Recently, news of archaeologists finding fossilized remains of 140 million-year-old pine tree made the headlines for various reasons. What the news did was to underscore the need for coal which the world still depends on as the main energy resource. The fact is that coal is to date the cheapest form of energy, and that includes thermal, nuclear, hydro and pretty much anything else that you can think of. What’s more, no single nation holds a premium on coal and it can be found in most places, all over the world and is in plentiful supply. But of late, given the global warming trend and the fact that coal usage leads to fossil fuels being released back into the atmosphere, the UN ratified a climate treaty which called on all member nations to reduce their dependence on coal as a form of fuel. It’s time that we took a closer look at the same and why it is an essential source of energy for most nations.
Three hundred million years ago, the earth was mostly a swamp and most of the world was covered by shrubs and trees. And as most of these plants and trees died, their remains sank beneath the swamp water and in the geological upheavals that followed shortly thereafter, most of these remains were buried deep beneath the earth under heat and several tonnes of pressure. In the process, almost all the water content was removed from the plant matter and as they fossilized, they transformed into coal. Scientists have discovered that nearly 3 m of plant matter are required to develop 1m of coal. Today, this same coal is mined in almost all the continents and serves as a cheap and valuable resource, which is used by most industries to generate power, to manufacture cement, as a liquid fuel along with several other uses.
Importance of coal:
One of the reasons that coal usage has assumed such importance today is that its use is widespread and it can easily be used as a power resource by most industries. In fact, in nations like China and India, a vast majority of their industries depend on coal and in fact, they still use coal to generate power. Coal is important and while the recently ratified climate agreement does call on all member nations to reduce their dependence on coal, that’s easier said than done. The fact is that there is no viable cheap alternative to coal and one that can easily replace coal as the main fuel source for the world. Given the fact that coal continues to be used to this day to generate power only underscores its importance and our reliance on the same.
Given the rising average daily temperature and the fact that the planet was reeling under the impact of global warming was enough to get the UN-governed climate body to issue dire warnings on the same and the need for member nations to act. It had long been discovered that coal releases vast amounts of carbon dioxide and methane back into the atmosphere. Methane is ten times deadlier than carbon dioxide and one of the reasons for the current global warming trend is due to the fact that several industries are pumping several tons of the same into the atmosphere as they burn coal. The issue is that most of these industries depend on coal to generate power and for other uses as well and asking them to just halt their operations is neither reasonable nor is it acceptable. Nations would have to find a way to protect their industries and better regulate the coal industries and the use of coal. But more importantly, they quickly need to find an alternative source of energy that they can encourage these industries to adopt and thereby lessen their dependence on coal.
Also read: Importance of Renewable Energy
Coal is an important source of cheap energy and one that we are going to be using for a while; but given the fact that coal also releases various greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, we may want to rethink our dependence on the same. While coal usage and the greenhouses contributed by the same is one of several causative factors behind current global warming trend, it goes without saying that it is time the whole world, took note and acted on the same. But at the same time, it should be pointed out coal is important to our society as a whole and would remain so for some time to come.