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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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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