So will it be the Emperor Coal?

I must begin by stating that I really don’t think I am that old! Why, you might ask, do I need to say that? Well, I have just finished reading “Coal – a Human History”, which, as I mentioned at the time, was recommended by Tim Appenzeller during his talk on coal, at the Emerging Technologies Summit in Santa Barbara last month. The presentations for which have now been posted, and the DVD’s will follow soon. Since I have also just finished Big Coal by Jeff Goodell, and Time had an article on Chinese coal it seemed a good time to revisit the subject. Particularly since there were a couple of papers at the Summit that spoke to one of Jeff Goodell’s issues.

So why do I need to start by commenting on my age? Well it is because I can remember the smogs of England before the Clean Air Act came in, I can light not only a coal fire (piece of cake) but also a coke fire (you try!), I have lain on my back to hand-load coal in a seam that was, at the time, some 20 inches high, I have “black-leaded” a stove, and holystoned a curb after shoveling coal into the “coal hole”. Which made reading the book, by Barbara Freese, to some degree a voyage down Memories Lane. And, I must admit, that, not having learned my lesson, this will be, not only a book review, but also a comment on where I think folks are making a bit of a mistake in remaining complacent about the future of the world energy supply, particularly as it relates to the old King of the fuel business.

It is interesting to look with the view from today, back on the contemporary comments as coal progressed from individual use into the power source that it has become. In Coal, Barbara Freese quotes the first observers of locomotives in 1830 as seeing “a huge monster in mortal agony, whose entrails are like burning coals.” Well, having seen a replica of Locomotion #1 (1825) toddling around the track at the Beamish museum it seemed like a small, almost toy-like artifact, so much has perspective changed. However we also no longer have the open carriages where, as she notes, “some of the more safety conscious railways had their passengers travel with buckets of sand in their laps to pour on each other after they caught fire.” This was from the flying embers landing in the carriages as the train reached speed.

Beamish lies in the lands of the Prince Bishops, and, as the book notes, much of the early development of mining in the UK was under church control. The NCB film Nine Centuries of Coal begins with women gathering coal that has washed ashore along the Northumbrian Coast, and carrying it to Tynemouth Priory, hence the name “sea coal”. Although the passage of time shifted ownership to the Crown. King Charles the Second, for example, allowed the Duke of Richmond to charge a shilling (20 shillings to a pound, and this was before the time of dollars) per chauldron (28 cwts) on all the coal shipped from Newcastle.

From the beginning coal use was a hard choice between the pollution that it generates, and the heat and power that it provides. The smogs and fogs that came with its widespread use persisted into the 1960’s and I can remember being in one so thick I could not see my hand in front of my face. But it also powered the Industrial Revolution, and provided an industry that, in the end, brought people through the initial traumas of the early industrial cities into the more healthy conditions of today.

That passage was not without many struggles, the book notes that a study had shown that it takes about an hour a day to tend a coal stove properly on the one hand, and there were the much greater social upheavals that embroiled nations in the conflicts between labor and management on the other. It was, I think in this latter aspect that I was a little disappointed that more was not made of the struggles that occurred. The stories of the Molly Maguire, The Ludlow Massacre and the social hardships of running families in small communities might have been more fully covered in a book that includes – a human history – in it’s title. In the latter regard, for example, my Great Grandmother had not only her husband, but also six sons work in the mine on shifts, and so throughout the week, she would be constantly getting one up, preparing his sandwiches, cooking for his supper, cleaning his gear, and helping with his bath, all at intermittent hours of the day, in an overlapping cycle so that she slept in the chair by the fire, and only saw her bed at weekends. My father said that she died of overwork. It was a common lifestyle of the time. The book does, however, speak to the difference between coal and oil. It differentiates between the glamour of oil, and the “bleak images of soot-covered coal miners trudging from the mines, supporting their desperately poor families in grim little company towns.” Coal has never had much respect as a fuel, and the book, in its evolution of the history, recognizes the impact that this has had, not just on the fuel, but also those that mine it.

Big Coal, on the other hand, is a more contemporary story, with the author visiting some of the mines, both the underground in the East, and the large open pit mines of Wyoming. He has the most fun riding the trains that carry Western coal out of the mining district and up onto the High Plains, as they carry the coal all across the country. But he also saw the pride and camaraderie that exist among miners. The spirit that can enliven a group struggling together in a physically demanding job, day after day, with the always-present danger of something going wrong. He describes some of the problems that led to the Quecreek Disaster and that it was one of those miners whose spirit so caught his attention.

Big Coal goes beyond just the mining however, to look also at the politics both of marketing the fuel, and of sustaining the share that coal has in the fuels portfolio, by looking at the politics of the power generation. And here there is some information from the Summit that is pertinent. In discussing the big problems of the gases and particles that come from a power station stack, he notes the difficulties in cleaning up the stack gases. Frank Alix discussed the use of ammonia as a means of getting not only the SO2, the NOX, the PM and Hg from the stack, but also in removing the CO2, in a form that can then be sequestered. Unfortunately, in a dash of reality (and as I commented at the time) while he can remove the gas at $15 a ton, Sally Benson also had done the cost calculations that showed that the sequestration costs could almost double electricity costs, and this led to some discussion in the audience, as to whether this would be publically acceptable, the consensus seeming to be not.

Both authors write about the problems that greenhouse gases are creating for the environment. Jeff Goodell is, however, willing to acknowledge the existence of the Oregon Petition signed by 17,000 “scientists” questioning the impact of GHG on global warming. However, he quickly points out that a check by Scientific American showed that only perhaps 200 of them were climate researchers. That in itself is a bit of a relief, since I was beginning to think that dissent on this topic had been banned by Papal Bull.

I would however quibble that if, as is the case, there is geological evidence (the ice cores mentioned in the National Research Council Report on Surface Temperature Reconstruction that show that Greenland was over one deg C warmer a thousand years ago; historical documents – Bardson’s contemporary comments about wheat growing in Greenland ; and archaeological records where they are digging though the permafrost to uncover the homes of the Greenland Vikings. and that just last week the Telegraph had a story that polar bears seem to be thriving as the arctic warms up, that this, collectively, seems to suggest that perhaps the discussion is too restricted if only confined to climate scientists. The information from those with expertise in the above disciplines might have a pertinent and valid point of view. The exact cause of the polar bear increase seems to be of some debate, conservationists feel that they should get some of the credit, but it is at the point that the Alaskan government is questioning their being put on the endangered species list and where their hanging onto iceberg shards has been recognized to be a standard practice while they look for lunch – as might have been known when the photo was used.

