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There is one story about a man sitting on a barrel full of powder. He holds a candle in his hand guessing whether it will explode or not. The same deals with the current situation in the world. The fact is that the last several decades could be characterized by the increased popularity of environmental concerns and a great level of attention devoted to different aspects of human activity that might have a certain impact on our planet and environment. The rise of the level of interest to these issues is not accidental as now we can observe the gradual worsening of our environment and the appearance of numerous problems related to it. We are like that man as we try to guess whether the planet will be able to cope with all problems or not.
However, scientists, activists, and common people give great attention to the possible solutions to these very problems. One of the suggested ways is to give up using energy resources that harm the environment and coal is one of them. It is expected that if to close all coal-fired power plants the situation will improve significantly as they are very environmentally unfriendly. The given problem becomes so significant that numerous strategies could be explored to achieve this goal and help humanity to become more friendly to our planet by reducing the number of emissions and other harmful substances. Yet, the shutdown of coal-fired power plants is unjustified considering that there is no reliable alternative, we are not prepared for the possible economic domino effect; most notably, it does not constitute a solution for climate change.
The grounds of this problem could be traced back to the previous century when coal had become one of the main sources of energy. The rapid rise of the industrial sector peculiar to the 20th century preconditioned the increased need for power. That is why humanity managed to create thousands of coal-fired power plants to satisfy this very need and provide people with the desired energy. It is obvious that environmental concerns were less topical at that period and people did not think about the consequences of their actions. However, the further development of the industrial sector along with the constantly increasing need for energy resulted in the reconsideration of the approach to this very source of energy. Additionally, the rise of environmental concerns triggered numerous researches in the given sphere. Some of them constituted the pernicious impact it might have on the climate by great CO2 emissions, global warming, etc.
Additionally, because coal deposits are exhaustible, the further exploration of this very mineral might result in a serious crisis. However, there are opponents of the given perspective who state that the total rejection of coal is impossible as it will result in the collapse of the industrial sector. Additionally, the latest researches in the given sphere doubt the overwhelming negative effect coal-fired plants might have on climate and global warming (Mantel). These facts introduce the ground for vigorous discussions between the adherers and opponents of the idea of the prohibition of coal-fired plants. That is why the arguments against the rejection of coal are provided in the given paper and discussed to improve the comprehending of the issue.
Main reasons to support the argument
Therefore, we are all striving for an ideal ecological planet. However, we should say that the EPA’s proposed regulations on coal-fired power plants will cause unemployment, thereby hinder our economy. It could be considered the first argument against the shutdown. Notably, the plan is still on stay, so as always historical examples of such policies come into play to direct us as to what we can expect. For instance, the UNFCCC’s Kyoto Protocol established territorial-based regulations for developed countries to reduce emissions (Helm 4). It marked the UNFCCC’s first attempt to console the stubborn climate change peril. On paper this seemed impeccable; however, in reality, as with most climate change regulations, this led to businesses moving their production to underdeveloped countries where regulations were not so robust. Consequently, this means fewer jobs for people; nevertheless, for our economy, the domino effect is much graver. Fewer people will be able to pay taxes; this creates a financial deficit for the government; in return, this leads to less money invested in education, health programs, and law enforcement. Furthermore, almost identical projections were made for the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.
A recent study by National Economic Research Associates showed that Electricity prices would increase by at least 20% in 28 states while 41 states would witness increases of at least 10% (“The Pros and Cons of the Administration’s Clean Power Plan” 12). This was also reinforced by The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, a 10% increase in electricity prices would yield the loss of 1.2 million jobs (“Pros and Cons of Clean Power Plan “ 12). In comporting these studies with reality, we find that Americans will be losing jobs because when electricity prices increase, businesses’ capitals and profits will not comprise employees. It prompts a second economic domino effect in which not only rural coal-mining towns will suffer from unemployment and less disposable income, but agricultural and manufacturing industries will also yield their share of job losses (Febrizio). All things considered, this is not to say that our economic well-being is the antithesis of environmental health, but it does point out the fact that regulations are asymmetrical with our economic reality, which is often abandoned in governmental decisions. As such, announcements of plans and the signing of bills via propaganda tools do not constitute substantial solutions to the climate change crisis.
