By Kieran Cooke
Donald Trump is not afraid of a touch of hyperbole, certainly when he talks about U.S. coal. "We've ended the war on beautiful, clean coal," he said recently.
It is also the fossil fuel that poses the greatest danger to the future of the planet, its burning responsible for vast amounts of climate-changing greenhouse gases.
The idea of clean coal is based on capturing and storing emissions from power plants and other coal-burning facilities. The technology is still at an early stage of development and is at present installed at only a very few sites around the world.
Trump, who has told his fellow Americans he regards climate change as a hoax and has announced that he intends to withdraw the U.S. from the 2015 Paris agreement aimed at limiting the rise in global temperatures, came to office vowing to resuscitate his country's ailing coal industry.
Latest statistics show that a limited revival in the fortunes of U.S. coal is taking place, though energy analysts say this has little to do with the new administration in Washington.
What's cheering U.S. mining concerns—many of whom have declared bankruptcy or have teetered on the edge of financial collapse in recent years—is a big jump in exports over the past 12 months.
Exports in 2017 are likely to have risen by more than 50 percent compared to the previous year, bringing in additional revenues of more than $1 billion. India, China, Brazil, Mexico, the Netherlands and Germany have been among the main export markets.
Overall production from U.S. mines increased by nearly 10 percent over the year. Trump pledged at election campaign rallies to "bring back coal" and revive thousands of mining jobs; according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics the number employed in the sector has increased, but only marginally—from 50,000 at the end of 2016 to 51,000 at present.
Energy analysts point out that any revival in U.S. coal is likely to be temporary and has to be set against a long-term decline in the industry. U.S. coal production is down by a third from five years ago; in 2016 coal burning accounted for 30 percent of U.S. power generation—the lowest percentage on record.
Exports form only a small proportion of the market for U.S. coal. The industry is still overwhelmingly dependent on the domestic sector; in 2016 sales within the U.S. were 730 million tons, while exports were 60 million tons.
Over the last ten years the industry has lost nearly half its workforce. As renewable energy projects focused on wind and solar have grown, investors—whether government-led or private—have shown little appetite for sinking more money into coal projects.
The growth of the shale sector and the expansion of gas supplies, often considerably cheaper than coal and demanding less investment in plant infrastructure, have also deterred investors away from coal.
At present there is little sign of any new coal power plants being built in the U.S., while many older facilities are facing closure.
The market for coal overseas is likely to shrink in the years ahead as more countries seek to tackle problems of air pollution—and meet the challenge of climate change—through limiting the use of coal.
In Europe, the Netherlands, Finland, France, Portugal, Italy and the UK have all said they plan to phase out coal burning by 2030.
China and India, two of the biggest coal users, are investing heavily in renewables, particularly in solar power. In both countries there is growing concern about the serious impact on health of air pollution caused by burning coal.
Before his election to the White House, Trump boasted that by sweeping away various environmental regulations, he would ensure a new age of coal would be born. "We're going to bring the coal industry back 100%," he said.
Regulations have been done away with in many areas—to the detriment of the environment. Exports have given the industry a temporary lifeline. But the future for Old King Coal is still bleak.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Climate News Network.
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In Major Win for Indigenous Rights, Supreme Court Rules Much of Eastern Oklahoma Is Still a Reservation
Much of Eastern Oklahoma, including most of Tulsa, remains an Indian reservation, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.
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Summer and fall are great seasons to enjoy the outdoors. But if you're already spending extra time outside because of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be out of ideas on how to make fresh-air activities feel special. Here are a few suggestions to keep both adults and children entertained and educated in the months ahead, many of which can be done from the comfort of one's home or backyard.
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It is undisputed that vitamin D plays a role everywhere in the body and performs important functions. A severe vitamin D deficiency, which can occur at a level of 12 nanograms per milliliter of blood or less, leads to severe and painful bone deformations known as rickets in infants and young children and osteomalacia in adults. Unfortunately, this is where the scientific consensus ends.