However, in dealing with numbers, there is a much more critical one that the book brings up, and that will likely lead to a more detailed post of how true they are (closer than you might like) and that relates to the actual coal reserves that exist. The book notes that the first survey of coal reserves was in 1909 when 2 USGS employees estimated the US held about 3 trillion tons of which about 2 trillion was considered mineable. This study was not superseded until 1974 when Paul Averitt, also of the USGS, did a more detailed study, that brought the practical number down to 483 billion tons of “reserve base” with about 50% of that being recoverable. However, in 1986 the USGS did a detailed study of the Matewan coalfield in south-eastern Kentucky and looked in more detail at the geological constraints that would better define true reserves. From this they concluded that the amount that could be recovered was more likely no more than 30% of the base.

In 1989 this study was updated with the help of the US Bureau of Mines (the agency that was eliminated in the last Administration) who brought a more realistic cost evaluation, from which it was concluded that the more realistic recovery percentages would be in the 5 – 20% range, and that, for places such as the Powder River Basin (where all the coal is currently strip mined for supply as low-sulfur coal to much of the US) may ultimately recover only 11% - given that most of the reserve base lies underground where it can no longer be easily stripped (in much the same as the oil sands of Alberta must ere too long also go underground).

These are worrisome numbers since, regardless of whether the GHG issue is resolved, there has always been this sense that if we gulped hard and accepted the cost (either in health, global warming or clean-up) there would be enough coal to get us through until the magic real answer arrived. Perhaps that is not going to be true, and the limitations of government to control some of these issues is becoming clearer.

Both the authors had been to China, and commented on the primitive nature of the coal mines outside the large industrial sites. Barbara Freese has a very good chapter on how mining arose in China and her visit to a small mine in the Ordos region of Inner Mongolia. Jeff Goodell was in Unumqi, in Xinjiang also in Western China but down closer to the India border but was more involved with the carbon capture theme by that time in the book. Both however tell an engrossing tale about the growth of Chinese mining. It is underlined, with an indication of the problems that the government of that country has in managing the coal industry, by last week’s Time article . Noting that 5,000 miners died in accidents in that country last year, officially, the problems go back to those with which I began this post. Whether in the mines of America and Europe early in the last century, or in China today, the power of the coal owners, and the dreadful working conditions that they impose on their miners, has not changed much. The need for the coal, and the money that can be made does not improve the conditions for many of the small, often illicit mines in the hinterland, and only the owners and the local and bribed officials get rich. It is a condition that the central government cannot, as yet change, but which takes time.

In the United States the laws have been changed to significantly improve mine working conditions and to enforce good practice, and in the main, the industry has benefited well from this. It is however critical that regulations to ensure that the mines are run well, and that the land is properly reclaimed after use, be in place and enforced. This means that an educated workforce and management be in place.

Jeff Goodell notes that in 2004 there were less than 100 mining graduates in the Universities of the United States, and 65,000 who graduated with a law degree. So I suppose that we will get the laws and regulations, the problem is getting those that are useful and pertinent. Chris Bise , who provided the information to him on the Mining Schools has just moved to West Virginia to take over the Department there, as the previous head retired. The number of experienced faculty is getting significantly lower, as his generation start to retire, and one occasionally wonders where the technologies that we will soon need to expand the reserve base beyond that low number might come from. But as I said, that is likely the topic for another post, and ultimately maybe a change in the name of this site to The Coal Bin, or some such, within the decade.

In a word? Yes. King Coal will become Emperor Coal, and its migration to dictatorial status is well underway. It took China roughly 20 years to double their coal consumption from 1980 to 2000. They will nearly double that again by sometime this year, if they've not already. As an aside, China's crashing coal exports in the past 7 years have been a handy, back-door shorthand as to their total rising energy needs, and have been a reliable guide to the trend in their oil consumption.

GeoHive is a nice site:

The FT in August of 2004 did a large piece on pan-Asia coal consumption, and the slated per annum buildout of coal fired electrical plants. They pegged that number at 1000 new plants over a 10 year period. That seemed extraordinary at the time, but lo and behold, the number for 2006 came in at 100. I remember doing a rough estimate of the Market Cap of the entire listed Coal Sector on US exchanges in 2003. It was barely pushing 12 billion. That quadrupled over 3 years into the highs of last Summer (2006).

I concluded after attending the recent ASPO meeting in Boston that coal was fated to be an interesting area, because it presented so many problems. Coal is a squeaky wheel indeed, and will only get louder.

What would China have done so far, without its coal, and how many of the 1000 slated coal fired plants will be built across Asia, before newer pollution-inhibiting technologies are integrated, not to mention gassification? My view is that Asia is reaching so hard for the coal, that all these Joint Venture Coal projects underway in CTL and Gassification will still be spitting out more data than product, as demand to burn coal the old-fashtoned way continues apace.

Anglo-American/Shell JV in Australia


Matt Simmons has a new presentation on coal:

Thanks I hadn't seen it.


My dad used to be baffled and bemused by our use of coal (anthracite) here on our little farm in Maine. He remembers being a kid in Ohio in the 40s and shoveling ash and tending the coal furnace. He said coal was 50 cents a ton then! Now we pay circa $300.00/ton!

Why do we use this "dirty fuel?" How else can you use an 1885 Cyrus Carpenter set range, with double ovens and water front? The only other option is wood, which is just too much work.

Five tons of coal gets us through five months of winter, providing the heat for half the house, all our hot water (hence, the water front), and all our cooking. Ash pan has to be emptied daily. Cans of ash go to the landfill or into a big hole in the woods out back left by loggers from the 40s. It gives us utter independence from The Grid and keeps us at home.

I'm alright Jack!...and isn't this just the problem worldwide. Everyone wants to just have it better for themselves without thinking about the general condition. So I'll just burn some coal and let others worry about the waste products and their effects.

Unlike you, of course, who are so virtuous that you waste nothing and pollute not a whit.

You apparently didn't hear that we're virtually off the grid (THE COAL HOG) and that we burn anthracite, which burns clean.

But who cares? What are you going to do, sic your minions on me?

Off the grid but still on the internet. That coal burning computer must be quite an innovation. Tell us about it.

Is it really too difficult for someone to understand that you can have internet connectivity and not be connected to the power grid at all yourself?

Or is it better to latch onto an opportunity to let the lizard brain run wild in an effort to smash another tribal member's reputation in order to further your own social fitness and inclusion?

In this case, it seems the answer is quite obvious.

Ghawar Is Dying
The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function. - Dr. Albert Bartlett

Coal will be king and for precisely this reason. Everyone pisses and moans about the kind of world we will leave "for our children and grandchildren", but nobody ever really gives a crap about future generations. When was the last time a meaningful policy was enacted and followed for the sake of "our children and grandchildren"? It's just another aspect of hypocrisy so prevelant today. Say one thing, do another. Then excuse it with "Do as I say, not as I do." Whatever.