Furthermore, we currently do not have an alternative source of energy, and the EPA’s alternative of Natural gas cannot be an environmentally responsible decision. According to the Energy Information Administration, in 2015 coal has generated 33% of electricity in the U.S, as much as natural gas (“What is U.S. electricity generation by energy source?”). Currently, the EPA claims that natural gas is way cleaner than coal with a leak rate of 1.8 all while admitting that this is likely inaccurate and based on limited data (McKenna).
On the opposite side of the EPA’s claim, Anthony Ingraffea (a member of the EPA Science Advisory Board on hydraulic fracturing) disagrees when he says that according to the latest findings, natural gas could be considered the dirtiest source of energy from a climate change point of view (McKenna). It is also worth mentioning that the term ‘limited data’ is a reference to the EPA’s imprecise way of measuring emissions, the EPA key component for measuring emissions, emission factors, is based on limited measurements conducted in the early 1990s (Mckenna). Given these points, I cannot help but admit blaming of the coal industry for the crimes of all its fossil fuel siblings without actually holding the other industries accountable, by contrast, we underestimated their crimes towards the environment. Could it be industrial/political nepotism?
Lastly, the current motif around the coal-fired power plant debate is that it is part of a panacea for climate change. However, evidential consensus shows that the shutdown of U.S coal-fired power plants will not make significant changes to international carbon emissions because coal is still the most reliable and cheap source of energy worldwide. As per the International Energy Agency, China is accountable for half of the global coal usage (“Coal”). This compels us to deduce that climate change is not a one man’s show, but China and the U.S are lead actors. Moreover, the U.S is pursuing the shutdown of coal-fired power plants; however, 76% of its total coal exports went to European and Asian markets, as reported by the Energy Information Administration (“Most U.S. coal exports went to European and Asian markets in 2011″).
To further elaborate on this, Hans-Werner Sinn introduces the Green Paradox theory in his book Green Paradox; he argues that future carbon consumption reductions will have the effect of speeding up climate change (Sinn 54). If we were to apply this theory here, it would illustrate the issue in an original outlook that considers every side of the ongoing discussion concerning coal-fired power plants. On the one hand, it represents the environmentalism contradiction of the U.S pursuit for a complete shutdown of coal-fired power plants vs. its evidential account of carbon leakages in European and Asian countries. We can follow a line of thinking that the U.S has by no means exerted substantial and conscious efforts to solve the climate change issue, and as sedation for environmentalists’ protests, it declared the inefficient Clean Power Plan using the mainstream media platforms as cheerleaders.
On the other hand, some people believe that coal-fired power plants should be closed because it will result in a significant improvement in the environment. For reasons like coal creates too much pollution, there is no longer an economic need for it, and unemployed communities affected by the shutdowns can obtain jobs in the clean energy sector. Audibly, the coal-fired power plants’ argument is based on its contribution to climate change and in return its harmful environmental impacts. The fact is that the coal mining process results in habitat destruction. Moreover, certain ecosystems might be impacted by this very industry. Another problem is that coal dust might cause numerous problems with lungs and trigger cancer (Mantel). Additionally, this very position is supported by the fact that many environmentalist organizations assert that coal is responsible for the greatest share of greenhouse emissions in the U.S at 37% (Mantel). Besides, using these very arguments, the adherers of the idea of shutdowns justify their position and try to achieve their goal.
Nevertheless, we could say that these arguments are not strong enough and could easily be refuted. First of all, the closing of coal-fired plants will not help to solve the problem of global warming and climate change. Coal is a dirty source of energy; however, its extraction is much easier if to compare it with the natural gas one. Being a low-carbon alternative to coal, natural gas could not solve the problem. The fact is that scientists mainly speak about CO2 emission when the negative effect of methane which comes along with natural gas is ignored (McGylann). According to some ecologists, methane has “105 times more warming impact pound for pound than carbon dioxide” (McGylann).
It means that in case we give up using coal as the main source of energy and prefer to explore natural gas, the situation will become even much worse because of the methane emissions. It could also be proved by the World Bank analysis which shows that natural gas production is responsible for 20% of human-induced methane emissions (McGylann). Another significant factor is that methane pollutes not only air. Underground waters might also suffer from the negative effect caused by this very element. Contaminated water might trigger the evolution of such diseases like Cholera, Dysentery, etc. That is why even if we manage to close the majority of coal-fired power plants, the situation will hardly improve because of the complex character of natural gas extraction and the pernicious impact methane has on the environment.
