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Kingsley Mooney
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Group: Matt Ziemer, Mary Beth Benjamin, Bayan Misaghi, and Kingsley Mooney The introduction serves as an opportunity for the authors to give information and statistics on the coal mining industry and our society’s reliance on coal as a form of energy. Currently, coal produces approximately half of the United States’ electricity while demand for coal is projected to grow by approximately 1.5% per year. Coal is listed as the worst pollutant per unit energy extracted, being responsible for 81% of CO2 emissions. Two-thirds of the coal reserves are found in four countries: the United States, Russia, China, and India. China, however, is the chief consumer of coal, more so than any other countries combined, and has considerably driven up the price of coal on the global market. Next, the paper discusses life cycle analysis as a means of accounting for the full cost of coal. In order to estimate the damages, the authors examine the many life stages of coal and attempt to monetize the associated externalities; in other words, they are attempting to show what coal would cost if the market internalized all social costs that are currently not being accounted for. The authors account for the uncertainties of such method by assigning low, best, and high monetary estimates for the damages. They evaluate each stage of the coal life cycle: underground mining, mountain range mining, mining, transportation, combustion, waste disposal, and electricity transmission. The results from these monetized externalities are tabulated in Table 3. The authors’ report calculates that the externalities related to coal is $325.3 billion, with a 175.2 to 523.3 billion range. However, they do note that there are many limitations to their data. In reality, some of the externalities are not easily quantifiable and the difficulty of assigning value to a life. In conclusion, there is no doubt that coal is currently vital to providing energy in our lives, but there is a MUCH HIGHER price to pay. The total price of coal’s life cycle goes way beyond the price we see as consumers. Although the authors’ results are uncertain and possibly not fully representative of the problem, they give us reason to be extremely concerned with our future consumption of coal, thus forcing us to look into fuel alternatives or policies that would help control the effect of the externalities. The paper concludes with the authors’ recommendations for how we, as a society, should proceed. Essentially, they suggest phasing out coal and starting to use cleaner, more efficient energy sources. The recommendations, while helpful, did not provide any costs to implementation. We question the costs of the infrastructure of phasing out coal and the subsequent cost to society, directly and indirectly. The next step would probably be to analyze these potential costs and doing some sort of cost-benefit analysis. We did not discuss this as a class but, as a group, we recognized that by reducing coal production, there would be jobs lost. However, we realized that the benefits of reducing the externalities outweighed the costs of lost jobs, granted that coalminers do not make up a large portion of the labor market on a national or even global level. Coalminers are often low skilled laborers in towns revolved around the coal mining industry and although it would be costly for the individual, it would most likely not have an effect on the economy. Though politicians might make one think that scaling back coal mining would result in the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs, the reality is that the total number of coalminers currently employed in the entire United States is around 80 thousand.
Toggle Commented Feb 12, 2014 on Paper for next Tuesday at Jolly Green General
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Feb 12, 2014