Coal - Lethal Energy
If every automobile on Earth was a zero emissons vehicle, powered by originally sourced solar or wind energy, it wouldn't make enough of a dent on stopping the rise in global CO2 emissions today. This is because Fossil Fuel Power Plants form the greatest source of C02 emissions by far. Coal is a member of the Fossil Fuels, along with oil and natural gas. Coal is the most dangerous form of energy on the planet today because of its huge use as an energy source for global electricity generation and the output CO2 this produces. It is projected to become an even greater source of CO2 pollution in the future.
World coal consumption is calculated in 2007 to be about 5.3 billion tons annually and it is estimated that this will rise to at least 7 billion tons by 2025 or even more. China and India are expected to be the largest contributors to the rise in the future, unless everyone comes to their senses.
Almost everything about burning coal is not good for humanity. One could argue that we never should have used it as an energy source to begin with, but in the early 1900's, it was all we knew for energy. Today, there is no excuse for building another coal power plant anywhere. Sequestration has been proposed as the solution for coal plants, by pumping the CO2 into the ground, but it is like putting your household waste in the closet, and hoping nobody opens the door when you sell the house - there are only so many closets in a house, and there are better designs for houses.
The world will have to live with the legacy of the current coal power plants we do have, and start to clean up our problem by switching to more solar and wind power and through better technical conservation of energy. Nuclear energy is cleaner than coal and creates no C02, but it has its own problems, requires the safest reactor technology to be used, and should only be used as a transition energy to renewables and then phased out. The economic solution is one of universal compliance to the alternative renewable energies. If all countries are forced to comply through trade requirements, then there is no economic problem anymore - its a level playing field.
Burning coal creates massive amounts of CO2 for the world and in addition to this, large amounts of another pollutant called sulphur dioxide (SO2). The SO2 emissions themselves cause acid rain which has contributed to the environmental degradation of many lakes in both the United States and Canada that were downstream from the coal power plants. Many lakes in Canada that were once full of fish have now been impacted by acid rain. This same fate awaits China and India due to their rapid construction of coal plants in their countries, and it will probably be more severe.
In 2005, the U.S. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) estimated that 39% of the C02 emissions in the United States came from fossil fuel electricity generation plants of which approximately 82% of the generation was from coal fired power plants. Transportation represented about 30% of the U.S's C02 emissions, Industrial (15%), Residential Heating (11%) and 3-4% for other sources.
The U.S. used to be the largest overall CO2 global polluter, but today it is estimated that China may have surpassed the U.S. in CO2 output or will do so very soon. India is also very dependent on coal as a source of power, with ever increasing numbers of coal fired generation plants being built. In India it is estimated that 64% of the total electricity generation currently comes from burning fossil fuels, of which coal represents close to 82% of that number.
The overall analysis is that everyone has this coal problem, and humanity is in desperate need to change course and reduce its dependence on coal and other fossil fuels for energy. Wind generation has not been exploited enough, and solar and geothermal energy are in their infancy. Humanity needs to work much harder at the technical solutions as though our lives depended upon it - which they do. If we don't do something soon about the disregard we have for nature, then all of us will suffer the consequences. The writing is on the wall - why do we fail to read it?