When a family is offered the chance to heat their home for an entire winter at a price significanyly less than what they pay now (for oil or gas), it will be game time. Throw in the argument that since China and India are boosting their use of coal, it doesn't matter what we do with respect to the environment, and it's almost a no-brainer.

Interesting comparison chart here of home heating coal to other fuels. They say one ton of coal equals 8,200 KWh, 306 gallons of propane, or 1.4 cords of dry wood.

If (when) we run short of natural gas, I expect that people will turn to electric heating, since it seems to be readily available and clean. If this electric heat is derived from coal, how much is the equivalent amout of coal to the other calculations, delivered in this roundabout fashion?

If this roundabout approach is used, couldn't we end up with more demand on the grid than it is set up for?

Thanks for that useful link.

I'm not so sure you are free of the Grid because the prices you pay for the coal are tied by the whole economics of substitution; it is not, after all, your coal mine in the back yard which you have kept secret from everyone else. When the Grid gets tight, I'm thinking you will find that coal hard to find.

cfm in Gray, ME

Even in Pennsylvania, people willing to sell good anthracite coal to new customers were already hard to find. We looked into a variety of coal, wood, corn, wood pellet and even rice coal stoves, and found that wood and wood pellets were really the only fuel we could readily buy. We knew people that used coal, but none of the suppliers were interested in new customers.

Thanks for the information HO, always informative. From my research, "The Coal Bin" is prescient. The word from climate scientists is that China's coal burning is already directly impacting weather on the West Coast through heightened levels of particulates (more rain--I didn't think that was possible).

I have to take issue with your description of US coal mining as being under the direction of laws that "significantly improve mine working conditions"--no matter how much pixie dust is sprinkled over coal mining, it will never be a safe activity. I agree that conditions have changed somewhat since the 1970s, but they haven't fundamentally altered the nature of coal mining (not that you were advocating a position like that). Workers have not benefitted from rising coal prices or legislation nearly as much as mine owners.

Two recommendations of further reading/watching for the TOD faithful interested in coal:

(1) An Oscar winning 1976 documentary on coal workers, entitled "Harlan County USA"--one of the best films I've ever seen.

(2) An article by Paul J. Nyden entitled "Rank-and-File Rellions in the Coal Fields, 1964-80" that was published in the 03/07 issue of the Monthly Review--it should be available by the end of the week at:

I have to take issue with your description of US coal mining as being under the direction of laws that "significantly improve mine working conditions"

Depends on how far back you look. In the late 1800's/ early 1900's the US averaged a few thousand coal mining deaths per year, about 100 to 1000x higher than today.

And mining is no longer in the top ten most dangerous occupations:

Nevertheless, I wouldn't want the job of coal miner.

This issue of "Devon's Paradox" and using up benefits of technology is beautifully (and tragically) illustrated by the history of the Davy Lantern.

The introduction of the Davy lamp actually led to an increase in accidents in mines as the availability of the lamp encouraged the working of mines that had previously been closed for safety reasons

Ha! Thanks. I confused it with my DEVON cow!

China to invest $13 billion in coal-based chemicals base

Mumbai: China is investing $13 billion to build a liquefied-coal chemicals project in northwest Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.

Expected to be Asia's largest facility of its kind, the project would produce methanol and other chemicals from coal to meet China's growing demand for energy alternatives.


The chemical plant will convert over 5 million tonnes of coal annually into chemicals such as dimethyl ether, olefin and methanol, which are fuel additives.

Several plants that will turn coal into diesel fuel are now under construction and will go into production in 2020. Hao informed that these are expected to convert 50 million tonnes of coal into 10 million tonnes of diesel every year.

China, meanwhile, is negotiating with South Africa-based Sasol and Royal Dutch Shell Group to introduce coal liquefaction technologies needed to produce diesel fuel. China is the world's top coal producer and consumer. It uses 42 per cent of the world's thermal coal for power and 48 per cent of its coking coal for steel.


China is also the world's second biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. The International Energy Agency expects it to overtake the US by the end of the decade.

I forecast that China will overtake the US in CO2 emissions from energy this year. In 2006, Chinese emissions were about 6% below that of the US, and are expected to rise another 8-10% this year, while the US will probably rise about 0.5%.

Odd reporting on the Chinese CTL plans. Why would a plant in construction today not be ready til 2020? China has on tap already 100 million tonnes of CTL capacity proposals, of which 60 million tonnes alone (requiring about 250 million tonnes of coal) are Shenhua's alone.

China's 90 GW of new coal-fired plants built in 2006 will emit 590 million tonnes of CO2 a year, dwarving the EU Kyoto committment of 300 million tonnes reduction to 2012.

And the US has barely begun to burn the stuff.....

Bill .. thanks for the photos. I grew up near Sudbury Ontario so am used to seeing industrial scale destruction but this is on another level.

Or you can see a Google Map of the location :^)

I had a nice picture of it on Google Earth, but don't know how to post that. The xml for it was sort of long.

... that this, collectively, seems to suggest that perhaps the discussion is too restricted if only confined to climate scientists. The information from those with expertise in the above disciplines might have a pertinent and valid point of view.

Naturally, all disciplines may have pertinent and valid information to add to climate change investigations. However, if you are implying that archeologists, geologists and zoologists have evidence that throws the basic IPCC conclusions into doubt, that is just not the case.

Coby Beck's 'The hockey stick is broken' reviews the Greenland/NAS/paleoclimate debate from a lay perspective; and of course Real Climate has extensive discussions from the scientific perspective. The general conclusion of all proxy reconstructions of recent history: Overall, the 20th century is the warmest of the entire record.

The Alaskan government's questioning of listing polar bears as an endangered species is based purely on financial considerations. Arctic sea ice is disappearing at rates much faster than expected, the threat of extinction is real, and, as the article you linked to points out, "To say that bear populations are growing in one area now is irrelevant." Note also the recorded increase was relatively small -- 1,300 bears.

I suppose South Florida land is going to be real valuable when it's under a few feet of water too. Global warming skeptics are some of the most assinine people in existence. I'm sure some people reading this will fall into that category, and I'm sorry for being blunt, but you guys deserve the criticism.

It doesn't matter if it was warmer 1000 years ago, 100,000 years ago or a million years ago. All of that is irrelevant to the fact it is getting warmer now. The arctic and antarctic ice sheets are melting, and it's going to be absolutely irrelevant whether people want to believe that green house gasses are causing it or not.

If that's not the cause, then someone had better damn well figure out the real explanation ASAP. Until a better explanation is offered we need to go with the best one available, that it's being caused by GHG.

The world we know today relies on a certain range of temperatures. Sure we can just try to adapt to global warming, but that means accepting the loss of large areas of usable land that are currently only a little bit above sea level.

