Padmapur Coal Mine in Chandrapur

Our addiction to coal is not only causing a global climate crisis, it has also more direct and local devastating impacts. Greenpeace India recently organized a fact finding mission by Indian wildlife experts Praveen Bhargav (Wildlife First) and Biswajit Mohanty (Wildlife Society of Orissa) and environmental lawyer Rahul Choudhary (Legal Initiative for Forests and Environment) to document how ongoing coal mining projects and new proposed coal mines around a tiger reserve in Maharashtra in India would destroy one of the few remaining habitats for the magnificent animal.

Earlier this week, Greenpeace released the mission’s findings, in a report called Undermining Tadoba’s Tigers and launched an initiative to build public support for India’s forests.

India is witnessing an unprecedented boom in coal mining and the establishment of new coal-fired thermal power plants. Coal mining is increasingly taking place on forested land, making it one of the biggest threats to forests in the country. Fueling one large coal-fired power plant from open cast mines involves turning several hundred hectares of land into moonlike, dead wasteland every year (compare the size of a coal mine to the size of your hometown). In the area we studied in India, this wasteland would cut off the forest corridors from the Tiger reserve. These are forest patches that the tigers rely on to move from one forest to the other and are important for the survival of the tiger population.

The conflict between cutting down forests for destructive coal mines, at the expense of crucial tiger habitats will have enormous symbolic value: the Royal Bengal tiger is India’s national animal and classified as endangered, with less than 2000 tigers remaining in the wild.

Bengal Tiger by Muhammad Mahdi Karim

Photo: Muhammad Mahdi Karim

And it’s not only about the tigers. The mines and power plants are being proposed in one of India’s most populous states, endangering the health and livelihoods of local people. Coal combustion spews out a toxic mixture of heavy metals such as arsenic, lead and mercury, organic poisons such as acetaldehyde and chloroform, as well as sulphur and nitrogen oxides that form acid rain. Over the past year, Greenpeace has documented the health impacts of coal pollution all over the world, including in China, India, the US and South Africa.

During the last decade, coal use has almost doubled in India, and is set to increase. Meanwhile, the country’s coal reserves are declining in quality and becoming increasingly inaccessible. This is a story that is increasingly being played out throughout the world: once cheap and abundant, reliance on difficult to reach coal entails increasing sacrifices, costs and supply risks.

We have charted out a way for India to stop the scramble for coal and move towards clean and safe energy showing how India can source two thirds of its power from renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and biomass in 20 years. This solution would deliver power to India’s poor communities faster and at a lower cost than the aggressive expansion of dirty power stations that is currently being pursued.

This way everyone wins – the forests, communities, tigers, green business and, of course, the climate.

Lauri Myllyvirta is an energy campaigner at Greenpeace International

Photos: Fact Finding Team member Biswajit Mohanty at the Padmapur coal mine in Chandrapur, Maharashtra. © Dhiraj Singh/Greenpeace

A Bengal tiger in Bannerghatta National park in Bangalore by Muhammad Mahdi Karim, Creative Commons License