Coal Impacts Could Push 122 Million People Into Poverty
Coal, one of the world’s most valuable economic resources, is keeping the poor impoverished and, in some cases, making them poorer.

According to a new Oxfam report, coal impacts could push 122 million people into extreme poverty by 2030.

While it is true that coal can help spread economic growth, more economic production requires an already existing affordable and reliable energy supply. There are many alternatives to coal production that pollute less and are cost competitive.

For poverty to be reduced, a given economy must grow, just as poverty-reducing progress tends to help grow a given economy. Because of this, it is a common assumption that expanding coal’s economic presence aids those in poverty. Coal theoretically provides electricity to the poor, but the poor are able to use very little of that electricity due to its high costs.

People in rural areas do not use nearly as much electricity as those in cities. 84 percent of energy-poor households are in rural areas far from the grid, so an increase in coal-based energy has an insignificant economic impact in these areas and a negative environmental impact in cities.

Australia is one of the main offenders highlighted in Oxfam’s report.“Against the backdrop of an imperiled Great Barrier Reef and extreme weather disasters, Australia’s carbon pollution is continuing to climb — the tragic consequence of more than a decade of climate policy paralysis and short-term political opportunism,” said Helen Szoke, CEO of Oxfam Australia.

The study is pushing for Australia to stop boosting the coal industry, especially since Oxfam has proposed $300 million in subsidies for repurposing an old coal mine in Queensland.

Oxfam acknowledges the significant increase in the world’s poor in developing nations that do not benefit from changes in energy production, but the company is looking from a wider economic perspective. Oxfam’s recent report definitely proves the way in which coal impacts the environment and poverty around the world.

Mary Waller

Photo: Flickr

France to Close all Coal Power Plants
This November at an annual U.N. climate change conference, President Francois Hollande announced that by 2023, France will no longer rely on coal for any of its energy. The country already derives over 75 percent of its electricity from alternative methods and President Hollande’s announcement indicates that France is to close all coal power plants.

Coal is relatively cheap and easy, making it a popular global energy source. Today, it makes up 40 percent of the world’s energy. Coal energy also produces 39 percent of global Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions.

Besides the heavy release of CO2 into the atmosphere, coal as an energy source is problematic in many ways. The mining and extraction process for obtaining coal can have severely detrimental effects on the environment. The process can cause the destruction of landscapes and habitats, deforestation and erosion, contamination of groundwater, air and dust pollution and the displacement of communities.

Coal mining releases methane into the atmosphere. In terms of contributing to climate change, methane is about 84 times as powerful as CO2. On top of this, coal mining is a very dangerous job and can often have harmful effects on workers’ health. Those who inhale coal dust can suffer from black lung disease, cardiopulmonary disease and hypertension.

France’s decision to close all coal power plants comes in the wake of The Paris Agreement, an agreement made between 195 countries in 2015 to set the world on track to avoid dangerous climate change.

The country has become a leader in low-carbon energy production by increasing its use of nuclear fission, which produces many more health and environmental risks than fossil fuels. The country creates so much nuclear energy that it is able to export much of it to neighboring nations, bringing in substantial domestic revenue. The decision to cut all coal energy production by 2023 will even beat the United Kingdom’s decision to do the same by two years.

The announcement shows that France is committed to the Paris Agreement and the radical changes that come along with it. The country passed a bill in September banning the use of plastic cups, silverware and dishware, which will be implemented in 2020. France is the first country in the world to pass such a law.

Countries such as Germany, Finland, the UK and Canada are following France’s example and committing to similar ecological goals. The U.S. gets about 33 percent of its energy from coal and President-elect Donald Trump has not yet outlined a plan for reducing coal production.

Overall, France’s commitment to close all coal power plants by 2030 is an example to follow. The goals of the Paris Agreement require concrete dedication to stopping climate change, and France and President Hollande recognize this.

Peyton Jacobsen

Photo: Flickr

A new report points to renewable energy as the most efficient poverty-fighting strategy rather than burning coal. The study by Oxfam Australia revealed that coal is a poor power source for the majority of people living without electricity.

A report shows that more than one billion people worldwide do not have power and 84 percent of those people live in rural areas. Given that the cost of extending electricity grids to those rural areas offsets any economic incentive of coal power, renewable energy is the cheapest option.