But that can't be argued against, so it's just ignored. instead the subject is changed to whether it's warmer now than every before. Just like peak oil can't be argued against so skeptics change the subject to "oil running out", which as we all know is not even close to the same thing. Those are just different examples of arguing through obfuscation.

The simple answer is yes, King Coal will definitely make a comeback and in a Big Way. Today, in Britain it was announced that a German company will construct a new coal-fired power station, the first for more than twenty years. This is a sign of the times.

Yes, but RWE did say the 1600 MW plant would be "clean coal", though they haven't yet divulged what abatement or sequestration scheme they will use.

I think they are planning to use Supercritical Steam with provision for carbon capture and storage.

They are betting an economical CSS technology for a conventional coal plant comes along.

They're not doing very well at hedging their bets.  Oxygen-blown IGCC would be just as efficient (if not more so), cleaner through better fuel scrubbing, and offers the potential for 100% CO2 separation before combustion via steam-reforming of the syngas.  This would work even if the post-combustion capture systems never become viable, and give them a hedge (and huge profit boost) in the event of carbon taxes.

It's a horrendously conservative industry, electric power generation.

There are very few chemical engineers in management or decision making positions.

The chemical industry thinks CO2 is old hat, and gasification is not an overwhelming challenge.

The power industry thinks its Buck Rogers/ Star Wars stuff.

And the one thing which would change that thinking is... industry experience.

We can probably get that established with carrots and sticks.  Carrot:  subsidize the first few plants, starting now.  Sticks:  let it be known that carbon taxes will apply to all coal-fired powerplants, starting immediately upon commissioning with those not yet operational and those without full scrubbers and moving to the whole lot over 10 years.  That'll get the industry to start building more IGCC plants, and once there are a few out there where engineers can get experience the industry will become a lot more comfortable.

Agreed, there is no Bull against global warming deniers.

But all evidence suggests that it would take a lot more than that to stop some intelligent people who know little about the subject from spouting on about it at every opportunity.

Hey, guess what I read in the telegraph today, Dorothy? Ohh, golly geez, we've been had by all those scientists!

If you are going to raise quibbles, at least give us your research on what are the mainstream answers to those quibbles.

Make the investment and get yourself up to speed on GW, Heading Out, and then you'll have something interesting to say, I'm sure.

I have learned that when I make comments on this subject, I have to give references. They are provided for each topic, including, I would point out, the National Research Council Report which states that your comment is only valid if you accept a restricted definition of recent.

This is the key conclusion from the NAS report:

The basic conclusion of Mann et al. (1998, 1999) was that the late 20th century warmth in the Northern Hemisphere was unprecedented during at least the last 1,000 years. This conclusion has subsequently been supported by an array of evidence that includes both additional large-scale surface temperature reconstructions and pronounced changes in a variety of local proxy indicators, such as melting on icecaps and the retreat of glaciers around the world. Not all individual proxy records indicate that the recent warmth is unprecedented, although a larger fraction of geographically diverse sites experienced exceptional warmth during the late 20th century than during any other extended period from A.D. 900 onward.

Based on the analyses presented in the original papers by Mann et al. and this newer supporting evidence, the committee finds it plausible that the Northern Hemisphere was warmer during the last few decades of the 20th century than during any comparable period over the preceding millennium.

The farther back one goes in the historical record, the more uncertain the record becomes, and the less statistical confidence can be assigned to research results. The meta-analyses by Mann et al were the first to quantify this effect:

The Mann et al. large-scale surface temperature reconstructions were the first to include explicit statistical error bars, which provide an indication of the confidence that can be placed in the results. In the Mann et al. work, the error bars were relatively small back to about A.D. 1600, but much larger for A.D. 1000–1600. The lower precision during earlier times is caused primarily by the limited availability of annually resolved paleoclimate data: That is, the farther back in time, the harder it is to find evidence that provides reliable annual information. For the period before about A.D. 900, annual data series are very few in number, and the non-annually resolved data used in reconstructions introduce additional uncertainties.

The conclusions of the NAS report echo those results.

From the December 2006 Discover:

Can Coal Come Clean?

Coal is still king....

That pic of the coal barge reminded me of a particularly ugly chapter of the coal story. I moved to within walking distance of the Ohio river a few years back. I was surprised at first that I regularly saw coal being shipped both down river from west virginia and upriver to west virginia. After asking a few people in the energy industry why WV would need to import coal, I found out. WV coal is cheap and high in sulfur, Iowa coal is more expensive and lower in sulfur. WV imports just enough expensive low sulfur coal to remain just below the emissions limits, and Iowa apparently imports just enough dirtier WV coal to remain just below the limit. The laws are set up so that companies maximize profit by using as much dirty coal as they can get by with even if cleaner coal is readily available locally while increasing the amount of emssions from the back and forth river transport of the coal. Apparently this system is still cheaper for WV plants than to use other methods to reduce sulfur emissions.

On another tangential note, I've wondered if river transport will again become important post-peak. A river barge can transport 1100x what a diesel semi truck can with a fraction of the fuel consumned by 1100 diesel semis. Before the train, Ohio was settled based on river transport. Extensive canals were built. Today, nothing other than coal, coke and occassionally iron ore is shipped by river, although as recently as the 1960's other more general river shipping still occurred.

Lawyers mining coal sounds a good idea to me!


Here is a link to a newly planned British coal power plant and if that's what is to be looked forward to, well you be the judge.,,2032837,00.html

Very timely article, HO, especially with the brown smudge one can just discern on the pacific horizon.

According to this article India is projected by India's coal minister to quadruple its coal use by 2032 to 2 billion tons per year.

As regards the anthropogenic cause of recent warming, the most important thing to grasp is that the scientific evidence for this is overwhelming without the need to invoke historic temperature reconstructions as the NAS report on climate reconstructions states (p9). HO all your emphasis on Greenland medieval warming is beside the point but such evidence as there is shows it to be local. It, and your other points in no way invalidate the consensus view of the IPCC.

As the report on polar bears states the local increase in numbers is thought by the experts to be due to increases in food in the form of harp seals due to reduced hunting. Elsewhere their numbers are decreasing.

The Oregon Petition is now six years old and much work has been done in the mean time. A quarter of the PhD's contacted by Scientific American in 2005 said they would not sign then. I suspect even fewer would sign now. It is worth noting that the petition was organized by Fredrick Seitz who oversaw the efforts of the tobacco industry to discredit the link between smoking and cancer even when their own reseach showed such a link. The petition was accompanied by an article that was deceitfully formatted to look like a peer reviewed article from the proceedings of the NAS when it was no such thing, and was disowned by them as not representing their views. It included a statement that satellite and balloon data showed the Earth's mean temperature was falling despite increasing carbon dioxide levels. This has been shown to be wrong but probably influenced many of the signatories.

