For centuries, we have been led to believe that without coal, our life would come to standstill! The coal plants have been generating electricity to power our homes, businesses and schools. The coal giants do not want us to know that in the absence of coal our life can still go on and they have been spending millions of dollars, for ages, to hide this fact from us. Today, this has not only presented the challenges of climate change before us but it has also been affecting the health of millions of people around the world with the pollutants it adds in the water and air. Still, governments and politicians in most of the developed and developing nations have been clinging to coal and if the plans to build more coal-fired stations come to fruition, the additional greenhouse gases in the atmosphere could have a devastating impact on climate change. The protests by climate action proponents and activists to completely end the use of fossil fuels like coals and reduce dependence on natural gases and crude oil. With advancement, affordability and scalability of renewable sources of energy such as solar and wind, we now have options to transform the way we derive electricity to run our lives.
Anthropogenic activities which include the combustion of fossil fuels are one of the biggest reasons for global warming and climate change. Burning of coal has contributed to climate change like no other human activity. Scientists estimate that this could be responsible for more than 46 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide. With the global economy expanding in recent years, the demand for energy has skyrocketed, especially in countries like the United States, China and India, which also happen to be the three largest emitters of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere of our planet. While some European nations have been gradually phasing out its coal reliance, new coal-fired plants have emerged in some of the Asian countries in recent years.
From extraction to burning, coal can have serious implications on our environment and it has been known to cause poisoning to people. As per an estimate, a coal plant with 500 Megawatt capacity can add close to 10,000 tonnes of sulphur dioxide gas into the atmosphere. This gas is one of the major causes of acid rain. Additionally, 3.7 million tonnes of CO2 is added, which is the top contributor to global warming and the ongoing climate change. Apart from sulphur dioxide and CO2, a coal plant emits Arsenic, Lead, Cadmium and other toxic heavy metals like mercury. Studies show that these pollutants often end up in rivers and lakes wreaking havoc on human and aquatic life. Mercury can cause serious ailments, birth defects and may even lead to brain damage. Coal mining has put communities in danger, in particular. The practice like Mountaintop removal, which involves blasting off the topmost layer of a mountain to expose seams of coal, contaminates rivers and groundwater when the earth from the mountaintop discarded in the nearby valleys.
There is an immediate need to shut down the old coal-fired plants as they lack advanced technology to filter out the emissions which are detrimental to our health and environment. Further, we need to increase our reliability on cleaner and renewable sources of energy such as solar and wind energy. Unless world leaders and policymakers understand the grim situation which fossil fuels combustion has landed us into and eventually, let go of coal, the future looks terrifying!