According to my faithful dictionary, "Coal is a black, combustible mineral resulting from partial decomposition of vegetable matter, away from air under varying degrees of temperature and great pressure over a period of millions of years."
We didn't know about global warming then. We subscribed to Ralph Waldo Emerson's definition, which was: "Coal is portable climate."
So I took my little bucket and went to the railroad tracks where I picked up a pail full of unburned coal which a kind firman threw out with the cinders when he was cleaning the locomotive. Gosh, we must have been poor!
Mother used it in the heater which sent the heat up to the second floor in the house where I grew up, but we could still see our breath when we got up on a cold winter morning and hurried downstairs to get dressed. (We didn't have a furnace which could heat a whole house.)
We finally got a sack of briquettes (coal dust molded in the shape of a pillow about the size of my fist), and that brought an end to the coal scavenging period of my life.
Going on with my coal lecture, I remember the trip to Beulah, ND, where we saw a different way of mining lignite, the poorest grade of coal.
Open-face mining does not have tunnels. The workers would skim off the earth until they got down to the vein. Then they use all sorts of equipment to get the lignite out which is hauled away in huge trucks. It does leave a big hole in the ground, but I think it is better than going underground, which miners have to do.
I couldn't be one of them because I've got claustrophobia, and I hate going to work in the dark!
There are three types of coal: anthracite or hard coal; bituminous, the soft kind; and lignite or brown coal. (The lignite hasn't been under enough pressure – like I am trying to get this column done before deadline).
Now they want to get railroad tracks to Wyoming's coal country so it will be easier – and cheaper – to get the ebony mineral to power plants in the East. They still burn the stuff, despite the warnings by scientists about global warming.
Speaking of that, there's lots of controversy on the subject. I've heard Al Gore and seen polar bears lose their habitat with the melting glaciers, but I kind of go along with Michael Cleveland, executive editor of The Cabinet in Milford, NH, who wrote: "Here is the only way to deal with global warming.
"… we're not pretending it doesn't exist; we're just ignoring it … we might accidentally find a solution … remember, nobody was looking for penicillin. It was just 'Hey, what's that green stuff growing in the Petri dish?'. … like penicillin, the solution might magically appear."
We don't necessarily agree totally with Cleveland, but it's food for thought.
Thus ends my lesson on coal – and global warming. Just don't believe everything you read!
© 2007 Robert F. Karolevitz