Harvard recently released a new study on coal use, Full Cost Accounting for the Life Cycle of Coal. It discusses extraction, transport, processing, and combustion of coal, coal’s impact on the world, and the steps that need to be taken to curb further economic and environmental damages from the use of coal, in a time when energy use is on the rise.
The World’s energy use increases by 2.7% every year. This in turn increases coal mining and the use of coal.
In the United States, coal has produced approximately half of the nation’s electricity since 1995,2 and demand for electricity in the United States is projected to grow 1.3% per year from 2005 to 2030, to 5,947 TWh.1 In this same time period, coal-derived electricity is projected to grow 1.5% per year to 3,148 TWh (assuming no policy changes from the present).1 Other agencies show similar projections; the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects that U.S. demand for coal power will grow from 1,934 TWh in 2006 to 2,334 TWh in 2030, or 0.8% growth per year.3
While we continue to increase our need for energy and our use of coal, the authors of the study believe that steps can be taken to curb this use and began to move towards a world that is not dependent on fossil fuels.
There is a direct correlation between the use of coal and the amount of CO2 that is released into the atmosphere. Global warming, extensive health risks and declining employment can all be curbed if alternative energies began to take the place of coal.
The electricity derived from coal is an integral part of our daily lives. However, coal carries a heavy burden. The yearly and cumulative costs stemming from the aerosolized, solid, and water pollutants associated with the mining, processing, transport, and combustion of coal affect individuals, families, communities, ecological integrity, and the global climate. The economic implications go far beyond the prices we pay for electricity.