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Most electricity in Australia is generated by burning coal. This leads to a few problems, most notably global warming — coal is roughly 80% carbon — but Australia swears by its coal anyway. We have to have electricity, and electricity is produced by burning coal. Therefore, Australia must burn coal. We’ll shame people into using less electricity, so less coal will have to be burned. We’ll up prices to force them to use less electricity, too. We’ll insist on the existence of “clean coal”, a truly mythical form of coal that will not contribute to global warming.

All of this really pisses me off. Why? Because coal is completely extraneous to electricity generation. Electricity is generated by the movement of metal parts. All coal is used for is boiling water such that the steam may move the metal parts. People waving these parts around would generate electricity. You could make bikes with the parts attached to the pedals, and when ridden they would generate electricity. You could stick the parts in the ocean and the tides would generate electricity. You could get some wind to blow the parts around, and you would generate electricity. The only reason we use coal is because thousands of miners would be put out of work otherwise. Well, that and coal generates electricity faster, but that could easily be compensated for with extra generators. The main reason is the miners.

There are so many ways to generate electricity that do not rely on burning manifestations of carbon that take millions of years to form. For as long as we have a planet, and for as long as we fail to destroy it, we will have wind, water and sunlight. The electricity produced by these things is in no way inferior to that produced by fossil fuels. Yes, it’s hard to produce solar energy at night, wind energy on windless days, and tidal energy at low tide. Use them all in conjunction and store excess electricity at the time of production. Give every house a solar panel and/or a wind turbine, so people won’t run out of power thanks to greedy neighbours1. Emphasise the importance of not using more than your fair share — since the government already does this, it won’t require a change2.

The government could do this, if they wanted to. If they really cared about the environment or global warming, they would. In a democracy, however, governments can’t care about the environment or global warming, because only a select few would vote for a party whose mission statement was, “Less jobs, less electricity, better future.” Ordinary people don’t understand the oxymoron in “clean coal”, nor how global warming actually works. However, they do understand what losing their job would mean, or what blackouts mean. So it looks like Australia will continue using coal, for the next few decades at least, regardless of how pointless it actually is.

  1. Unless they live in a flat, that is
  2. Except the ads won’t be able to feature black balloons any more!
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2 Comments

  1. I suppose my main issue is that I don’t understand how profitability is a justification for anything. Fine, I can see why a company would want to turn a profit. That doesn’t make their actions intrinsically good! Companies leave destruction in their wake wherever they are permitted to, because that’s the profitable thing to do. Does this make destruction an intrinsically good thing to do? No, of course not.

    Back to the energy issue, we have here a form of power generation that will polarise the world’s weather, cause many organisms to become extinct, and probably complicate food production (especially in Australia). Then we have another form of power generation that will do none of this, but is more expensive. Because it’s profitable, we go for the cheap option. This makes sense to some people, but not to me.

    In fact, it makes so little sense to me that I forgot to address it in the entry. My comments about the miners were made because the desire to keep people employed does make sense to me, even though I think we have more pressing concerns.

    If my science is wrong, please correct me. I’ve forgotten exactly how electricity is generated, but I’m very sure it has something to do with a metal rod revolving around a magnet (or vice versa). If I’m mistaken, and if carbon actually does have some part to play, I’d love to hear what that is.

  2. I disagree that coal is useless…It would be useless if no one “used” it….That’s obviously not the case.

    I also disagree that the miners are the main reason coal is being used. People lose their jobs all the time…Whole industries go out of business quite frequently. The world would come to a standstill if this were not the case.

    I believe the main reason coal is used is because it is profitable to do so…There is a tremendous amount of coal in the world and it is cheap compared to oil and oil based products.

    If solar, wind, etc were profitable they would be widely employed.

    Governments don’t operate on profits and loses, which is why they should stay away from energy production. Just look at the embarrassment of government getting into ethanol.

    Energy needs to be supplied by private enterprise (without government subsidies) and we can be sure that the energy source that is demanded most will be supplied.


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