Research Paper: How Does the Use of Coal Impact People and Technology?

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¶ … Coal Impact People and Technology

An important feature which characterizes the modern day society is given by the incremental pressure put on environmental stability. Human kind has still a long way to go before becoming entirely environmentally responsible, but the first steps in this direction are made by individual efforts of energy consumption, the development of environmentally responsible legislations or the efforts towards the reduction of industrial pollution.

One particular reason as to why these efforts need to be made is represented by the limited nature of the natural resources, which are being consumed at a too fast pace, and which will no longer be able to support life for the future generations. This topic is an inexhaustible and extremely complex one, but in order to grasp the simplest principles, it is first necessary to understand the role of natural resources within our modern day society. The most relevant example in this sense is offered by coal.

Before launching an actual discussion on coal, it is first necessary to understand the resources and its importance and complexities. Most importantly, coal is a nonrenewable source of energy. It is basically a fossil fuel which was created throughout hundreds of millions of years, from the decomposition of plant matter (National Energy Education Development Program). In a more technical formulation, "coal is a complex mixture of organic chemical substances containing carbon, hydrogen and oxygen in chemical combination, together with smaller amounts of nitrogen and sulfur. This organic part of coal has associated with it various amounts of moisture and minerals" (by Design, 2004).

2. Thesis statement

Coal is the source of energy and development and it has set at the basis of the modern day community. Humanity's excessive reliability on the natural resources has however generated environmental instabilities and it is now necessary to develop and implement newer and more efficient strategies which ensure environmental stability.

3. The evolution of coal in the society

It is unsure as to when coal was first used, but it is generally accepted that it had been used at smaller scales by various groups and individuals. The Chinese are estimated to have been using coal to smelt metals ever since 1000 B.C.; the Romans were mining coal in Great Britain in 400 a.D. And the Native Americans were using it before the arrival of Columbus.

Coal was primarily used in Great Britain for two specific reasons. For once, it generated more heat than the same amount of wood. Secondly, the population of Britain used wood to construct ships, homes and other such and the wood quickly became insufficient. "They needed an alternative to fuel source, and they had large coal deposits, many of which were located at or near the surface. The shift from wood to coal in Britain would eventually have profound consequences for the world" (Tabak, 2009).

Coal mining became a full industry during the 1500s and it was not until the nineteenth century that it became globally popular by expansion to various countries. Between 1835 and 1882 for instance, the amount of mined coal increased from 36 million tons per year to 422 million tons per year. By early 1900s, coal became the main source of energy, generating an estimated 95 per cent of commercial energy; 4 per cent was generated by oil and gas, and the remaining 1 per cent was generated from hydraulic sources (Singh, 2007).

Aside from creating sustainability and improving the conditions of life, coal has also created a context in which the labor force could better protect its rights. The use of coal boosted the Industrial Revolution, which in turn led to the creation of factories and the migration of the population from the rural sites to urban sites, in search of better lives. Once in the cities however, the people were exploited by factory owners. The starting days of the modern labor force were marked by long hours, underpayment, unsanitary conditions or even hard physical work for women and children.

But the sustained development of the communities required coal and the coal would be collected and processed by the hard working individuals. The countries' dependency on coal allowed the workers to form unions and militate for their rights. In other words then, coal has helped set the basis of the modern day labor force (Tabak, 2009).

4. The role of coal today

4.1. The current impact of coal on people

Today, coal continues to constitute the main source of energy. At a most basic level, coal is used to generate heat that warms the homes, offices and other locations of the people, but also allows them to cook their meals (Nersesian, 2007). Efforts were initially made to reduce the dependency on coal by using oil as the main source of energy, but the decision proved unsuccessful when the price of oil dramatically increased at the turn of the twentieth century. Coal as such once again the primary source, in the attempt to reduce the dependency on oil this time.

A general look at the American society's relationship with coal reveals the following:

The need for energy increases at an average 2 per cent per year

More than 55 per cent of the energy produced in the United States is produced through coal burning. The use of low cost coal generates low cost energy and energy affordability for the population

The usage of coal to create energy generates a series of social and economic advantages, such as the creation of jobs and the reduction of unemployment, the support of a competitive economy which can produce items and deliver services at lower costs, the increased living standards for the population or the reduction of the dependence on oil

The modern usage of coal to create energy is more environmentally friendly as newer and better technologies have been developed and introduced. Additionally, the efforts towards pollution reduction and increased efficiency and sustainability would also further increase in the future (Leer and Anderson, 1997).

4.2. The future role of coal for people

Coal has for centuries constituted the primary source of energy for the populations, but these have exploited the finite natural resource. This has virtually materialized in a context of future insufficiency of coal to support human life on the planet. The rapid consumption of coal is even more so problematic as the creation of the resource requires hundreds of millions of years.

The instability of coal becomes combined with other dimensions of the modern day society to generate environmental instability. Some examples in this sense include the incremental levels of individual consumption, the incremental levels of pollution -- both individual as well as industrial -- and the ultimate threat of global warming. The emergence of these challenges determines the incremental need for environmental stability. In terms of the United States for instance, the threat of global warming is expected to determine the international regulators to force the country to reduce its energy generation from coal and would most likely negatively impact the country's energy independence (Leer and Anderson, 1997).

In a nutshell then, the future relationship between coal and the populations is complex and generically dual one. On the one hand, this relationship would materialize in the need for the population to respect coal more as a source of energy for the future generations and reduce their consumption of coal. On the other hand, the imposed restrictions would imply that the populations are deprived of the benefits generated by coal. Subsequently, they would have to seek for alternative sources of energy and this would force the development of the populations in a more environmentally friendly manner.

4.3. Coal and technological development

The use of coal has been impacted dramatically with the advent of technology. The technological field is the one which develops at the rapidest rate and forces the rest of the social and economic agents to develop alongside. At an overall level, the relationship between technology and coal is a dual one. First of all, the existence of coal and the adjacent issues -- such as scarcity of natural resources or the need for environmental stability -- generated stimulation for technological development. In other words, the needs with energy creation and generation have forced the players in the technological field to develop new technologies which ensured stability and sustainability.

As it has however been previously mentioned, the relationship between coal and technology is a dual one, and coal's stimulation for technologic development has materialized in a bilateral impact. In other words, as newer and more efficient technologies were developed, these were integrated by the players in the coal industry and more sustainability was created. Some examples as to how technology impacted coal extraction and processing include:

Technologic applications were developed to help identify the underground coal sources (National Energy Education Development Program)

Technology was used to support the creation of nuclear power, as an alternative to fossil fuels. The use of nuclear power to create energy is however extremely difficult, dangerous and disputed. "Through pre-study and fully… [END OF PREVIEW]

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