By making available the almost unlimited energy stored in prehistoric plant matter, coal enabled the industrial age—and it still does. Coal today generates more electricity worldwide than any other energy source, helping drive economic growth in major emerging markets. And yet continued reliance on this ancient rock carries a high price in smog and greenhouse gases.
We use coal because it is cheap: cheap to scrape from the ground, cheap to move, cheap to burn in power plants with inadequate environmental controls. In this book, Mark Thurber explains the barriers to a full accounting of coal’s environmental costs across this supply chain. Coal’s dominance, he contends, is supported by local and national politics that create false dichotomies of jobs versus environmental protection, international diplomacy in which countries try to cure others’ sins before their own, fragmented environmental movements that lose sight of the forest for the trees, and polities that rarely treat climate change mitigation as a top-tier priority. Delving into the politics of energy versus the environment around the world, Thurber paints a vivid picture of the multi-faceted challenges associated with continued coal production and use in the twenty-first century.