The discussion of the anthropogenic cause of recent global warming has not died down because of a Papal Bull but because almost no one qualified to judge it now doubts it. It is almost entirely those that are not qualified that keep raising irrelevant, erroneous and long discredited points that are making the noise. However in doing so they are slowing the efforts we need to combat the disaster that threatens us and in particular to prevent peak oil causing a massive increase in coal production such as that projected for India. If we do not succeed our grandchildren will spit on our graves.

Hey you don't fool me with that big word 'anthropogenic' I know you are talking about me.

Actually I was quoting from page 78.

What point were you trying to make in pointing out that Greenland was warmer in medieval times? What do you think it changes as far as the effects of greenhouse gases on the climate as described in the IPCC report.

As for the Oregon Petition, the paper with the report, with which they hoped to persuade people to sign the petition, tried to show
1) there was no recent warming, man made or otherwise, in fact there was a slight cooling
2) that increases in carbon dioxide even up to several times the present level were actually beneficial.

Not even S Fred Singer supports 1) now. The IPCC called such warming unequivocal and this was agreed to by the scientific representatives 113 countries, none dissenting.

Given the consensus is that a rise from the present 384ppm to 550ppm of CO2 would be a disaster can anybody really be calm about risking 700ppm.

If the Oregon Petition shows anything, it is that circulating a petition to huge numbers (they won't disclose how many but it was certainly vast) of people with some technical qualifications but few in the relevant field will get large numbers of signatories to quite ridiculous propositions.

Well, of course, there is also this .

Scientists who questioned mankind's impact on climate change have received death threats and claim to have been shunned by the scientific community.

They say the debate on global warming has been "hijacked" by a powerful alliance of politicians, scientists and environmentalists who have stifled all questioning about the true environmental impact of carbon dioxide emissions.

Such threats are of course to be condemned and they have occurred on both sides of the argument. They do not in either case prove the ideas to be true because the holders of these ideas have been threatened and, generally, such threats are counter productive. The Telegraph article you link to mentions the programme broadcast on the UK Channel 4 called "the Great Global Warming Swindle" There is a rebuttal in the Independent. It is a pity the online version does not have a the illustrations. As seen in the print version it is an eye opener to see how distorted from the truth the graphs used in the programme are.

Also fairly devastating are the views of Carl Wunsch at Real Climate, one of the scientists who appear on the programme who says that he was deceived by the producers of the programme as to its nature and had his comments edited to make it appear to express the opposite view to his true opinion.

Needless to say this programme has been trumpeted by contrarian blogs across the Web.

I do not believe the debate has been hijacked, it has been overwhelmed by force of argument. It is easy to feel isolated when nearly all your colleagues disagree strongly with you but it does not necessarily mean they are conspiring against you. The more likely but less palatable explanation is you are wrong.

Your suggestion that non-climate scientists and non-scientists be consulted about global warming mixes three distinct issues in a way that generates confusion. Those three issues are:
1. Is the climate warming? (and how much, how fast)
2. If it is, to what extent is that warming caused by human activity?
3. If the climate is warming, is that a bad thing?

I'd go with climate scientists, including the National Academy of Sciences and the International Report (diluted a bit by politics from the Bushies), on the first two. I agree that #3 is a decision for everyone; it's not a "scientific" question, except to the extent that *climate* science can estimate the consequeces, such as more extremes of weather, spreading desertification.

You have so many times made comments dismissing either the reality or significance of global climate change that I am puzzled. Is it just something you don't want to believe? I wish it weren't true, too, because I have even less power to address it (though I have some) than I do peak oil.

I live in Texas and prefer the term Global Roasting. That's what it felt like at times this last summer. Yes, it is real but it won't make a difference. If we can't get the oil and natural gas, we WILL burn all the coal we can get our hands on. THAT is human nature. You can march in the streets, but it won't make a bit of difference. You know this, right? We could be on the fast track coal train to hell, but if, in order to get off, we have to deal with blackouts, we won't get off. In the words of Jethro Tull, "Ol Charlie stole the handle, and the train it won't stop going, no way to slow down."

Shades of Slim Pickens riding the H-bomb.

Like a collapsing sun, burning heavier and heavier elements on it's way to total destruction.

No, we don't HAVE to burn the coal. It is POSSIBLE to call in the philosopher kings. It was done in France, in Sweden and in Switzerland. As a result, these countries grids are powered only by hydro and nuclear nowadays. Total CO2 emissions per capita are a quarter of those in the US.

It can be done. It's not that hard, not that expensive and does not take that much time.

The only thing needed is WILL.

The point is, they won't. Yes, they will build some nuclear, limited hydro, some wind farms, but predominently Coal-fired plants. Why? Because it's easier and cheaper. Because it's more profitable. Because, when push comes to shove, as long as they have electricity, the majority could give a sh*t.

Well let's see, if you go to this NASA site you get the average annual temperature records for various points in Texas. Choosing the one that is nearest the middle (Llano I believe) you get this record for the temperatures over the past more than 100 years.

which suggests that if it is warm now, you should have been there a hundred years ago. And for those who wonder why I comment on Greenland, I would merely point out that there is some suggestion that before the temperature gets much higher, things might get a little traumatic over there. Since it doesn't appear that they did last time . . . . . . .

(And, no, I did not set this up, being curious I just went and checked - as you may have gathered I am an experimentalist, and when somebody makes a claim, I like to see what it is based on and if it is actually credible - being told by a Vice President of the United States, whether current or past, that something is so, is not something, unfortunately, that we can take on trust any longer.)

The first question that comes to mind about your graph is whether the golf course which opened up in mid twentieth century and the maturation of all the introduced trees and other vegetation have had an impact on the temperature trend for Llano. What about irrigation, including lawn sprinkling?

I'm sure I don't have to tell you that shade and the evaporation of water via leaves and blades has a cooling effect.

What's happening in areas in Texas where the vegetation has remained constant?

Is the NASA link correct or is there a temporary fault on their server?

This is kind of odd, when I go to that site, and I have now done it about four times it rewrites the URL and says it is non-existant, and so I have to retype it in, at least twice, before it goes to

which gives you a map, and I just clicked on Texas, which takes you to a list of the stations in Texas with distances from the middle. I picked the top one as being the closest to the middle.

For what it is worth, when I started writing about this I was just curious to see how strong the data for the GHG case was, the problem is that I keep finding information that does not agree with what those proponents are saying, and when I post it people deny that it is relevant, and casting aspersions about my intelligence is not the way to prove such a case.

and casting aspersions about my intelligence is not the way to prove such a case.

