Coal and sustainability: can they be combined?

Author Vlastimil Vilímek | Praha on 22.9.2023

Coal: Why is it so important? Let me start with a story. There was once a man who called himself John D. Rockefeller, became a pioneering figure in the oil industry and earned himself a position as one of the richest men of his era. His secret was to anticipate potential change and adapt to it.

At the time Rockefeller entered the oil business, oil was considered a less valuable energy source than coal, which was the main driver of the Industrial Revolution. But Rockefeller saw oil as a more efficient and cleaner source of energy. Let’s go back to a time when coal was considered the pinnacle of the energy industry. Cities were drowning in grey thanks to the constant burning of coal. When Rockefeller began to offer oil as an alternative energy source, he was considered by many to be a madman.

But as we now know, he turned out to be right. Coal remains one of the most important pillars of our energy infrastructure today. It is not only the main source of energy for power stations, but also a key element in steel production. The coal industry has been a fundamental source of energy for human civilisation for centuries. It involves the extraction, processing and distribution of coal, a fossil fuel that plays a key role in our current energy infrastructure. The coal industry has provided the energy we need to power factories, heat homes and generate electricity. Without it, our modern society would not be what it is today.

However, with a growing understanding of the environmental impacts associated with the production and use of coal, more and more people are turning to the issue of sustainability. Sustainability is a concept that refers to the use of resources in a way that preserves them for future generations. This means minimizing harmful impacts on the environment while ensuring that economic and social needs are met.

So the question is: Is it possible to combine the coal industry and sustainability?

At first glance, it may seem that these are two incompatible concepts. The coal industry is often associated with greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution and negative impacts on human health and biodiversity. Sustainability, on the other hand, seeks to preserve and protect our environment for future generations. But perhaps we should reframe the question and think about how we can transform the coal industry to be more sustainable. This could include investing in cleaner technologies, research and development of low-carbon coal, using coal as a raw material for other products or even switching to alternative, renewable energy sources. This could reduce the environmental impact of the coal industry while ensuring that we have enough energy for future generations.

So, yes, perhaps it is possible to combine the coal industry and sustainability. But it will require bold action, innovation and compromise. And most importantly, it will require a willingness to think about the kind of world we want to leave to our children and grandchildren. However, coal is also a major source of greenhouse gases. Its combustion produces large amounts of CO2, which contributes to global warming, which presents us with the so-called ‘coal paradox’.

How can we continue to use a resource that is so important to our economy and our way of life, while trying to avoid the devastating impacts of climate change? We are looking for ways to make the coal industry sustainable. We are working to develop cleaner coal combustion technologies such as desulphurisation and fly ash removal. We are also exploring carbon capture and storage (CCS), which could reduce CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants. Yet even these technologies are far from perfect and come with their own challenges. For example, CCS is still costly and the safety of long-term storage of CO2 underground remains a question mark.

However, it is clear that if we want a sustainable future, we have to deal with the dilemma of coal. We must find ways to use coal more efficiently and cleanly, while at the same time looking for alternative energy sources. Just as Rockefeller saw the potential in oil more than a century ago, we must now look for new pathways to sustainability. We must be willing to embrace change and adapt to it, just as Rockefeller did before us.

Because at the end of the day, sustainability is not only about how we protect our planet, but also about how we preserve our way of life and our societies for future generations.

Thank you for reading and commenting.

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