Where Does the Deficiency Begin?<p>Nobody knows exactly how much vitamin D a person actually needs. The question of when a deficiency starts is correspondingly controversial. However, vitamin D is becoming increasingly popular.Not only is the pseudo-scientific literature on the "sun vitamin" experiencing an upswing, but the number of published studies has also increased enormously in recent years. For example, in 2019 <a href="https://academic.oup.com/edrv/article/40/4/1109/5126915" target="_blank">a study found that</a> Vitamin D is responsible for keeping the skeleton functional and is associated with cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and various types of cancer. <br></p>
An All-Rounder<p>Vitamin D levels in the body rise and fall according to sun exposure. If sufficient UV rays reach the skin, the body is able to produce the vitamin itself. However, the human body only derives an estimated 10 to 20 percent of its daily requirement from food.</p><p>The vitamin D that we synthesize from sunlight or food is not biologically active at first. Before the kidneys can produce the biologically active form of the vitamin, known as calcitriol, and release it into the blood, some metabolic processes must take place beforehand.</p><p>In addition, many organs have receptors to which the precursor of calcitriol binds. Further, this substance is also present in blood.</p><p>From this precursor, the organs then produce calcitriol themselves, which the body then uses for countless other processes in the body. This form of vitamin D thus regulates insulin secretion, inhibits tumor growth, and promotes the formation of red blood cells as well as the survival and activity of macrophages, which are important for the <a href="https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/5/7/2502/htm" target="_blank">immune system.</a></p>
Low Vitamin D, Severe COVID-19 Disease?<p>A research study carried out <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352364620300067?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">at the University of Hohenheim</a> has now established a link between vitamin D deficiency, certain previous diseases, and severe cases of COVID-19.</p><p>According to the study, "there is a lot of evidence that several non-communicable diseases (high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome) are associated with low vitamin D plasma levels. These comorbidities, together with the often accompanying vitamin D deficiency, increase the risk of severe COVID-19 events."</p><p>"This statement is completely correct," said Martin Fassnacht, head of endocrinology at the University Hospital of Würzburg. However, he qualifies that it is a pure association, "i.e. a mere observation that these events occur together.</p><p>Dr. Fassnacht is very critical of the hype surrounding vitamin D, but not because he denies the vitamin serves important functions. However, studies on humans have not been able to show that vitamin D has the healing powers many often propagate.</p><p>Fassnacht says, "If you take a closer look, the hopes that the administration of vitamin D has a healing effect have not been confirmed so far."</p>
Association Versus Intervention Studies<p>Many studies on the vitamin are association or observational studies. "By definition, these studies cannot prove the causal relationship, but only point to mere correlations," said Fassnacht. The physician tries to illustrate this with an example:</p><p>"Imagine two groups of 80-year-olds. One group is spry, active and does sports. If you compare them with another group living in nursing homes, the difference in vitamin D levels will be dramatic. Life expectancy would also be extremely different."</p><p>But to try to explain the difference in fitness by vitamin D status alone is far too simplistic. "Vitamin D levels are a good measure of how sick someone is. But not more," says Fassnacht. </p><p>According to Fassnacht, none of the intervention studies carried out to date -- that specifically examined the effect of vitamin D on various diseases -- has been able to confirm the previous association and laboratory studies or the presumed positive effect of vitamin D.</p>
Further Research Is Needed<p>"If a coronavirus infection is suspected, it is therefore absolutely necessary to check the vitamin D status and quickly correct any possible deficit," said the recommendation of the paper published by the University of Hohenheim.</p><p>"Studies are underway to see whether vitamin D helps in COVID-19 infection, but I personally do not believe that this is really the case," says endocrinologist Fassnacht. Nevertheless, he says it is of course useful to carry out these studies.<br></p><p>"I don't want to rule out that there are actually subgroups of people who benefit from an additional vitamin D dose," he says. After all, this has been proven to be the case with a severe deficit.</p><p>In view of the study situation, Fassnacht does not think much of preventive, nationwide vitamin D substitutes. "My belief that the vitamin helps somewhere is very low. But, of course, I can be wrong."</p>
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