What some of us doubt isn't your intelligence, but that you have actually invested the time to master the case for global warming.

Quite bluntly, when you talk about GW you seem surprisingly unsophisticated for person with such a stacked resume.

Why is this?

Is it possible that you have read more books on coal than on climate science?

Upthread you said you were an "experimentalist".

Maybe this is the crux of the issue. In climate science there are no experiments. Or rather, just the one.

My suggestion is:

Take your quibbles to these guys.
(They are on the Oil Drum blogroll)

Put the issues to the climate scientists themselves and perhaps the resulting exchange would make good material for a future post.

There is a sort of person who is a contrarian for the sake of being contrarian.

Richard Lindzen undoubtedly falls into this category. Arguably, so does Michael Crichton.

It's unfortunate that such people, at this time in history, may drag us all down to self destruction. James Lovelock, who was alive in 1938, has likened it to then: everyone knew war was coming, but many, many people were doing their damndest to ignore it or forget about it. Meanwhile the smart Jews got out of Europe (if they could) and the smart countries starting arming.

All we can do is keep pointing out the logic of the science (down from basic chemistry: that water vapour and CO2 absorb infra red radiation), the success of the models to date in explaining the observed temperature changes, and the overwhelming scientific evidence across many, many different fields.

And of course the likely costs if we are wrong, and things are in worse shape than we think.

HO - I am sure that you will get heaps of areas where the temperature has decreased. That is not the point. Does some oil fields that have increased production disprove Peak Oil? I am surprised that you would try the same argument to try and cast doubt on global warming. Just because one area reduces in temperature in no way invalidates the GLOBAL temperature record.

You really need to read Real Climate on Greenland and perhaps Jared Diamond's Collapse. Greenland's Vikings settled the areas that are today still inhabited. There are only a few place now and then.
Climate in Medieval Time
Raymond S. Bradley, Malcolm K. Hughes, Henry F. Diaz

Many papers have referred to a "Medieval Warm Period." But how well defined is climate in this period, and was it as warm as or warmer than it is today? In their Perspective, Bradley et al. review the evidence and conclude that although the High Medieval (1100 to 1200 A.D.) was warmer than subsequent centuries, it was not warmer than the late 20th century. Moreover, the warmest Medieval temperatures were not synchronous around the globe. Large changes in precipitation patterns are a particular characteristic of "High Medieval" time. The underlying mechanisms for such changes must be elucidated further to inform the ongoing debate on natural climate variability and anthropogenic climate change.

R. S. Bradley is in the Climate System Research Center, Department of Geosciences, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA 01003, USA. E-mail: M. K. Hughes is in the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA. E-mail: H. F. Diaz is in the Climate Diagnostics Center, Office of Atmospheric Research, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Boulder, CO 80303, USA. E-mail:"

I have read that portion of Collapse (I read different bits at different times and haven't finished it completely yet). And now I have read the article by Bradley. I would point out that he does not include the data from the ice cores in Greenland. If I may repeat the update I made to an earlier post:

I am grateful to Nick Rouse who drew my attention to the National Research Council Report
Surface Temperature Reconstructions for the Last 2,000 Years
which discusses the Medieval Warming period and the Little Ice Age, and with diffidence let me quote from page 78

For central Greenland (Cuffey et al. 1995, Cuffey and Clow 1997, Dahl-Jensen et al. 1998), results show a warming over the last 150 years of approximately 1°C ± 0.2°C preceded by a few centuries of cool conditions. Preceding this was a warm period centered around A.D. 1000, which was warmer than the late 20th century by approximately 1°C.
An analysis for south-central Greenland (Dahl-Jensen et al. 1998) shows the same pattern of warming and cooling, but with larger magnitude changes.

While there is not that much evidence to show that this was a global event (which requires matching temperatures, I suppose, in the Southern Hemisphere), there is the odd bit of evidence that the Roman Warming Period might have been global (ibid)

A borehole from Law Dome (Dahl-Jensen et al. 1999), in coastal East Antarctica, reveals a warming of approximately 0.7 °C from the middle 19th century to present (uncertainty of approximately 0.2 °C). This was preceded by a period of comparable warmth centered on 1500– 1600, a 1°C cooler period centered on 1300, and consistently warmer conditions prior to this (with temperature at A.D. 1 being approximately 1°C warmer than late 20th century). There is no apparent warming during medieval times at this site.

The relevant references are:

Cuffey, K.M., G.D. Clow, R.B. Alley, M. Stuiver, E.D. Waddington, and R.W. Saltus. 1995. Large Arctic temperature change at the Wisconsin-Holocene glacial transition. Science 270:455-458.

Cuffey, K.M., and G.D. Clow. 1997. Temperature, accumulation and ice sheet elevation in central Greenland through the last deglacial transition. Journal of Geophysical Research 102(C12):26383- 26396.

Dahl-Jensen, D., K. Mosegaard, N. Gundestrup, G.D. Clow, S.J. Johnsen, A.W. Hansen, and N. Balling. 1998. Past Temperatures Directly from the Greenland Ice Sheet. Science 282:268-271.

Dahl-Jensen, D., V. Morgan, and A. Elcheikh. 1999. Monte Carlo inverse modelling of the Law Dome (Antarctica) temperature profile. Annals of Glaciology 29:145-150.

You had better be damned sure that global warming is caused by human activity, not just 90% sure as the IPCC claims, before you propose to write off 71% of our electrical supply (52% coal, l6% gas, 3% oil) and replace it primarily with nuclear and hydro. After all, a relationship is not statistically significant until the indicated probability is 95% that it is not by chance.
More hydro power will wipe out what is left of our wild salmon and steelhead. Nuclear power has the potential to make the planet uninhabitable.
As Coby Beck, points out, climate science is extremely complex. I might be able to understand all of it if I had the opportunity to return to a university and study advanced statistics for a year. Until then, I will find it prudent to maintain an open-minded skepticism.

And if you never return to the university to pursue advanced statistics, on what basis will you ever suspend your skepticism? I'm also one who likes to independently confirm what I'm told, but I've also had to face the fact that I will never know enough to cogently debate climatic issues with those who have been studying it for 30+ years. Tell me this: how positive would you have to be about something before you'd put your entire livelihood on the line and sound a global alarm bell?

I'm going to step up to the plate on this one for my fellow sociologists (and specifically political economists and environmental sociologists) and say you need to add a #4 to your list, as follows:

If the warming is due human activity, (1) what are the activities? and (2) what is the structural social force impelling humans to conduct these activities?

I'll give everyone a hint to sub-question (2): Marx wrote three volumes of books with this title.

Ahem.  It was the anti-capitalist Soviet Bloc which had by far the least-efficient and most-polluting industry in all of Europe.

