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Posts Tagged ‘Coal mining’

Events in India over the last few weeks have or will have big impacts on tigers. India’s Supreme Court recently issued a temporary ban restricting tourists access to tiger parks.  The month of July ended with a massive blackout that left close to 700 million Indians without electricity – about 10% of the world’s population.  Then August started off with a report by Greenpeace calling for a moratorium on new coal projects in India, citing evidence that coal mining threatens wildlife and forests.

(photo: archaeologynewsnetwork.blogspot.com)

No doubt the blackout will increase the number of voice calling to expand coal mining; coal-fired power plants produce almost 80% of India’s electricity.

According to the Greenpeace report, most of the new coal mines will be in central India – Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and parts of Odisha and eastern Maharashtra.  1.1 million hectares of forests are under threat. Moreover, these places are home to 35% of India’s tiger population.  And probably more than a few people depend upon the forest for their livelihoods.

So on the one hand India is trying to protect the endangered Bengal tiger, and on the other it is continuing its dependence on one of the most dirty of fossil fuels, even importing coal to feed the system.

The UK Guardian put it quite well:  “A hot-button issue in India, the question of tiger conservation pits the responsibility for preserving wildlife against the development needs of a country that witnessed the slowest economic growth in nine years in March and where hundreds of millions continue to live below the poverty line.”

The situation India is in is also one most of the world is in – development/lifestyle vs. the environment.  Do countries continue to mine for coal, knowing that it will destroy animals, forests, and communities, not to mention the vast amounts of pollution it creates and the toll mining takes on the miners themselves?  Or is it time to seriously invest in clean energy?

India has abundant solar and wind (read Andy Revkin’s blog on bringing solar to rural communities; I also wrote about this a few years back for Triple Pundit).  Off-grid electricity has huge potential, not to mention increased energy efficiency efforts.

(photo: zimbio.com)

Business as usual cannot work much longer on a planet with finite resources and a growing number of consumers.

The Greenpeace report is long and very detailed.  But all one really needs to take from it is that there are at best 1,700 tigers left in India, over 80% of India’s proven coal reserves are found mostly under forests in Central India, and that India’s coal is likely to last only 30-40 more years.

Is it worth destroying so much when proven alternatives exist and the lives of future generations are at stake?

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Indian coal miners (photo: libcom.org)

India is about to move ahead with coal mining in the heavily forested central-eastern region of the country.  This, despite the fact that the industry has had a negative impact elsewhere, destroying large tracts of forests in critical wildlife corridors.  According to Greenpeace India, mining is threatening tiger habitats in Maharashtra and cutting off the forest corridors tigers use to roam.

Though India is pushing ahead with renewable energy initiatives, it is still very reliant on dirty fossil fuels such as coal.  As reported by Businessweek, a group of Indian ministers agreed to allow companies to seek approval to mine coal in some dense forest areas, overturning an environment ministry ban.  The decision will benefit companies such as Coal India, the world’s largest producer of the commodity.

Coal mining plans in this area had been on hold since 2009, due to efforts by then-Minister of the Environment and Forest, Jairam Ramesh to preserve wildlife and trees.  Ramesh had been blamed for delaying mine expansion. Yet in June 2011, one year after declaring the coalfields of the Chhattisgarh region would not be open to miners, Ramesh granted clearance. (Shortly thereafter he moved, or was forced out, and became Minister of Rural Development)

As the coal industry pushes to open up more areas, it goes without saying that it will be unfortunate for tigers and other species, as well as local communities.The Sierra Club and other environmental organizations are especially concerned for the state of Andhra Pradesh.  There, the scale of coal expansion has left local communities to face a violent onslaught of land acquisition and displacement, corruption and intimidation, and toxic levels of pollution.

No country will get off fossil fuels anytime soon.  But hopefully more attention and government resources can be focused on solar power to seriously begin the transition off of coal and oil.  Earlier this month India announced that it would generate 2 GW (2,000 MW) of solar power by March 2013.

Furthering solar and other renewable sources would be a win-win for India, and the health of its communities and the environment.

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