Can you imagine a world where not only are there oil and natural gas supertankers circling the globe but coal supertankers too? George Will can. Wonder who pays this guys paycheck?
King coal’s staying power now and into the future
By GEORGE F. WILL
Jan. 1, 2011, 4:03PM
Cowlitz County in Washington state is across the Columbia River from Portland, Ore., which promotes mass transit and urban density and is a green reproach to the rest of us. Recently, Cowlitz did something that might make Portland wonder whether shrinking its carbon footprint matters. Cowlitz approved construction of a coal export terminal from which millions of tons of U.S. coal could be shipped to Asia annually.
Both Oregon and Washington are curtailing the coal-fired generation of electricity, but the future looks to greens as black as coal. The future looks a lot like the past.
Historian William Rosen (The Most Powerful Idea in the World, about the invention of the steam engine) says coal was Europe’s answer to the 12th-century “wood crisis” when Christians leveled much forestation in order to destroy sanctuaries for pagan worship, and to open farmland. Population increase meant more wooden carts, houses and ships, so wood became an expensive way to heat dwellings or cook. By 1230, England had felled so many trees it was importing most of its timber and was turning to coal.
“It was not until the 1600s,” Rosen writes, “that English miners found their way down to the level of the water table and started needing a means to get at the coal below it.” In time, steam engines were invented to pump out water and lift out coal. The engines were fired by coal.
Today, about half of America’s and the world’s electricity is generated by coal, the substance which, since it fueled the Industrial Revolution, has been a crucial source of energy. Over the last eight years, it has been the world’s fastest-growing fuel. The New York Times recently reported (“Booming China Is Buying Up World’s Coal,” Nov. 22) about China’s ravenous appetite for coal, which is one reason coal’s price has doubled in five years