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Mark Sanders
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Group: Sanders, Cole, VanMeter, Witter, McLean As we were first discussing the paper and examining the full cost accounting of the life cycle of coal, we were taken back by the "drastic" nature of some of the statistics that were presented. According to the authors, close to half of the energy consumed in the United States is produced by coal burning. Even more surprisingly, after the mining process, transporting and burning of the coal, it is estimated that only about 3% of the energy in the coal is used in illuminating incandescent light bulbs. This led us to spend a large portion of our time discussing the inefficiency of coal production. The idea that the coal we are continuing to burn produces one and a half times the CO2 emissions of oil combustion and twice that from burning natural gas is jaw-dropping. When thinking about the immediate effect that Appalachia would feel should coal go out of production, we thought there would be an overall positive effect for the area. Although there remains a morality question in regards to cutting a large number of jobs in the area, the labor market for coal mining is already extremely inefficient. The authors point out that between 1973 and 1979, there was a rapid increase in the number of coal mining jobs as the amount of mining in the area increased. However, they note that from 1985 to 2005, as mining increased exponentially, jobs were lost in the area as mining companies turned to higher levels of technology and machinery to mine the higher quantities of coal. Likewise, overall unemployment in these areas increased and overall education levels went down. We also thought about the positive ecological benefits that these areas would see. In the graphic displayed in the paper on page 83, we saw that the West Virginia and Kentucky areas on the map are some of the best biodiversity “hotspots” in the United States. By eliminating, or significantly decreasing the amount of coal mining occurring in Appalachia, the positive, monetary benefits created in the area from a cleaner ecosystem would likely outweigh the amount of capital lost in the mining jobs that are cut. In looking to the future of coal mining, it is important to look at the differences that a reduction of coal mining and coal use would have on different countries and their respective economies. Specifically, we discussed that a slow, phasing out of coal mining in the U.S. and transitioning to alternative forms of energy would be an easier transition than a similar transition in a more developing nation, such as China. Although countries want to be morally responsible in how they approach energy uses, their economies must still make rational, cost-efficient decisions in order to compete in the global marketplace. For these reasons, slowly phasing out the production and use of coal as an energy source in the United States would be even more complicated when looked at its side effects on the global economic level.
Toggle Commented Feb 12, 2014 on Paper for next Tuesday at Jolly Green General
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Feb 12, 2014