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Tags: belching | carbon dioxide

Solve Coal Seam Fires Dilemma With Reason, Not Hysteria

Solve Coal Seam Fires Dilemma With Reason, Not Hysteria

Coal seam covered with snow near heat and power plant in Bytom, Silesia (Poland). (Naten /Dreamstime)

David Nabhan By Wednesday, 18 April 2018 05:33 PM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

There are several thousand coal seam fires burning out of control globally, every year pumping into the atmosphere a quantity of carbon dioxide roughly equal to one fifth of the annual carbon footprint of the United States.

Yet this crisis elicits hardly a word from environmentalists — even though attempting to address it would harm no interests. These are wildfires, burning underground. They are a burden and hindrance to all.

Instead though, activists who ignore tackling an urgency which would have the support of everyone, remain inflexibly focused on the many heavy-handed restrictions demanded to be placed on industry, commerce, the military and many other facets of modern society, to the detriment of all.

Innovators in the past, improving the stewardship of the land, almost always put forward solutions to enhance lifestyles, thereby lightening the load upon everyone’s shoulders.

Current ecological thought, however, seems habitually determined to impose serious injuries to the economy, diminution of disposable income, severe inconveniences, and at end, promote forays into the untenable.

It‘s becoming tedious that environmentalists should customarily opt for too many proposals that involve closing down factories, devastating whole industries, putting people out of work, and creating artificial scarcities of vital products and resources. Extinguishing coal fires doesn’t involve harming trades or subjecting large numbers of people to hardships, so dousing an amount of carbon dioxide needlessly spewed into the atmosphere equal to what could be as much as 3 percent of the annual human-produced output should certainly garner conservationists’ attention.

It is noteworthy that those countries — China, Indonesia, India — whose truly poor ecological record provokes not the slightest comment by those stridently campaigning against Western environmental misdeeds, are the same states where the majority of the world’s coal seam fires are raging.

There are some 100 burning in the U.S. — one of the cleanest and most ecologically responsible nations in the world — but America nonetheless remains the uninterrupted target for rebuke by environmentalists.

Needing a breathing apparatus to navigate through smoke-filled Beijing doesn’t evoke even an offhanded remark from activists who are apoplectic about Americans enjoying barbecues in their back yards. The deafening silence about coal seam fires in countries that receive unshakable deference no matter their environmental failings lends credence to the impression that a good part of ecology, unfortunately, has been converted to something much closer to politics.

A worldview that ignores over 1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide belching into the air in Asia due to subterranean wildfires while proposing carbon taxes on portable hibachis in the U.S. may well exhibit real ambiguity. The confusion isn’t just confined to smoldering coal underground; it appears that many voices demonizing coal the loudest seem unaware of the consequences of their advocacy.

In the simplest terms, without coal there is also no steel.

That exigency merits serious contemplation, endeavoring to imagine the almost unthinkable condition of a world bereft of iron — also meaning one lacking modern buildings, bridges, transportation, agriculture, communication, energy, national defense, hospitals, emergency vehicles — or vehicles of any kind, for that matter.

If the ruinous vision of a planet without coal — and therefore without iron or steel — should ever come to pass, in short order a large fraction of the people on Earth would be spared having to witness the dreadful outcome, since the world’s population would be decimated as never before in the history of the planet.

The calculus is very simple, and just as inescapable. One ton of coal (converted to high grade coke) is required for every two tons of steel produced. And, lest the dilemma be misunderstood, the necessity for coal can’t be overcome by simply utilizing an alternative heating method to smelt iron ore — which is iron oxide. What occurs in a blast furnace isn’t just a matter of melting the ore, but also the chemistry that results from pumping drafts of carbon monoxide liberated from the coke through the crucible in order to pull oxygen out of the ore, creating pure iron. The alternative would be to utilize the prior combustible which humans had used since the dawn of the Iron Age in 1,000 B.C., and which contributed to sizeable deforestation in the past — firewood.

That’s probably not something most would like to revisit.

There are experimenters currently wrestling with completely novel ways to separate iron from its ore — using electrolytes, natural gas, and other methods. It’s unknown whether any will produce results commercially viable enough to overturn the current massive infrastructure that produces 1.6 billion tons of steel annually worldwide.

In the meantime, perhaps putting out those coal seam fires might make it onto environmentalists’ agenda.

David Nabhan is a science writer, the author of "Earthquake Prediction: Dawn of the New Seismology" (2017) and three previous books on earthquakes. Nabhan is also a science fiction writer ("Pilots of Borealis," 2015) and the author of many scores of newspaper and magazine op-eds. Nabhan has been featured on television and talk radio all over the world. His website is www.earthquakepredictors.com. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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Needing a breathing apparatus to navigate through smoke-filled Beijing doesn’t evoke even a remark from activists who are apoplectic about Americans barbecuing in their back yards. A good part of ecology, unfortunately, has been converted to something much closer to politics.
belching, carbon dioxide
Wednesday, 18 April 2018 05:33 PM
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