Coal is far and away the dirtiest source of energy. Not only does it account for around 45% of global CO2 emissions, but sulphur and particulates from coal burning also continue to cause serious and health-threatening smogs in many places – particularly in China. The mountains of ash created by coal burning also represent a serious environmental hazard. Add to that the dangers in coal mining – around 1,000 Chinese coal miners died on the job in 2013 – and the scars on the landscape from open cast coal mining, and any reasonable person would conclude that reducing coal usage should be at the very top of environmental policy.
But things have been going in the opposite direction. Since 2002, global coal consumption has increased by 60% – mostly in China and India.
In view of the huge environmental importance of the coal issue it is strange that there are so few recent books about coal. Richard Martin’s “Coal Wars – the future of energy and the fate of the planet” is therefore very welcome. Martin’s is an account the coal industries in the USA and China today, with on-the-spot reporting from coal mining regions. The analysis of the Chinese industry is particularly interesting, with insights into the reasons why the Chinese coal industry is so polluting and dangerous – but also so essential to China’s economy. This is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand not only the dangers of coal, but also the challenges in reducing dependency on coal.