Moreover, it is quicker to install local solar plants than to build coal plants. Dr. Simon Bradshaw, Oxfam Australia’s climate change policy adviser, explained that along with improving energy access, this strategy provides jobs, brings new prosperity and strengthens the foundations of development.

Bradshaw pointed to India as a real-life example of the wide-reaching benefits that the renewable energy strategy can bring. He made the critical distinction that India’s commitment to solar energy comes from a two-part intention: to make power more accessible to everyone but also to avoid emissions that threaten the environment.

The report showed that on top of threatening the country’s environment, the Australian government’s “love affair” with coal threatens Australia’s economic future. Given that renewable energy is looking to be the world’s leading source of electricity within the next 15 years, it is time for Australia to modernize.

Bradshaw even went so far as to accuse the Australian coal industry of falsely promoting coal as the most efficient solution for increasing energy access and reducing poverty across the globe. He claimed that the industry has taken on this strategy in the face of the rapid decline in the value of its assets.

The climate change policy adviser went on to explain the downside of the coal strategy. Along with failing to improve energy access for the world’s poor, burning coal contributes to hundreds of thousands of deaths annually due to air pollution. It is also the single largest contributor to climate change.

Climate change often works to perpetuate the poverty cycle. As explained by Bradshaw, the world’s poorest people can become increasingly vulnerable to increased risks of droughts, floods, hunger and disease that arise from climate change.

Bradshaw pointed out that along with India and China, other major economies have conducted major shifts in energy and climate policy. He urged the public not to zero in on previous shortcomings of the renewable energy strategy. Recently, new technologies like advanced batteries have worked to rectify past problems.

To wrap up his argument, he reminded the public that investors have been shifting their focus away from coal and toward renewable energy due to the evidenced damage that coal-burning can cause. He encouraged Australians and all citizens worldwide to “wake up to the changing global realities.”

There is no telling of the benefits that a united global shift towards renewable energy and away from coal-burning could bring to the worldwide anti-poverty fight. By looking at leading examples like India and China, however, we can rest assured of the majorly progressive steps that such a shift could achieve.

– Sarah Bernard

Sources: 9news, The Morning Bulletin
Photo: mediacoop

“Coal is a cure for poverty.” In a rejection of a popular argument on the part of the energy industry, World Bank climate change envoy Rachel Kyte has said that the continued extraction of coal has imposed heavy costs on civilians living in the world’s poorest communities.

At an event hosted by The New Republic magazine and the Center for American Progress, Kyte argued that while over a billion people worldwide lack reliable access to energy, coal extraction carries heavy social costs, among which is the loss of breathable air.

“If [poor communities] all had access to coal-fired power tomorrow their respiratory illness rates would go up, etc., etc.,” she said. “We need to extend access to energy to the poor and we need to do it the cleanest way possible because the social costs of coal are uncounted and damaging, just as the global emissions count is damaging as well.”

Such arguments come in response both to the increasing effects of global climate change on impoverished communities and to energy sector arguments that fossil fuel extraction can help alleviate global poverty. In its Advanced Energy for Life campaign, led by the world’s largest private-sector coal company Peabody Energy, the coal industry has argued that “coal is critically required to reduce energy poverty and to help achieve the U.N. development goals.”

But Oxfam International has refuted those claims, arguing that in addition to the more immediate implications of polluted local air and dirty extraction methods, the burning of coal is largely responsible for the acceleration of climate change that is primarily affecting poor, rural communities. In a statement directed at the Australian government – which, under Tony Abbott’s leadership, has abandoned its emissions targets and in 2014 became the first nation to repeal its carbon tax – Oxfam Australia argued that the proliferation of coal extraction runs contrary to the interests of civilians living in poor and developing countries.

“Even for rapidly growing urban populations, the past advantages of coal are diminishing as the cost of renewable energy falls and the harmful effects of coal become more and more evident,” reads the report, entitled Powering Up Against Poverty: Why Renewable Energy is the Future. “Burning coal poses significant health risks through air pollution – a major driver of China’s shift away from coal – and is leading to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths around the world.”

The report notes that the construction of coal mines is displacing many in the world’s poor communities and that extraction often leaves rural civilians without access to clean water and affordable land. Most importantly, the report notes, burning coal is the largest contributor to climate change, and “as such, it is creating havoc for many of the world’s poorest people, who are already feeling the impacts of climate change through decreased crop yields, increased risk of disasters and loss of land.”

