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Hannah Gilmore
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This study looks at the externalities and costs associated with the use of coal. The world is greatly dependent on coal for energy, and our demand for the resource is growing steadily. The United States has over ¼ of the coal supply in the world, and there are mining operations in half of the states. The CO2 emissions from mining and burning coal are accentuating climate change, and the other chemical byproducts cause soil and water contamination, and consequently loss of biodiversity and decline in public health; these factors also economic development in the area. Externalities are associated with every part of the life cycle of coal, and are costly: contamination from mining and combustion depletes farmland resources, decreases tourism, and increases related health issues (including death). The transportation and disposal of this coal also puts stress on the environment via air pollution of vehicles and chemical runoff leading to water pollution. Our group was surprised to notice that some of the highest levels of biodiversity in the US are near coal mining plants, and the biodiversity is being threatened by the negative impacts of coal. The researchers were able to assign estimated values (including values of COz emissions and climate change, and human life) to each of the costs of mining, transporting, and burning coal. Using these numbers, their “best estimate” of coal externalities is over $345 billion. However, we know that this does not account for all of the costs associated with coal production, especially since there was limited discussion on the opportunity (available or lost) to restore the environment to pre-coal-production standards. We thought this idea would give more clarity to the costs and externalities, because there would be costs associated with reclaiming the landscape, biodiversity, and community health. We wondered if decreasing our dependence on coal would help restore some ecosystem health, or if it would simply prevent further damage, and if this were the plan of action, what costs would it carry? We also discussed the idea that turning to a different, “cleaner” form of energy will still have costs associated with it, but they may not be as severe or irreversible as those associated with coal.
Toggle Commented Feb 12, 2014 on Paper for next Tuesday at Jolly Green General
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Feb 12, 2014