Economic factors are another argument that is very often mentioned by all participants of debates around this very issue. The fact is that the stable economy is one of the keys to the further evolution of our society, increased well-being, and prosperity. At the same time, it also stimulates the industrial sector and vice versa. However, in case coal-fired power plants are closed, a collapse of the economy could be observed. Thousands of people will lose their jobs and be not able to maintain their families. Besides, adheres of the idea of mass shutdowns state that these unemployed people will be able to find jobs in the clean energy sector. However, this statement is far from reality. For instance, in Kentucky, an all-time low of 17.9% with a current number of 6,900 jobs is reached at the moment (Estep). In West Virginia’s employment decreased by 16%. Overall, the United States’ coal employment decreased by 12% to 65,971 employees (“Annual Coal Report”). It could be considered the consequences of shutdowns in the given sphere. Additionally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the unemployment rates are very high at the moment and could be considered dangerous (“West Virginia has the Highest Unemployment Rate”).
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It becomes obvious that this very sphere of industry provided people with workplaces and there are industrial regions that are dependent on the coal industry. That is why for generations people used to be coal workers and it was the only source of their income. Being deprived of an opportunity to work in this very sphere, these very workers are not able to find other jobs as they are not suitable, and especially those in the solar energy sector. Another problem is that the main alternative power plants are concentrated in certain regions, and workers have to move to obtain a job. It introduces a new challenge as not everyone could leave home because of several reasons. Finally, wages are much lower, and they could not satisfy the current demands of workers who used to work in the given industry. That is why we could conclude that in case coal-fired power plants are closed, workers will not be able to find appropriate jobs and their communities will be torn apart, doing great harm to local economies. Like so many others, I do not believe that we should close down coal-fired power plants when it has built fences that supported communal foundations as well as economic ones. Especially when there are no rooted solutions to the fall back that such a decision would cause.
Altogether, we could say that the increased importance of environmental concerns is one of the main features of the modern world. The blistering rise of the industrial sector preconditions the appearance of the great need for energy. That is why coal-fired power stations were created to satisfy this very need. However, the alteration in human mentality and appearance of environmental problems contributed to the shift of priorities towards the negative attitude to this very source of energy. Numerous concerns about global warming and climate change triggered the comprehensive investigation of the given issue. In this regard, there are numerous researches which proclaim the total rejection of this sort of power plants to be an efficient way to improve the current environmental situation. This statement could be doubted because of several important reasons.
First of all, it will result in the collapse of the industry as this sphere creates numerous workplaces and provides significant incomes to the budget. The second argument about the low efficiency of this measure is the absence of a real alternative to this very source of energy. At the moment we are not able to replace it. Finally, we also state that according to the latest research findings, the pernicious impact of coal-fired power plants and their unique role in global warming is not obvious. For this reason, we could conclude that the given measure is not wise as it will not guarantee the desired result. On the contrary, it could trigger the appearance of other, more complex problems related to the current state of the environment. In this regard, some other ways to improve the state of the environment should be suggested.
“Annual Coal Report.” U.S Energy Information Administration, 2016, Web.
“Coal.” International Energy Agency, Web.
Estep, Bill. “Coal jobs in Kentucky fall to lowest level in 118 years.” Herald Leader, 2016, Web.
Febrizio, Mark. “Lesson for EPA: Higher Energy Prices Harm People” Institute for Energy Research. 2015, Web.
Helm, Dieter. The Carbon Crunch: How We’re Getting Climate Change Wrong – and How to Fix It. Yale University Press, 2012.
Mantel, Barbara. “Coal Industry’s Future.” CQ Researcher. 2016, Web.
McGylann, Daniel. “Fracking Controversy.” CQ Researcher. 2011, Web.
McKenna, Phil. “The EPA’s Natural Gas Problem.” Public Broadcasting Service, Web.
“Most U.S. coal exports went to European and Asian markets in 2011.” U.S Energy Information Administration, 2012, Web.
“The Pros and Cons of the Administration’s Clean Power Plan.” Congressional Digest, vol. 95, no.2, 2016, pp.10-31, Web.
Sinn, Hans-Werner. The Green Paradox: A Supply-Side Approach to Global Warming. MIT University Press, 2012.
“West Virginia Has Highest Unemployment Rate Among the States in August 2015.” Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015, Web.
“What is U.S. electricity generation by energy source?” U.S Energy Information Administration, 2016, Web.