Sunday, November 09, 2014

Picture Postcards

About twenty years ago, just after the collapse of the DDR Eli and Ms. Rabett found themselves on a cold winter night in the middle of Erfurt Germany.  There was what first appeared to be fog in the air but it was not exactly pleasant to breathe, and Ms. Rabett was not enjoying the taste.  There were halos around the street lamps, everything was surreal and then the lights went out.  Over the entire city.

The Rabett thought that it reminded him of something.  Indeed it did, Monet's pictures of the Houses of Parliament

Before this experience Eli had thought that the pictures were simply the result of an impressionist take coupled with bad eyesight.  It was not, it was the reality of burning coal for heating and industry.  If bunnies search out photographs of London during the early 1950s a time of killer (like thousands) smog in London the same pictures emerge, although the colors are lacking

and today, well today it is Beijing's turn

and, of course Shanghai

The Rabett visited both during the early 1990s on his tour of polluted cities.  Erfurt was a useful clue as to what was going on.

Eli, of course, is an old bunny, who grew to rabetthood in New York City, in the age when, again, coal was the primary fuel for heating.  The Rabett remembers two things.  First how grumpy Dad and Grandpa were about having to get up in the middle of the night and adjust the fire when kicked out of bed by Mom and Grandmom Rabett, second, the soot on every building.  In the 60s and 70s people started to wash their brick and stone houses.  it was astounding.

The recent nonsense from the Ridleys and Lomborgs about coal being the fuel of development brings back not so fond memories.  And, oh yes, coal mine owners have a richly deserved reputation.  Not for kindness to their workers and the rest of us.


David B. Benson said...

1956-1306 = 350 years:

afeman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
afeman said...

Around the time of your visit to Ehfurt (air-foort, haha) I spent a winter in Prague. That autumn they had the coal piles on the sidewalk on their way into the cellar and into your lungs. Winter mornings you could not see several hundred feet across the river, and the pretty pink buildings had a layer of soot on the upper surfaces. On smaller buildings you could see this yellow snotlike aerial goop coming off the chimneys.

That sulphurous smell sends me paroxysms of nostalgia even as I don't miss the black boogers.

Lionel A said...

I remember only too well the smogs of 1950s Britain, not confined to London.

Much about every city had its own coal fired gas-works, producing a variant of methane called, strangely, 'town gas' and stored in huge extensible cylinders called 'gas holders' (or to some locals, incorrectly as gasometers). The inner cylinder would rise and fall as the quantity of gas in the holder changed.

The railways too were largely driven by coal. As a young un I once had the delight of riding the footplate of a loco' putting a couple of shovel-fulls into the firebox as it came off a passenger train and went to the sheds having arrived at its home depot. At home, the setting up a coal fire of a morning, raking out the cold cinders first, was a chill but skilled task learned early on.

Then there were other industries adding their own 'flavours' to the air in particular the animal glue factory.

But then coal is still a nightmare for many, where it is sourced, through where it is transported and where it is used. Coal dust gets ingrained in your skin, and of course the linnings of lungs.

Anonymous said...

It kinda shoots down the logic - All the US has to do is provide the technology and the problems are solved.

Well, the Clean Air Act resulted in scrubbers for US coal use - the technology has existed for a long time, but is slightly more expensive, and do the Chinese use it???

Anonymous said...

"coal being the fuel of development "

I've got mine, don't worry 'bout his.

Phil. said...

I remember the local gas works well. It wasn't methane however, it was admixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Use of which was a common means of suicide at the time!

Fernando Leanme said...

The new clean burning coal technology seems to be good enough for the German government:

"In September 2012 Germany's Environment Minister opened a new lignite power plant, arguing the following: “If one builds a new state-of-the-art lignite power plant to replace several older and much less efficient plants, then I feel this should also be acknowledged as a contribution to our climate protection efforts.”

Peter Altmaier is not alone, recently the climate benefits of Germany's new and apparently ultra-efficient coal power plants have been extolled not only by manufacturers such as Siemens and power companies including RWE, but even some of the German nuclear phase out's most vocal proponents."

Don't blame me for the german project, I think they are very cynical. But comparing GDR coal plants with what can be built today is a bit off target. The communists were well known to have zero respect for the environment. The Chinese communist party is no exception. And i have first hand knowledge about the enviromental mess made by the chavez regime in venezuela. So, the best way to criticize coal is to discuss the problems it causes even if it uses top notch technology...

. The debate can also include a discussion as to why not finance very clean coal technology in the third world tied to hydropower and wind in a single package?

Hank Roberts said...

> Does China?
"Huadian saved money by turning off the scrubbers, which suck up power. What’s more, Huadian falsified paperwork and sold its electricity at a premium rate that the government offers to power plants with low emissions. Regulators caught the company. Twice...."
Gas Works park contains remnants of the sole remaining coal gasification plant in the US. The plant operated from 1906 to 1956, and was bought by the City of Seattle for park purposes in 1962.

KR said...

