We are winning the war about Man-made Global Warming.
But about half of the population still think that the carbon tax will do some good. Why? It is all about "cleaning up dirty coal energy".
The seeds of public concern were sewn with Penny Wong's Machiavellian linking of "carbon" and "pollution". She was assisted by the gross stupidity of the coal industry leadership in promoting nonsense like carbon sequestration as a "clean coal" option. The public naturally assumed "if they need to spend billions to produce "clean coal", obviously we are now using "dirty coal". This generation of coal industry leaders is more culpable than the greens – they should have known better – they have betrayed their shareholders, their employees and the nation.
The whole "dirty coal" program was assisted by the continual portrayal by alarmist media and government propagandists of power station cooling towers belching "pollution". As carbon dioxide is an invisible gas, this is clearly a lie. What is seen are clouds of water vapour with no more pollution potential than wispy white cumulus clouds or boiling dark nimbus thunder-heads.
A local climax of this unrelenting black-guarding of coal was a letter published in the Queensland Times of Ipswich, a town founded on coal mining, describing carbon dioxide as "one of many lethal pollutants released by coal combustion".
What are the facts on coal combustion?
When we burn any carbon fuel such as coal, oil, wood, gas, grass, candle sticks, cardboard or cow manure, it produces several gases. Burning a typical Australian thermal coal in air would produce mainly nitrogen (68%), carbon dioxide (21%), water vapour (7%), oxygen (1%), argon (1%) and ash (2%).
So 98% by weight of coal combustion products (the first five) are natural gases merely being recycled to the atmosphere from whence they came. None are toxic. All are invisible except for water vapour.
To describe carbon dioxide as a "lethal air pollutant" is an irresponsible lie – it is surprising to see such rubbish in print. Carbon dioxide is the most important and essential atmospheric plant food, without which there would be no plants, no herbivores (which live on plants), and no carnivores (which live on herbivores).
Our coal is simply another form of trees and plants that grew in Australian soils in a previous era. Ash is unburnt mineral matter that comes naturally from the soil and should go back there. Almost all of the ash is now captured in modern coal fired power stations, but is released freely in bush fires, barbeques, wood stoves, cow manure cookers and open air cremations.
Naturally the mineral content from a large quantity of coal is concentrated in a small quantity of ash. Small quantities are easier to dispose of safely, and also represent a potentially valuable source of minerals. Coal ash could be a useful mineral supplement or soil conditioner and is used as an additive in cement manufacture. The Chinese make beautiful ceramic bricks from the tailings from coal washing plants. But coal ash, like any ash, is not good to breathe.
Soot is a product of incomplete combustion and is not produced in modern, well-designed power stations. It is no more dangerous than burnt toast.
It is true that some coals when burnt can produce some SOX (oxides of sulphur) and NOX (oxides of nitrogen) but these are caught in modern filters and cleaners. Only small traces enter the air. They could be annoying, and would be dangerous if concentrated in city air, but EVERY normal component of coal is an essential plant nutrient, and far from being invariably toxic, is often in short supply in the broader environment. Anyone who raises crops or animals often needs to supplement soils, pastures or animal feeds with nitrogen, sulphur, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, copper, zinc and selenium to name a few.
Some coals contain more impurities than others because natural ground-waters or gases circulating through the underground strata containing coal seams has left traces of their passing in tiny deposits of things like pyrite (iron sulphide) or in rare cases even arseno-pyrite (iron-arsenic sulphide). Coals containing these impurities attract price penalties in the market, and are banned in some cities. Modern scrubbers and catalytic converters are very efficient at removing them from exhaust gases.
Both sulphur and arsenic are very common natural compounds, and in correct doses, are essential trace elements for healthy life. Whether something is a vital supplement, a harmless trace element or a poisonous pollutant depends mainly on the dosage and the life form sharing that environment. Volcanoes release vast quantities of sulphur into the atmosphere, into the oceans and onto the rocks surrounding vents and geysers. Bacteria and other life forms flourish in some such environments. Arsenic is a common component of naturally occurring metallic minerals and even occurs in some benign looking sandstones. There are sandstones which outcrop over large areas of country in the Dawson River area of Queensland which contain sulphide nodules containing a high concentration of arsenic sulphides.
The few coal combustion products that are genuinely toxic in most concentrations, such as mercury or cadmium, occur rarely and in tiny quantities. If present, special filters are used to ensure they are not released from power stations. Australian coals are generally very low in mercury, indeed lower than in the average earth environment. Naturally occurring rocks containing mercury (as found at Cinnabar in Queensland), dental amalgams and the new "green" fluoro light bulbs represent a far greater mercury danger to humans.
We can expect that "coal dust" will be the new green scare. Naturally dust of any kind is not pleasant or healthy for air breathing animals like us. Dust storms, volcanoes, bush fires, rubber tyres, mine blasting and coal trains can all leave their contribution of dust in the environment. For the most cases, that dust is a valuable soil supplement. This can be seen well in the luxuriant growth of grass after a bushfire leaves its thin film of mineral dust over the ground after the fire is extinguished. Coal dust is far less hazardous than ash from any fire, even a coal fire, because the minerals in coal are very dilute and generally in just the right quantities required for healthy plant life. Coal dust can do nothing but good to soil and plant life, but is obviously an annoyance, and at times a hazard, for breathing animals.
But the main products of coal combustion, carbon dioxide and water, are not pollutants and not toxic.
In Earth's long history, today's level of atmospheric carbon dioxide is very low and the green world will benefit greatly from any additional carbon dioxide we add to the atmosphere. That is why nurserymen add carbon dioxide to their greenhouses.
More info on scrubbers and catalytic converters to remove smog and sulphur from coal exhausts:
Coal is Still King:
The Heat in Indiana:
Some call this global warming; in Indiana we call this summer.
(Also: http://theclimatescepticsparty.blogspot.com.au/2012/07/julia-and-wayne-lied.html )
“Carbon Sense” is a newsletter produced by the Carbon Sense Coalition, an Australian based organisation which opposes waste of resources, opposes pollution, and promotes the rational and sustainable use of carbon energy and carbon food.
Please spread “Carbon Sense” around.
For more information visit our web site at www.carbon-sense.com
Literary, financial or other contributions to help our cause are welcomed.
Chairman Viv Forbes MS 23, Rosewood Qld 4340 Australia. email@example.com
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