Why the Real Cost of BC's Dirty Coal Exports Will be Paid by Everyone Sooner or Later

How much will China's chunky air cost in the long run?

The government plans to grow BC's dirty coal exports in the coming years have been trumpeted by the corporate media as a boon for BC's current budget woes. The most important word being 'current'. Short term accounting, short term thinking, is one of the big differences between the capitalist paradigm and an environmentalist's. This clash of worldviews about coal exports is growing hotter in the US and Canada because the extractive industries in both countries are attempting to expand exports to Asia, especially China. As the corporate/government plans to ramp up exports from Washington, Oregon and BC come to light opposition on both sides of the border are joining forces.

Coal has two main uses in Asia and beyond - steel production and electricity generation. Both of these are growing exponentially in Asia because their export industries are too. These Asian exporters are primarily producing needless crap for the western consumer culture. Industrialists in the Far East know they are currently the free trade era's producer of choice but that status won't last for ever because wages and living standards there are rising in concert with the pollution and that one day soon India's youthful lower cost demographics will take over so they must exploit their current advantage quickly. That's how free trade works. Borders are invisible to capital but contain labour thus creating a rush to the bottom. India too will have a short horizon as Africa has an even younger population and once India's working conditions improve the capitalists will move on again.

Consequently the Asians will end up paying a bill for the the externalities, the pollution, who's total will far exceed the current short term profits in the long term just as Mexicans already know full well. Coal's externalities happen at both the extraction and the consumption ends. Here in BC as in Wyoming, Australia, Russia, Mongolia and everywhere else vying for a slice of Asia 'market' the extraction industries don't want to talk about all the costs, they want us to see current cash flows but don't want to talk about coal extraction's huge pollution footprint.

As a result of the geologic formation of coal deposits they always contain pockets of methane that are released during mining [remember the canary in the coal mine?] and other volatile organic chemicals that end up in the groundwater. In addition coal is crushed to facilitate shipping which creates huge amounts of dust both near the mine and all along the route it's shipped on. Coal dust contains many health concerns, some merely dangerous, some deadly. Coal may be a lot easier to cleanup in case of a spill but that's about its only redeeming feature. Coal not only creates far more CO2 pollution when burned but it also creates just as big on a pollution footprint as fracked gas or heavy crude where it's extracted.

China alone plans to build 1000 large coal-powered plants in the coming 2 decades each producing 1000 megawatts of electricity each of which will also discharge about 6 million tons of carbon per year, equivalent to the emissions from 2 million cars. Demand for coal in 2010 resulted in a traffic jam 75 miles long caused by more than 10,000 trucks carrying supplies from Inner Mongolia. Coal is everywhere and everybody is racing to build their extraction capacity. Supply has already overtaken demand, BC's current coal export fantasy will end in another boondoggle when the bills for all the long term costs get delivered.