Though the mining industry has channeled a huge amount of effort into convincing governments of the benefits of coal mining for poor communities, organizations in such communities have refuted those claims. In response to a claim made by conservative think tank the Institute of Public Affairs that increasing the supply of Australian coal to India would provide access to energy for 82 million people, Sirinivas Krishnaswamy, CEO of the Vasudha Foundation, said that those arguments “simply do not stand up to even the most basic scrutiny.”

In order to relieve poor communities around the world of the troubles perpetuated by the burning of fossil fuels, governments will need to resist the convenience and influence of already-established industries like coal. Moreover, they ought to embrace projects like the Lake Turkana Wind Farm, which, with subsidies from the Kenyan government, is set to provide the Kenyan people with energy at two-thirds the cost of electricity in the United States. However, until governments like Australia’s resist the influence of vested interests, they will continue to be working against the safety of their own environments, as well as the interests of poor people in developing countries.

Zach VeShancey

Sources: The Guardian, Think Progress, Advanced Energy for Life, OXFAM
Photo: Free Stock Photos, Wikipedia

It’s black, it’s dirty, it’s smelly, and it’s often dangerous to obtain, yet it has the power to keep billions alive. Coal. An energy source for people on Earth for hundreds of years. Coal-burning can heat homes and provide power for massive electrical grids around the world. But the question being asked today is whether or not coal can cure poverty. Some believe it can while others maintain that other options must be explored.

First, the nonbelievers. On June 26, 2015, Huffington Post published an article, titled “No, Coal is NOT the Fix-All Solution to Energy Poverty,” that dove into analyzing how and why coal isn’t cutting it as a global fuel source. The article stemmed from Pope Francis’ encyclical “On the Care of Our Common Home,” a critique on the increasing global warming crisis as a direct result of human energy consumption. The pope’s message sent shockwaves throughout the world raising arguments for energy reform.

An excerpt from Huffington Post says, “Although fossil fuels and renewable energy are not mutually exclusive in aiding development efforts, the truth is that this claim is just another attempt by the industry to justify the continued use of fossil fuels.” The truth is, there are other more energy efficient ways out there to provide energy to the poor, but the powers that be don’t want the public to be aware.

One such energy source that is becoming more and more viable to the poor is solar panel technology. According to the Huffington Post article, solar panels are now less than half of what they cost in 2010. This technology is emerging as a legitimate rival for the coal industry, as well as developing into real hope for those in poverty across the globe. In addition to the growing industry of solar panels, global organizations such as the World Bank have stopped financing renewable resource projects worldwide with exceptions to rare situations.

As for the advocates of coal, the case is significantly weaker. An article by World Coal on June 24, 2015 makes the case for coal as the salvation to global poverty. An excerpt from this article reads, “On a global scale, coal fulfilled approximately half of the increase in energy consumption in the last decade. In the last century, the amount this source has produced is as much energy as nuclear, renewable, fuel oil and natural gas combined.” While this statistic appears impressive, it fails to acknowledge the crippling effects to our atmosphere. Coal is a good fuel source, but it comes at a great price. Billions of people on earth depend on coal to survive, but even more billions feel the effects of global warming because of it. So, do we need more or less to cure poverty?

– Diego Alejandro Catala

Sources: Huffington Post, World
Photo: Total Health Care

A group of Pacific Islanders has joined environmentalists in protesting climate change in Australia by blockading the Newcastle coal port, the world’s largest coal export terminal, with canoes, surfboards and kayaks. The members of island nations have come together in protest to attract scrutiny over Australia’s commitment to coal and its ultimate effect on the island nations.

The Pacific Climate Warriors’ Blockade

The activist group, the Pacific Climate Warriors, is comprised of members from a variety of island nations, including the Marshall Islands, Fiji, Vanuatu, Tokelau, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. Although there has been an annual environmental blockade of the Newcastle coal port for many years now, this is the first time the blockade has been strengthened with a Pacific Islander activist group.

The blockade only acts as a minor delay for the ships, which are headed by police escorts. The ships are still capable of leaving the massive port that sees more than 4,000 ship movements annually. Demonstrating the serious consequences of climate change that has resulted in the imminent loss of their island homes, the protesters have chosen not to passively wait as their nations become submerged. Instead, they have decided to fight against climate change.

The evidence of climate change is already apparent to the islanders through coastal erosion and the rising sea level, forcing the relocation of whole villages and threatening the very existence of the Pacific Islands and especially the atolls that encircle the seaboards.

