The Cost of Coal

More fine work by Ami Vitale in slide shows for the Sierra Club multimedia web site ‘The Cost of Coal‘, with sections on West Virginia, Michigan and Nevada.

Its a presentation that brings home the real cost of coal in terms of the health of the people who live in these areas. Sierras executive editor Steve Hawk and photographer Ami Vitale

spent about a month on the road, talking to people on porches in West Virginia, at playgrounds near Detroit, and in darkened single-wides in the Nevada desert. Our concept was to show how coal damages lives in all three phases of its energy-generating cycle: when it’s extracted, when it’s burned, and when the leftover waste is discarded. DIG, BURN, DUMP. That was the title we’d envisioned.

But we kept hearing a different phrase, from all quarters. First, from defiant Donna Branham in Appalachia, whose once tight-knit family atomized after a mountaintop-removal mine shuttered her hometown: “They always talk about the cost of coal. I can tell you the true cost of that lump of coal. It cost my family.”

Coal as the web site says is truly “a dirty industry” and one that is supported in the US by massive lobbying. Companies like those owned by the Koch brothers put massive amounts into lobbying (though they make more from oil, another polluting fossil fuel)  They are reported as putting “more than $20 million on lobbying in 2008 and $12.3 million in 2009” and were named as the US’s “most prominent funders of efforts to prevent curbs on fossil-fuel burning” by Los Angeles Times reporter Margot Roosevelt.

Fracking and oil from tar sands are other examples of fossil fuel extraction that is causing massive environmental damage, and of course while the extraction has terrible local effects, the use of these fuels which generate large amounts of carbon dioxide is a global disaster. The results seem increasingly likely to be catastrophic, perhaps terminally so for our civilisation.

The Beyond Coal campaign by the Sierra Club states clearly:

Coal is an outdated, backward, and dirty 19th-century technology.

Not only is coal burning responsible for one third of US carbon emissions—the main contributor to climate disruption—but it is also making us sick, leading to as many as 13,000 premature deaths every year and more than $100 billion in annual health costs.

The Beyond Coal campaign’s main objective is to replace dirty coal with clean energy by mobilizing grassroots activists in local communities to advocate for the retirement of old and outdated coal plants and to prevent new coal plants from being built.

It aims to close a third of the US’s 500 coal fired power stations by 2020, replacing them “by clean energy solutions such as wind, solar, and geothermal” and wants to keep  “coal in the ground in places like Appalachia and Wyoming’s Powder River Basin.” It’s literally vital that we cut carbon emissions drastically.

I’ve not photographed the environmental destruction caused by opencast mining in the UK at sites such as Ffos-y-Fran in Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales, though long ago I did photograph some of the disused deep mines there, closed not because of the pollution but because we could get cheaper coal from overseas. And more recently I’ve photographed a number of protests in London related to dirty coal, and mining and power generation using coal.

This was a protest on April 1 2008, dubbed ‘Fossil Fools Day’ against the company that owns the open cast mine at Merthyr.

And in 2011 there was a protest against the activities of the Koch Brothers outside their London offices, though it was too windy that day to put up the giant banner – which was used a couple of months later at the US embassy.

and it was used again for another protest outside their offices the following year:

when the Koch brothers were also with the protesters for a very cold open-top bus tour across the city to the US embassy.


My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

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