As we approach the beginning of 2018, we Southern Illinoisans may want to think beyond this point in time. I'm referring to the many who have the revitalization of the coal industry at the top of their wish list. The environmentalists want the opposite.
I'm not here to take sides, but I would like to point out what has evolved over the last 40-plus years concerning our energy sources.
The mid-1970s was the beginning of the demand for more fuel efficient cars and the removal of lead in gasoline. This was also when technology as we know it today was in its infancy. Exxon Oil's think tank saw the writing on the wall, and took part of their excessive profits from the very questionable oil shortage and invested in IBM computers. The mass production of electric vehicles is coming sooner than predicted. Tesla Motors has even unveiled a prototype of a semitrailer that can haul an 85,000-pound payload for 500 miles before recharging the battery. Once these vehicles mentioned are mass produced, the price will level off and we can finally be free of dependence on foreign oil and the influence of our so-called friends in the Mideast.
Some see this as a window for the future of coal. The demand for electricity will increase to run the millions of electric vehicles mentioned above. Unfortunately for families who's livelihood has depended on coal to produce such power for generations, that the coal-generated power plants are going the way of the now obsolete home and business coal burning stoves and furnaces. They are being replaced with natural gas. Plus, solar and wind technology is growing at a rapid pace. For those who want to argue that China and India will continue to burn coal, you're right. But this is temporary until they catch up to our technology. The main factor will be a lower cost, not environmental concerns.
Some will say say, "Why should I listen to the opinion of a Democratic holdover on this subject?" Well, I'll give way to Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell, who indicated to not expect a large increase in mining jobs. His reason given was automation. Of course, this is only part of it. This comes from someone from the coal state of Kentucky, not a guy from the Manhattan borough of New York City.
In the end, the inevitable transfer of coal to renewable energy should satisfy the Sierra Club and certain factions of the country club alike. But what about the displaced miners? We should all insist that they be given the opportunity for free training in another field for up to two years should they choose.
Just think about those killed on the job or now living with Black Lung the next time you adjust your thermostat.