As the tragedy at the Upper Big Branch Mine unfolds in West Virginia, our hope is that those left alive inside the mine will soon reach the safety of the surface and the comfort of their friends and family. Coal is a way of life for many in this region, but the tragedy helps focus the cost in lives the pursuit of coal places on miners and all those who come in contact with it.
There is much talk of "clean coal" as a solution to our energy and climate challenges. Last year I visited Schwarze Pumpe, a pilot Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CSS) coal plant in Germany, one of the first operational CSS plants in the world. While CSS technology is often touted as "clean coal," I don't think we should fool ourselves that there is really any such thing. The photo above of the open pit mine that feeds coal to the Schwarze Pumpe facility demonstrates that.
It may be that we'll need to pursue such technology, as the reality is that it may take many more years to completely wean ourselves from our voracious appetite for energy derived from coal. But wean ourselves we must.
Coal is deadly. And there is no such thing as clean coal.