As Barbara explains, the ancient Romans and Chinese used coal ornamentally long before they discovered its value as a fuel. But by the time of medieval Britain, coal had replaced wood as the primary energy source. Centuries later, it spurred the Industrial Revolution and inspired the invention of the steam engine, and today the United States burns more coal than ever before.
But despite its allure as an energy source, coal also affects our everyday lives because of its damaging effects on air quality. According to Barbara, who is a former environmental attorney, coal produces sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide in high quantities when burned, and as such, coal burning leads to respiratory disease and even death, as well as environmental destruction and global warming. For these reasons, Barbara advocates the continued development and proliferation of wind, solar, and hydrogen power—renewable energy sources that may indeed have life-saving repercussions on our future as a species.
“Coal: A Human History” (Perseus, 2003)