Importance of Coal

History

It’s unclear how far back coal was used as there is evidence back hundreds of years. Estimates suggest that there were over 150,000 tonnes produced in the UK in the decade 1551 to 1560. This grew through the centuries to nearly a quarter of a billion tones (250,000,000 tonnes) in the decade 1901 – 1910.

The importance of coal cannot be understated and the development of countries and empires in no small part is linked to the rise of coal. The energy produced enabled vast transportation networks across continents and oceans and fuelled the rise of industry and sparked innovation and technological progress. Maybe this is also why we collectively have such an affinity to this energy source. We’ll cover many examples of coal in other blogs in energystory.org such as How efficient can coal become, Investing in Eggborough and Biomass vs Coal.

Coal however, in many western economies is in decline. The rise of renewables and cleaner technologies is clear however the legacy that coal has left, both positive and negative is undisputable. A key element of President Trump’s time in office has been the support for the coal industry in the United States and it’s important to understand the importance that coal has had on society.

Personal connections

In researching this story, I was focussing on more technological elements reading Coal on the Switchback by Israel Berkovitch at a Hotel near Doncaster as I noticed the table close to mine discussing their nostalgia for coal mines. On speaking to Joe from that table, a happy man in his 70’s, I found out that he’d worked in Brodsworth mine and in the industry for his whole career ending working to close and decommission many mines. He remembered fondly his time working down the pits, the comradery of fellow workers. On showing him the book I was reading he immediately read the foreword by Sir Derek Ezra whom he had personally shown around Brodsworth. He spoke with pride about the fact Brodsworth was known as the Queen’s Colliery as they supplied Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. He ended with frustration that there was “500 years” of coal left in the ground and didn’t have much to say about windmills or nuclear power.

Coal more than any energy source evokes so many emotions due to its historic links to communities in many countries. In the UK entire villages grew up around mines with generations of miners. My own family included miners in the Welsh Valleys. Tragically we lost 8 family members at the Park Slip Colliery explosion in 1892. My family worked in poor conditions and don’t have any positive collective memories of mining however we still hold respect coal, visit monuments to its past industry as though it is part of a lost connection.

Coal more than any energy source evokes so many emotions due to its historic links to communities in many countries. In the UK entire villages grew up around mines with generations of miners. My own family included miners in the Welsh Valleys. Tragically we lost 8 family members at the Park Slip Colliery explosion in 1892. My family worked in poor conditions and don’t have any positive collective memories of mining however we still hold respect coal, visit monuments to its past industry as though it is part of a lost connection.

Do you have strong opinions or feelings about coal?

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