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Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America's Energy Future (.) Hardcover – June 8, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. After a generation out of the spotlight, coal has reasserted its centrality: the United States "burn[s] more than a billion tons" per year, and since 9/11 and the Iraq war, independence from foreign oil has become positively patriotic. Rolling Stone contributing editor Goodell's last book, the bestselling Our Story, was about a mine accident, which clearly made a deep impression on him. Our reliance on coal—the unspoken foundation of our "information" economy—has, Goodell says, led to an "empire of denial" that blocks us from the investments necessary to find alternative energy sources that could eventually save us from fossil fuel. Goodell's description of the mining-related deaths, the widespread health consequences of burning coal and the impact on our planet's increasingly fragile ecosystem make for compelling reading, but such commonplace facts are not what lift this book out of the ordinary. That distinction belongs to Goodell's fieldwork, which takes him to Atlanta, West Virginia, Wyoming, China and beyond—though he also has a fine grasp of the less tangible niceties of the industry. Goodell understands how mines, corporate boardrooms, commodity markets and legislative chambers interrelate to induce a national inertia. Goodell has a talent for pithy argument—and the book fairly crackles with informed conviction. (June 8)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Viewing the political and economic heft of the American coal industry, journalist Goodell presents an admiring view of the workers who mine, transport, and burn coal and an adversarial posture toward the CEOs, lobbyists, and politicians who monitor industry interests. In the background of the author's narratives, which are pegged to his visits to coalfields, coal-hauling trains, and power plants, lurks environmental pollution. Goodell injects relevant statistics (e.g., on average, an American uses 20 pounds of coal in a lifetime) that effectively personalize the reader's connection to an industry most ignore until a power outage. He astutely recognizes and heavily criticizes how mining companies and utilities capitalize on this disconnection in their public relations. Disputing their assertions that standards of living will suffer from the host of regulations and treaties he favors, Goodell particularizes his objections in detail useful to those who closely follow environmental issues. The circulation numbers of a comparable critique of the fossil fuels complex, Boiling Point, by Ross Gelbspan (2004), may predict Goodell's appeal to library patrons. Gilbert Taylor
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Top customer reviews
He says the earth's ecology is at the tipping point of some serious global warming because of `Big Coal'. He says that we've already raised the average temperature one degree farenheit and are well on the way to a 3.5 degrees increase which will start a catastrophic series of events in nature that we don't even want to think about. He says that it would overall, society-wide, be cheaper to clean-up the coal emissions rather than pay for the health problems the dirty air causes.
The strange thing is that the coal issue is not even talked about very much, probably because most of us are so far removed from coal excavation or plants. Goodell said he had not even seen a piece of coal until he was 41 (presumably while writing this book.). By the way, I used to see coal as a kid because we had a coal furnace, but haven't seen any since. You could see lumps in the street also.
All of this reminds me a little of Y2K. Nobody got excited about it until it was almost too late. Then there was a all-out (and successful) effort to avert massive computer problems.
Now I think it's time to do something about the coal situation before it is too late. Is Goodell an alarmist or a realist? I hope he's only the former, but fear he is also the latter.
From mountain top removal mining, to reverse mining to open pit mining, the author covers how coal is mined in detail. He also looks at the economics of coal in tunneled mines versus strip mines and why West Virginia and surrounding areas are so poorly compensated for the work they do. It was amazing to see the mine operator's comments in Utah on the news, while reading his previous statements that were detailed in the book. It became quite obvious that his interests in the miners trapped in Utah were more economic than true sympathy for the miners or their families.
The second section deals with the burning of coal, and why it is so well loved by utilities. Basically, coal burned in older generation plants is a license to print money and the coal and utility companies are fully aware of the damage done, but put profits ahead of anything and everything. Further, the author details the obstructionist techniques used by these companies to keep coal going as a fuel.
In the final section, the author details the damage being done by coal to the environment, as well as to humans who live downwind from the plants. He also looks at various solutions that could be employed today to make cola a much cleaner burning fuel and how this would affect the costs of electricity. He also ventures to China to see what they are doing about carbon releases and how we are helping to cause the massive build up of coal fired plants in Chine with our purchasing habits.
This is a wonderful book that will answer almost any question you would have about the mining and burning of coal and why we are still using a 19th century fuel in the 21st century. It is very readable and should be read by every individual with a connection to the electric grid. My only complaint is in how the book was foot noted. No foot notes were present in the text, making it hard to line up the text with the notes at the end of the book.