Had Coal Not been there – Chawm Ganguly

The Author inside a Coal Mine in Australia

As the world grapples with the twin menace of Global Warming and Climate Change, Coal is increasingly becoming a dirty word. From Polar bears suffering due to the melting ice caps, to Climate Refugees in Bangladesh waiting for the deluge brought about by the rising sea levels that will spell their doom, everything is traced back to fossil fuels, primarily coal.
Coal is not merely the F-word – it is what is driving us in the pursuit of meaningless instant gratification and conspicuous consumption as we hurl towards the inevitable end. Coal led us to the World Wars, aided the process of colonization, exploitation, denigration of the environment and prompted us to play God as it pandered to our vainglorious insecurities.

Despite the bad press Coal continues to burn itself to fuel the progress of the Nation (Hole in the Ozone layers be damned). As a matter of fact, experts opine that even if we exploit hydropower potential to the fullest, even if there is a 40 fold increase in the contribution of renewable resources and a 20 fold increase in the contribution of nuclear power capacity, by the year 2031-32, fossil fuels will continue to occupy a significant share in the energy basket (74% to 85% of the energy mix).

But what if Coal wasn’t there? For one, had coal not been there, Coalgate would not have happened and the Indian political scenario of the day would have been way different. But more importantly:

01. Forests would have been denuded years ago as energy hunger would have forced man to cut down trees. And without a forest cover, the adverse impact on the environment would have been far more severe to put things mildly.

02. The Industrial Revolution that transformed the planet would not have taken place. The Anthropocene Era (relating to or denoting the current geological age, viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment) would not have dawned on us.

03. Naturally, Civilisation as we know today would not have marched the way it did and does. Forget about WiFi hotspots and 4G connectivity, even the internet would not have been there. We would have remained hunter-gatherers by day and star gazers by night.

04. The power to transform societies, the power to transform economies, the power to control destinies, the power to hold progress by its horns would not even have been contemplated – leave alone being achieved.

05. Urbanization – the growth of the megacities that we now call home – would not have occurred the way we have cherished. Between 1801 and 1911 for example, the proportion of the British population living in cities had increased from 20 to 80%!

06. Three of the biggest influencers of our times – democracy, socialism and feminism would have remained mere terms. Exotic, esoteric but not widely in practice.

07. The United Kingdom, Germany, The United States of America and the Soviet Union would not have attained their preeminent status as Global Dominators crafting history as it were.

08. China and India would not have had their trysts with destiny waiting as they are today to claim their rightful places in the economic sun.

09. Humankind, as one spin doctor for the industry puts it, would have remained in the quagmire of lost opportunities. The triumph (?) over Mother Nature would not have taken place as we would not even have had the wherewithal to contemplate the war.

10. “With Coal, we have light, strength, power, wealth, and civilization; without Coal, we have darkness, weakness, poverty, and barbarism. The most civilized Nations of the world are those consuming the most Coal.”- William J Nicolls, The Coal Catechism, 1898.

“What then” cried Plato’s ghost “What Then”? More importantly, Who Cares?

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