Excerpt from Big Coal by Jeff Goodell, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Big Coal

The Dirty Secret Behind America's Energy Future

by Jeff Goodell

Big Coal
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jun 2006, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2007, 352 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse Review Team

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


Oil is the most critical fossil fuel for modern economies, underlying everything from transportation to manufacturing. In 2004, the world consumed about 80 million barrels of oil each day, about 30 percent of which came from the Middle East. The world is not going to run out of oil anytime soon, but it might run out of cheap, easy-to-get oil. As that happens, prices are likely to spike, fundamentally disrupting major parts of the world’s economy. You don’t have to buy into the apocalyptic scenarios that some doomsayers predict — the collapse of industrial society, widespread famine — to see that the end of cheap oil is going to inspire panic and economic chaos as the world scrambles to find a replacement energy source.

The situation with natural gas is not much better. In the United States, consumption of natural gas, which is mostly used for home heating and the manufacture of industrial products, as well as agricultural fertilizers and chemicals, has jumped by about 40 percent in the past two decades. About 85 percent of that gas came from domestic sources, but production in the United States has been flat for several decades, leading us to import more and more from Canada, where production is also beginning to peak. There are still substantial reserves in places such as Russia and Qatar, but the global shipping and trading infrastructure is woefully undeveloped. Upgrading it will cost billions of dollars and take decades to complete. Not surprisingly, natural gas prices have tripled in the past few years and caused home heating bills to rise rapidly in many regions of the country.

What about the other alternatives? Nuclear power can be used to generate electricity, but no new plants have been built in America in thirty years. This is primarily because nuclear plants are still haunted by the ghosts of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, as well as unresolved problems of radioactive waste. Even if the social and environmental hurdles could be overcome, nuclear plants are so expensive to build that a major resurgence is unlikely. And as much as we would all like to imagine we could live in a world powered by solar panels and wind turbines, these alternative energy sources are not yet capable of powering our high-tech economy.

Out of this, coal has emerged as the default fuel of choice. Coal has a number of virtues as a fuel: it can be shipped via boats and railroads, it’s easy to store, and it’s easy to burn. But coal’s main advantage over other fuels is that it’s cheap and plentiful. There are an estimated 1 trillion tons of recoverable coal in the world, by far the largest reserve of fossil fuel left on the planet. And despite a run-up in coal prices in 2004 and 2005, coal is still inexpensive compared to other fuels. In a world starved for energy, the importance of this simple fact cannot be underestimated: the world needs cheap power, and coal can provide it.

America is literally built upon thick seams of coal. Just as Saudi Arabia dominates the global oil market because of the geological good luck of having more than 20 percent of the world’s oil reserves, the United States is a big advocate for coal because it has the geological good luck of having more than 25 percent of the world’s recoverable coal reserves—about 270 billion tons—buried within its borders. As coal industry executives never tire of pointing out, this is enough coal to fuel America at the current rate of consumption for about 250 years. To put the size of its bounty into perspective, consider this: all of western Europe has only 36 billion tons of recoverable coal. China has less than half as much as the United States— 126 billion tons. India and Australia, both big coal burners, have even less than China. The only country with reserves that come close to America’s is Russia, with 176 billion tons, but much of that coal is in remote regions and difficult to mine. Not surprisingly, coal boosters often refer to America as “the Saudi Arabia of coal.”

Copyright © 2006 by Jeff Goodell. Reprinted with permission by Houghton Mifflin Company.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

One Month Free Membership

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Book That Matters Most
    The Book That Matters Most
    by Ann Hood
    BookBrowse First Impression reviewers appreciated the innovative structure of The Book That Matters ...
  • Book Jacket: The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko
    The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko
    by Scott Stambach
    BookBrowse First Impression reviewers were uniformly impressed by this difficult yet heartwarming ...
  • Book Jacket: Boy Erased
    Boy Erased
    by Garrard Conley
    Growing up in rural Arkansas, Garrard Conley did not quite fit the mold of his strait-laced, ...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Book That Matters Most
    by Ann Hood

    An enthralling novel about love, loss, secrets and friendship.

    Read Member Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Underground Airlines
    by Ben Winters

    "The Invisible Man meets Blade Runner in this outstanding alternate history thriller." - PW Star

    Read Member Reviews

Book Discussions
Book Jacket
This Must Be the Place
by Maggie O'Farrell

An irresistible love story for fans of Beautiful Ruins and Where'd You Go, Bernadette?

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win Lady Cop Makes Trouble

The Kopp Sisters Return!

One of the nation's first female deputy sheriffs returns in another gripping adventure based on fact.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

Manners M (T) M

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

 
X

Free Weekly Newsletter

Keep up with what's happening in the world of books:
Reviews, previews, interviews and more!



Spam Free: Your email is never shared with anyone; opt out any time.