BP sponsored a series of articles appearing in the Albuquerque Journal on energy.

Here's the coal presentation

Other BP energy presentations can be found at

What I find extraordinary is the way people find excuses for increasing coal use, even as scientists like Jim Hansen warn us of the dangers. Here's some examples;
1) dried brown coal (lignite) which has the same emissions as black coal (bituminous) is described as 'cleaner'. To me 'cleaner' should mean vastly less emissions.
2) repeatedly invoking the advent of carbon capture and storage (CCS) like the return of a Biblical prophet. Partial results from insignificant experiments are held up as evidence there will be no need to cut back.
3) using coal power to supplant hydro since the dam levels are chronically low. No link is made between coal burning and unreliable climate.

I say burn the lot a.s.a.p., perhaps via negative carbon taxes. If coal leads to prosperity and GW is a crock then we'll have a great time.

Charging forward into the 19th century.

The pressure to shovel coal at the energy crisis is going to be enormous. In the U.S., with a population gunning toward 400 million, we're going to have to increase electricity generation by a third just to keep per capita energy supply constant over the next few decades. That's without trying to mitigate the effects of peak oil.

The primary excuse people find for increasing coal use is that they don't want to forego access to electricity. The 300 million alive in the U.S. right now don't want to have to split their share of modern energy with the next 100 million. They want the pie to get bigger.

We don't need to keep per capita energy supply constant. Most of the U.S. is extremely energy inefficient. If everyone cut their usage down to California levels then we could provide power for a much larger population without increasing energy production at all. If we go beyond that and move towards even more enery efficiency, then we can actually decrease overall energy use.

Just shoveling coal at this "problem" is one of the worst possible things we can do, and also not even the cheapest, which is to increase energy efficiency.

I think you may be misunderstanding the point of view of a number of us who write about coal. It is not that using more coal is the option that we would necessarily choose, However, when one looks at the likely options for the future supply of energy as oil and natural gas start to decline, then coal is the fuel that is being increasingly used as a replacement (see for example Euan's graph above).

It is in that context that one has to look at the realities of how to make it cleaner. There are substantial costs involved, and not being willing to recognize this reality, and the concurrent one that (as I reported from the summit) politicians are not going to increase taxes/rates for electricity to cover the costs of sequestration, will not change the likely short-term future.

I don't have time to stick around now, but I would like to throw into the mix a post I made elsewhere presenting some skeptical information regarding coal reserves:

I also found Goodell's chapter on whether the U.S. is the Saudi Arabia of exaggerated (coal) reserves very interesting. But it didn't seem very clear, when he presented the information about what percentage of coal would be recoverable, whether the bases in question were comparable, i.e. whether the lower percentages can be compared directly to Averitt's estimates. Perhaps someone could look into that.

Also in a recent online Q and A with Richard Heinberg and Antonia Juhasz (sorry no link handy, but it was listed on Energy Bulletin about a month ago), Heinberg noted that he had been privy to a not-yet-published study of worldwide coal, presenting a skeptical view of reserves.

i question the science of the book if they tell you coal formed 3 million years ago like the description of it suggests.

for those of you that do not know. coal formed during the Carboniferous Period about 300 million years ago(360 to 286 million years ago to be exact). it formed from the the remains of the large explosion of plant life in the massive amounts of swamps and forests at the time. it's also about this time that the life that eventually became oil lived as well.
it was a interesting time actually.
it was the same period that large insects(as in dragon flies the size of eagles etc) started to decline from ruling the land and air. the first hard shell eggs were evolved at this time too.

Coal is not going to be the future. I take it as good news to find out our coal reserve base is lower than expected. I'm not sure why we're looking for something to get us by until we find the solution? The solutions already exist. If we really wanted to in a matter of two decades time we could have all our energy consumption covered by renewable resources, through a combination of many different technologies, and also a huge dosage of "negawatts".

Coal is not going to be part of anything except for the past. Coal is not going to become more popular when energy costs rise. I really doubt anywhere besides the third world is going to go back to the time when cities were so polluted we couldn't see the sun. People will be willing to pay many times more for power if the alternative is that.

In your dreams.

When will people understand that the world economy is a pyramid scheme. The amount of money must increase at an exponential rate in order to service the exponential increase in debt. A reduction in the amount of growth (or even an decrease in the exponential increase) will collapse the economic system.

Negawatts is nothing more than a contraction of the economy. Whether it good for sustainability is meaningless. With our current economic model, contraction is impossible without collapse.

Conservation is good for sustainability, and it is good for the individual (I personally have cut gas and electric usage by 1/3 and saved lots of money). It is however, death to our economy.

Consider if everyone in the world who could install Compact Fluorescent lightbulbs, did so.

The utility companies of the world would be (by about 1%) be smaller.

Suppose those people then went and spent that money on more healthcare? Healthcare is not a particularly CO2 intensive activity.

The economy of the world would not be smaller.


...I have lain on my back to hand-load coal in a seam that was, at the time, some 20 inches high....

Am to I understand from this that you were a coal miner working underground with 20 in. of vertical space pushing out coal for loading? I'm feeling claustrophobic just thinking about it.

I described the conditions somewhat in the piece I wrote on Longwall mining I was an Indentured Apprentice, before going to college, and, as such, spent time on many of the jobs underground including 6 months on a hand-won face. At that time the coal was undercut, then blasted, and then 15 of us, distributed over a length of around 200 yards, loaded it onto a face conveyor. In general the coal was around 4 ft high - a good height for working on your knees, but occasionally the face rolled and got down to the 20 inches (which was also slightly wet) while at one time it got to about 66 inches. This is a little too high when you are using props and bars to hold the roof up. (You raise the bar on your shoulder until it hits the roof, and at that height it is very awkward to manoever the prop and axe to brace the bar in place).

Time and again we hear people talking about Coal like it was an infinite resource, forgetting about exponential growth and mistaking reserves for resources. It is those some misconceptions that make many people believe that oil is still plentiful.

If the concept of oil depletion is being increasingly perceived by the common folk, why not use the same concepts for coal?

Negawatts is nothing more than a contraction of the economy. Whether it good for sustainability is meaningless. With our current economic model, contraction is impossible without collapse.

Exactly. The big economies will burn coal as a last-ditch peak oil mitigation strategy like there's no tomorrow. Then maybe there won't be a tomorrow. Matthew Simmons, Robert Hirsch understand that this is the only viable short-term strategy we have. And in a situation where governments are scrambling to come up with immediate mitigation efforts, burning coal will take precedence over burning coal cleanly/carbon sequestration, etc.

Even if there's a massive national policy initiative to promote energy conservation, the amount of coal that will be burned will boggle the mind. Even if peak oil doesn't happen and we're just talking about the conventional energy needs of the U.S., China and India, the amount of coal that's going to be burned will boggle the mind.