Note that "top notch technology" does not equate to "cheap power". Nor does a relatively inexpensive generating plant equate to Third-World high-tech maintenance, or to the very existence of the grid required to convey that power elsewhere.

I find it quite interesting that in developed countries wired telephones are simply not being rolled out, rather cell phones, as the infrastructure required is both minimal and incremental in nature. The same seems (IMO) to hold for distributed small renewable power sources.

EliRabett said...

Yeah, town gas is generated from coal via the water shift reactions yielding hydrogen and CO. BTW, coal will never go completely away as it is needed for metallurgy to reduce ores.

EliRabett said...

The German government is full of shit, or better put lignite, which is like burning dirt, or shit. Pick one.

They are hemmed in by the power generating companies esp RWE Ag the home base for Varenhold, a noted academic denier.


Coal, climate and art remain entangled in many places.

Newcastle is one of them.

Hank Roberts said...

"... As global leaders tucked into their welcoming dinner, the US reading – still available on the embassy’s own website – was “very unhealthy”, with an air quality index reading of 203. It showed the concentration of PM2.5, the smallest particulate matter, at 153 micrograms per cubic metre. The WHO says the safe daily level is 25 micrograms.

But as the Washington Post reported, Smartphone apps and Chinese websites that normally included the US figures alongside official statistics, had the former removed, while the official Chinese feed crept up to 147 or “lightly polluted”.

An app that normally carries the US data showed steadily rising levels in the morning before switching abruptly at lunchtime to an implausible “0: excellent” reading...."

EliRabett said...

Yes Gary Locke really pissed the Chinese Government off when he set up that site. No, belay that, Gary Locke really pissed the Chinese Government off period by acting like an adult.

Jeffrey Davis said...

Gaia needed two developments to rid herself of us. The lens and Newcomen Engine. The lens let us discover that filthy water was throttling us, and the Newcomen Engine gave us the means to finish the job: coal burning wasn't going to kill us all until there were lots of us.

It's kind of funny in a way. Like a clever finesse in bridge.

The painting of London looks like a Turner. Which is apt: Turner's great subject wasn't light -- at least early on -- it was the unraveling of the British Empire.

adelady said...

If these folks had any real interest in the welfare of those poor brown folks, they might worry about the loss of food due to coal.

Now we all know that a lot of this loss is due to cookstoves, but much of it is directly due to coal used for power and/or heat.

Getting 20%, maybe 50%, more food from the exact same crops and exact same climate, but minus the coal fired pollution, looks like a good bargain to me.


Andrew said...

Eli -

No particular reason why we *have* to use coke to reduce Iron ore. As can be said of every single energy/environmental issue.. given sufficient zero-carbon electricity, the problem can be solved.

Electrolytic production of Iron may not be strictly economic right now, but if we are serious about stopping CO2 emissions then it has to happen. If goes without saying, of course, that if a large chunk of your electricity is coming from variable sources, then dumping it into electrolysers is a much better use than trying to store it.

Anonymous said...

"The German government is full of shit,"

...and wind, and sun.

The German government has actually put in place policies that have led to a very large increase in renewable energy, which allow Germany to get a large fraction of its energy from renewables, which is more than can be said for the American government.

maybe Eli should worry less about Germany and more about his own government -- and his own energy use at home and on the road.

The Germans are putting America to shame.

Fernando Leanme said...

"They are hemmed in by the power generating companies esp RWE Ag the home base for Varenhold, a noted academic denier."

Uhu. So that's it? The Germans are going nuts building coal fired plants because RWE is the hone for an academic denier? You can do much better than that, did you read the links? They seem to be building coal plants because they feel they got NO alternative. They don't want nuclear power.

I think by now you know the nuclear power issue is the Devil's offer. Yet I see you either ignore it, or even worse gibbly talk about renewables for Africa, because somehow you dream they all live growing corn and chickens in tiny villages. You got to get real, Eli. At least chew over the problem rather than punt.

EliRabett said...

Andrew, electrolysis is not necessarily CO2 free. For example the graphite electrodes used in aluminum refining are major sources of CO2 as the oxidize during the process.

Vinny Burgoo said...

Does anyone know why New Caledonia was such a big user of coal in the 1960s? The Global Carbon Atlas says it was the world's second biggest per capita user (after Kazakhstan). It's now the seventh biggest, but that's mostly because of a couple of recently built coal-fired power stations.

Its per cap coal use fell off a cliff in about 1970 and stayed fairly low until the power stations were built. Nickel production might have something to do with the high pre-1970 use but it's not the whole story because the ups and downs of nickel and coal don't correlate very well. I thought it might be bunkering but I'm almost certain that the GCA excludes that from Territorial emissions.

Vinny Burgoo said...

I forgot to say that New Caledonia closed its coal mines in about 1970, so that probably explains the rapid drop in use. But what were they using it for?

EliRabett said...

Metallurgical coal used for refining nickel. Made a difference when shipping bulk materials was relatively expensive.

Vinny Burgoo said...

Possible, but coal use was fairly flat in the '60s while nickel production skyrocketed. (I think. Haven't looked at the graphs for a few days.)