Is Coal an Attractive Option?

The Lady of the NorthPhoto: Col Cooper

Nudity in art has a long history, from ancient Greek and Roman statues to 20th-century Art Deco sculptures. Yet appreciation for the nude form depends on individual tastes. Princess Anne showed her approval for Great Britain’s largest nude artwork by agreeing to unveil Northumberlandia to the public. Part of a 46-acre park, the masterpiece is a dynamic landscape in the shape of a giant nude lady.

NorthumberlandiaPhoto: bohemian2012

Measuring 100 feet (about 30 meters) high and a quarter of a mile (about 400 meters) long, Northumberlandia contains 1.5 million tons of clay, soil, and rock. Abstract lines give it the impression of an unclothed woman without being detailed enough to shock flight passengers looking out their windows. Also known as “The Lady of the North”, this 3 million euro project was built to beautify the area near a surface coal mine.

CoalPhoto: Jeffrey Beall

It’s a good thing landscapers are able to improve coal mining regions. Despite hope that it would decline, global coal consumption increased by 47% last decade. City Journal explains why coal is so popular. Coal power is relatively plentiful and inexpensive compared to other energy sources. Per unit of energy, coal power requires much less land than do solar and wind power because of its higher energy density.

Coal PlantPhoto: eutrophication and hypoxia

The City Journal article summarizes the history of coal use and its disadvantages. Coal helped fuel the Industrial Revolution, but it released air pollution in the process. London smog resulting from coal emissions was so dense in 1812 that it reduced visibility on the streets to 6 feet. The first coal-burning electric plant opened in New York City in 1882 thanks to Thomas Edison’s inventions. And by 1890, America had 1,000 power plants that turned coal into electricity.

Underground Coal MinePhoto: Sebastian Bergmann

Coal smoke continues to worsen life in some regions. Winter pollution in Datong, China is sometimes thick enough to force drivers to turn on their headlights in the middle of the day. Of course, coal miners themselves sacrifice much to bring coal out of the ground. The annual death toll from coal mining is in the thousands. And, during the extraction process, strip mines damage the Earth’s surface.

Surface Coal MinePhoto: Kate Ausburn

The advantages of coal ensure that humanity will more than likely keep extracting this resource for decades. However, its disadvantages are too great to ignore. Improving worker conditions to make coal miners safer should be a priority. Efforts to make life more pleasant in coal mining communities are also commendable. Meanwhile, environmental engineering projects such as Northumberlandia beautify areas we all rely on to keep the lights on. Considering the motivation behind the Lady of the North, it’s no wonder Princess Anne approved of this art.