Given that, peak coal is probably just around the corner (mid century?), even if the actual reserves live up to the hype. Maybe I won't live to see it, but still, the complete energy peak package: coal, oil and natural gas is going to be the Big Event of the 21st century. With that, of course, comes peak food, peak water, peak population.

Oil isn't the defining issue. Population and the limits to growth is what we all need to be talking about. The real value of the peak oil debate is the development of a vocabulary for discussing peak everything.

Back in the 1980's I lived in a tony neighborhood just north of San Francisco - Mill Valley in Marin County. Just for an experiment I drove down to South San Francisco and bought a 100 lb sack of Utah coal and a coal grate for my fireplace.

It made a lovely fire, very warming locally although the overall natural gas consumption went up do to the negative pressure from the flue and the cold air inleakage.

But two negatives - first, the house smelled for months of coal and second, the whole neighborhood stank as the cold nights were ones with low winds. The valley would fill with smoke from the fireplaces and the smoke from my coal fire "leaped to the nostrils" compared to the almond wood fires in other homes.

Needless to say, I haven't tried that again!

I've read Freese's book and have a mixed review. The historical context in the book is excellent but when she advanced to current political issues, her political correctness makes for tortured logic and emotionalism.

Our society is going to regret, big time, not building nuclear power plants during the 1980s and 1990s. It will be 2015 before the first new nuke comes on line with a too slow ramp rate after that as we rebuild the design and construction infrastructure.

What does coal smell like?

Like charcoal? Like oil?

Good question - let me try from memory. Others may have a better description.

Burning or burnt, it has this harsh chemical/earthy smell. It is somewhat like heavy diesel fuel but more cutting and less oily. Some whiskeys use peat in their manufacture and the taste of a peat-heavy whiskey might give you an idea.

There is almost always some sulfur so one can pickup overtones of SO2 as sulfuric acid.

Even raw coal gives off smells and hydorcarbons. Coal piles at power plants get regulated by air quality authorities. Of course, coals come in a variety of qualities, "ranks," volitiles concentrations, and sulfur content. My experience was with a pretty decent appellation.

Charcoal is perfume by comparison.

One way to impress on politicians the nature of coal would be to send them a 5 lb box of coal. They won't want it in their offices yet they can't complain about it since their policies encourage its use.

Thanks. I hadn't realized it was that smelly, though I suppose I should have.

I used to work in construction inspection. My least favorite part of the job was the smell of hot asphalt. :-P

The smell depends on the type of coal. Anthracite is the cleanest, but hardest to obtain. I would say the smell of Bituminous coal is a mixture of tar and gunpowder (sulfur). It's nasty to use for home heating, but it can be used in rural areas.

I read COAL: A Human History by Barbara Freese today.

One of my interests in coal is

Our house was heated by coal. That's me at top of snow bank in 1946 - I was 9 then.

My father stoked the furnace at bed time, then had to service it again in the morning.

"Clinkers" from the furnace were distributed on the driveway you see. Garage in background.

We moved to San Mateo, CA in 1947.

My father commented on how he hated to service the coal furnace.

I don't remember how our kitchen stove in Carrington was powered. Not coal.

I stayed at a farm home outside of Carrington for several days that only had a coal stove in the kitchen for heating/cooking.

No electricity - before REA.

I watched for several day the process of keeping the stove working and its use in addition to cooking for heating irons to iron clothes.

Freese writes

Just lighting the Stove was a complex affair, and home economics texts and women’s magazines included plenty of advice on how to do it properly. First, the ashes from the last fire had to be removed from the stove’s firebox—but not all of them, since a little half-burned coal at the bottom was useful. Because coal is not easily lit, greasy paper might be put into the fire box, along with wood shavings and then larger strips of wood, criss-crossed to allow airflow but to keep coal from falling through. A little coal could then be added, but not too much. An updraft in the chimney pipe might need to be started by thrusting a burning wisp of paper into it. Minutes later, after the kindling and first scoop of coal had taken light, more coal could be put in. Ashes had to be periodically shaken loose, and more coal added (the lumps carefully arranged by a gloved hand, according to one magazine). The dampers and vents also had to be continually adjusted to control air flow and the speed of combustion. Stoves were often kept burning all day, and sometimes all night, to avoid the bother of rekindling, to keep a reservoir of warm water ready, and to keep the kitchen warm.
In 1899, an experiment at Boston’s School of Housekeeping found that nearly an hour a day was needed just to tend to a modern coal stove. Most of that time went to the basics of maintaining the fire—carrying the coal (292 pounds used over six days), setting and stoking the fire, and sifting and emptying the ashes—but a third of the time was spent rubbing black-lead onto the stove’s surface to keep it from rusting. “Black-lead” was the popular term for graphite, and graphite, or at least much of it, is made when the “coalification” process goes on too long, squeezing and heating coal so intensely that everything but the carbon is driven away.”’ Graphite, like a diamond, is pure carbon but in a softer form, useful in many humble ways, including the making of pencils and the prevention of rust.

So it was that people spent hours every week tending to the coal burning inside their stoves, and then spent hours more carefully rubbing an over-processed version of coal on its surface. These hot, black, soot-covered, carbon-smeared monsters sat at the heart of millions of homes like giant sculpted pieces of coal, endlessly demanding and hard to control, but able to radiate the energy of the Carboniferous into the kitchen. This radiated heat was considered a blessing for about eight months of the year—the kitchen coal stove was often the home’s only heat source—and a curse during the rest. One problem, of course, was that a solid-fuel stove could not simply be turned on when needed and off when the cooking was done; it took a long time to get the stove hot enough to cook, and then there was no easy way to put out the fire without wasting the fuel within it. Early twentieth-century home economics books recommended that those who could afford it buy a separate kerosene stove to use in the summer months

The kichen was next to a parlor.

After dinner the parlor would be opened, where people would sit until it got cold. Then off to bed.

I was warned not to use matches to light kerosene lamp!

No indoor plumbing [outhouse] so there was a chamber pot under the bed. Which at that age, I didn't need to use.

We visit Austin, TX in the summer.

I visit the Barton Creek Square mall.

The mall is air conditioned!

I wonder how long this will last?

Senior citizen has watched the increased use of energy ... and increase in population ... over his 69 years.


Freese has a fun chapter about her trip to China where she visited two coal fired electricity plants and one coal mine.

History on the hoof rather than writers reading lots of other books, then writing their spin.

I'm reading Freese's comments on starting a coal fire again.

Memories from 1944-47 are coming back.

During this time Johnny Carroll and I tried to get a coal fire started in his Dad's shop furnace.

We used coal oil.

And nearly blew the door off the coal furnace.

Regards from senior