For the past 150 years, we have increasingly relied upon the fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) to provide the energy required to develop industry. These energy sources are not renewable and will be exhausted within the next century or so.
In the 19th. century, the prominent U.K. industrialist W. G. Armstrong forecast that the British coal industry would close down within 200 years. He was wrong, of course. The industry lasted only until 1970.
Worse still, our use of these resources results in by-products, primarily carbon dioxide gas, which are adversely changing the earth's climate. Carbon dioxide is not readily eliminated from the atmosphere and reduces the loss of radiated heat, so causing global warming. It lowers the ph of the oceans, destroying the marine environment.
What About Our Coalminers?
We should re-consider our use of coal. Surely, it's a very convenient and valuable fuel source, but it is no longer economically or environmentally justifiable as a source of energy. Instead, consider the possibilities of adding energy to coal, to synthesise added-value manufactured products.
Recognise coal as the source of the basic element required by the organic chemical industry. We have no other industrial resource with the advantages of coal as a pure, abundant, readily-extracted raw material.
We already have the technology to convert coal into gasoline and natural gas, to supplement and replace existing fuels in the short to medium term. Such products as carbon fibre and plastics offer long-term benefits by replacing energy-hungry construction materials such as steel. A new plant at Chinchilla in Queensland, which converts underground coal into a light, pure diesel oil, has commenced pilot production and is planned to produce 20,000 barrels of fuel oil per day, at low cost, when fully commissioned.
Ensure the long-term future of the coal industry by exploiting its true worth in a new added-value petrochemical industry.
As a matter of priority, or certainly as they reach the end of their economic life, we should convert our fossil-fuel-burning power stations to use thermal energy from nuclear fission, or possibly from hot rocks, and produce electric power, de-salinated water, and hydrogen gas. As we have no wish to contribute to the production of nuclear arms, we should select reactor technology, e.g. the thorium/uranium fuel cycle, which will consume plutonium and produce a greatly-reduced level of long-life radioactive wastes. The local level of radiation produced by a modern nuclear power plant is less than that produced by a coal-fired plant. There is no significant production of greenhouse gases.
It was recently announced that a new power station, burning brown coal, is to be constructed at Yallourn in Victoria. Unless the owners have a firm, practical plan to sequester greenhouse gases, construction should be prohibited.