People tend to forget that coal’s reach goes far beyond the place where it is mined. How its harmful emissions don’t just reach across the sky, but its product also moves across our oceans and seas.
The World Coal Association claims that “seaborne trade in steam coal has increased on average by about 7% each year”. Clarkson Research services found that in 2012 nearly a billion tonnes of coal was shipped by sea that year. Some of that coal lands at ports in the Netherlands to supply 20% of the country's overall power.
The global movement of coal begins and ends in a variety of places across the globe, and some of it, which ends up in Italian and Dutch power plants, comes from Colombia, a country more than 8000 kilometres away from Europe. The carbon footprint of this dirty fuel is almost doubled by the absurd distance it is transported to be burned.
The Italian energy company, Enel, is a company which trades and deals in fossil fuels, including coal. They are one of the few companies responsible for the Colombian coal which ends up, not only in Italian power plants, but in coal-burning power plants across Europe.
Earlier this week Enel agreed to cancel their contract with their Colombian coal suppliers. They came to this decision because of the pressure of a growing number of people who are horrified by the ugliness of the coal industry – ugliness which includes enormous amounts of CO2 emissions alongside enormous amounts of human suffering.
Ending that contract is good news, of course. But, from a global point of view, this is one black rock removed from a mound of dirty fuel which should have stayed in the ground. Enel is only a small part of the appalling story of coal; the burning of it is clogging the lungs of millions of Chinese; it is so deeply intertwined into the power-structures of countries like India, that activism and progress to clean energy is stymied by a few businessmen with many politicians in their pockets; in Poland, it is turning into an issue of national security; and its transport is on course to turn the Great Barrier Reef into a lifeless pile of rocks.
But we are seeing an industry which feels The Fear. It is a cartel which is gradually beginning to realize that its end is on the horizon – a horizon lined with the clean, sustainable instruments of renewable energy generation. It is an industry which needs to rely on billionaire fossil-fuel sycophants like the Koch brothers to fabricate its legitimacy. It feels so threatened by a growing rational consensus that throttling activists, like those in India, seems like a sensible thing to do. In this way, to justify its own existence, it warps basic ethics as it flies in the face of scientific consensus concerning manmade climate change.
Together we can we keep our leaders and decisions makers focused on the same sustainable horizon which frightens the coal industry. We need to stand in front of the fossil fuel industry with our backs to their dirty energy.
Arin de Hoog is a media relations specialist with Greenpeace International