

This may help:

http://gsa.confex.com/gsa/2005AM/finalprogram/abstract_94450.htm

A CONTINENTAL SCENARIO FOR THE PETM: PEAT/COAL CAPACITOR, OROGENIC/CLIMATIC TRIGGER
WING, Scott L., Dept. Paleobiology, Smithsonian Institution, MRC121, Washington, DC 20560, wings@si.edu

The magnitude of the carbon isotope excursion (CIE) during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), and the extent of oceanic acidification at its onset, suggest >4500 Gt of carbon were released from a carbon reservoir that was isotopically moderately depleted (Zachos et al. 2005), possibly from burning or oxidation of Paleocene peat and/or coal (Kurtz et al. 2003). A continental scenario for the PETM includes: 1) extensive deposition of peat and coal during the middle Paleocene, 2) increased oxidation and/or burning of organic deposits such as those in the northern Rocky Mountain coal basins during the late Paleocene as uplift of mountains created a rain shadow, 3) global greenhouse warming and poleward shift of subtropical high pressure as a result of higher atmospheric pCO2, and, 4) rapid acceleration of peat/coal oxidation as global and regional climate change affected major mid- to high-latitude coal basins at the start of the PETM. The scenario is consistent with the timing of uplift and the onset of red-bed formation in the northern Rockies, with the inference of rapid drying at the base of the PETM from fossil leaves, and with the larger magnitude of the CIE in continental than marine carbon reservoirs. In contrast to clathrate or thermogenic methane scenarios for the PETM the continental scenario predicts a faster onset of the CIE in continental than in marine sections, and increased evidence for burning and/or oxidation of organic matter in major coal basins during the late Paleocene, with a peak at the beginning of the PETM.

J. C. Zachos et al., 2005, Science 308, 1611. A. C. Kurtz, et al., 2003, Paleoceanography 18, 1090.

Michael Tobis said...

Interesting, indeed, but not exactly on my point as far as I can tell.