Natural Disasters and Protests

Earlier in the year, massive floods during the seasonal tides hit the Marshall Islands, engulfing the capital, Majuro, and forcing the island’s president, Chris Loeak, to declare a state of emergency. In addition to increasingly severe weather, the sea level is expected to rice seven feet by the end of the century, due to a melting ice sheet in Western Antarctica.

The protest follows the recent role the Pacific Islanders took at the United Nations Climate Summit in New York in September, demonstrating to the many nations present at the summit the actions the island states were taking to combat climate change.

The protests have targeted Australia in particular due to its contribution to climate change. As the second largest coal exporter with the highest carbon emissions per capita in the world, Australia is heavily reliant on coal-fired power stations that employ tens of thousands of workers, causing whole towns to be reliant upon the mines for their livelihoods.

Hope and Politicians

In July, the conservative government, led by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, repealed a carbon tax on approximately 350 of the country’s largest polluters, depriving the government of an expected $7 billion over the next four years and requiring a new plan to reduce emissions that has yet to be seen.

Furthermore, a $16.5 billion project was approved over the summer to create what could possibly be the world’s largest coal mine. Despite the blockade’s physical ineffectiveness, the Pacific Islanders hope to amend the world’s apparent indifference to climate change.

William Ying

Sources: The Guardian 1, The Guardian 2, Al Jazeera 1, Al Jazeera 2, Huffington Post
Photo: Credo Action

China is one of the fastest growing countries in the world. With that being said, it can be safe to say that it has one of the fastest growing industries in the world. These industries require a lot more labor and resources. Recently, it has been reported that in order to “meet its growing energy needs, China is planning to build hundreds of coal fired power plants in the next few years.” However, developing the coal industry could have a devastating effect on China’s freshwater resources. The development of these plants threatens other areas such as drinking water supplies, industry, farming, and the environment.

In 2011, the Associated Press reported that around 68.4 percent of China’s energy came from coal. China’s coal industry is the fastest and most dominant in the country. Other nations such as the United States and Germany reported that around 30-37 percent of their energy came from coal. Moreover, China is the world’s largest consumer of coal. Around 50 percent of the world’s coal is consumed by China. This number is expected to grow.

According to the Washington Times, the Chinese government recently announced its plans to build 363 new coal-fired plants. The new power plants would increase the country’s coal-powered generating capacity from 68.4 percent to 75 percent. As a result, China’s coal consumption would significantly increase.

Although China’s industries depend on cheap, easy-to-use resources to keep the economy going, the cheap energy sources are considered dangerous and detrimental to society. One example is coal. Coal is considered to be the less costly and more effective way to address China’s energy problem. However, coal is extremely labor and water intensive. This creates a problem for people and for areas where water is scarce. In these areas, water resources can diminish further. The problem is that China does have enough water resources, however, these resources are not evenly distributed between communities. According to the Washington Times, “demographics, population, geography and politics make water a complicated issue.”

– Stephanie Olaya

Sources: Washington Times, Reuters

The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), a European non-profit, recently published a report entitled “The Unpaid Health Bill,” which elucidated the costs that coal-fire plants impart on citizens’ health. The study concluded that burning coal contributes to over $50 billion in lost resources annually, partially due to the over four million sick days required as a result of coal-fire plants. Even more shockingly, there are over 18,000 premature European deaths each year which can be attributed to this dirty form of energy.

HEAL’s Executive Director, Genon Jensen, urged that these findings “be taken into account when determining energy policy,” especially in consideration of the increasing levels of coal use in Europe. Her organization’s goals are to cease all production of coal-fire plants, and to completely end European use of coal by 2040.

Part of the reason alternative, cleaner energy sources seem so expensive when compared to conventional fossil fuels is because of an economic concept called “externalities,” which are essentially “side effects.” The costs associated with using coal go far beyond extracting the material and burning it; there are negative externalities such as the pollution of the atmosphere, which affects everyone breathing the air. If coal companies were forced to pay for all the costs of their business, they would be charged for the carbon they put into the air, in order to offset the costs everyone else has to bear. The positive externalities of renewable energy sources, like a reduction in medical costs and benefits to wildlife, can often go unrewarded. If governments recognized the amount they could save by switching to clean energy, and used part of those savings to subsidize the installation of such energy sources, then there could be an economically feasible plan for abandoning fossil fuels forever.

Jake Simon

Source: DW