Another Reason to Divest: Global outrage at dirty Coal threatens Investors’ Profits

The divestment movement on US college campuses against Big Carbon (coal, oil and gas) signals more than just the arrival of a new, determined and idealistic generation of students. It is a harbinger of danger for investors.

In addition to the keen competition thermal coal is facing as a source for electricity generation from fracked natural gas and from wind turbines, coal in particular faces a major public relations problem. It is the dirtiest way of producing electricity, causing lung problems and probably contributing to autism via mercury emissions, and it is the major cause of global warming.

The value of coal stocks is to outward seeming backed by trillions of dollars in coal reserves, but what if that substance is actually worthless? Coal is already being shorted by a major brokerage, which points out that even heavily coal-dependent China plans to move away from the fuel because of pollution concerns (like that coal plants are making the air thick as pea soup and giving small children lung cancer).

Canada’s major Ontario province (as populous as Illinois) is banning coal plants, with the last one to be closed by the end of this year. Wind, nuclear and natural gas have taken coal’s place. Wind and nuclear do not produce C02, and natural gas produces about half as much as coal. The feed-in tariff has also been important in encouraging renewables.

Local politicians are beginning to win races with an anti-coal platform, showing the sea change in public attitudes.

The pro-Carbon right wing government of Australia is facing growing public anti-coal protests.

Proposals for new coal plants are meeting with public opposition. Moreover, investors in companies planning to invest in coal-related projects are beginning openly to ask how they intend to secure the projects against sabotage by environmental activists. Since coal is destroying the earth, some people may mind it being mined and burned.

So many coal plants are closing in places like Massachusetts that communities are trying to replace the income by asking for redevelopment help. Even proponents of coal and its profits admit that the plants made local residents sick (can you say “black lung”?)

The dangers of coal ash are also increasingly being recognized by activists. Most people don’t stop to think that most coal gets around by rail, and that the rail cars carrying it are emitting coal dust and dangerous substances such as arsenic.

India is now witnessing the stirrings of a nation-wide anti-coal movement that is protesting in cities across the country. Even not counting climate change impacts and sea level rise that will menace Bengal, Indian coal plants kill 120,000 people a year.

As with tobacco, where consumer lawsuits gradually began succeeding as judges and juries came to recognize that the substance causes cancer and that the companies had tried to obscure the dangers, so too with coal, consumers damaged by its burning may before too long be able to collect damages. Indeed, in the US, the Sierra Club has had some success in closing coal plants through law suits pointing out that they are in contravention of environmental laws (they are very dirty and put out loads of toxins in addition to their fatal carbon dioxide pollution).

The college students urging disinvestment may be wiser than we realize. Universities that hold stock in coal companies may be victims of a Madoff hoax– the collateral backing their value, coal itself, may be worthless or worst, it may be a legal liability. Universities and other investors would be wise to get out of those stocks before this fact comes to be generally recognized.

8 Responses

  1. Rafik Khoury

    ” China plans to move away from the fuel because of pollution concern”. China is stepping forward for a change.

  2. Up in Canada, the berm of a coal slurry pit gave way earlier this week, causing a massive amount of toxin-laden goop to flow into the Athabasca River – and is now some 30 miles downstream. After three weeks of dithering, the province finally ordered the coal company to clean up its mess. While complying with the government order, the coal company continues to maintain that the sludge, which includes tasty morsels of all manner of known carcinogens, is safe to drink.

    The coal industry is even less moral than the oil industry.

  3. Something is going to become generally recognized all right and it is that Earth is in grip of Runaway methane release. The cumulative effect of fossil fuel burning and ecosystem destruction on the most massive of scales.
    The pulse of heat increase getting forced, increasingly self forced is now digging into naturally sequestered carbon of Nature in progression of feedback and with lag time till expression making stopping this like about as difficult as pulling a sword from stone using words while a corporate foe to life is busy making epoxy to better anchor Runaway firm.
    -Now a few things have become slightly too obvious to hide.
    link to arctic-news.blogspot.com I make reference to the laws of Thermodynamics –
    People can read more updated information at the site above.
    Gentle notice was given in comments to invest in industries of the future but it was not heeded in time to stop runaway-
    Still the powers-that-be fight progress as if time isn’t up.

  4. “The divestment movement on US college campuses against Big Carbon (coal, oil and gas) signals more than just the arrival of a new, determined and idealistic generation of students. It is a harbinger of danger for investors.”

    And an increased market for the propaganda branch of the Big Carbon-Advertising Media complex.

  5. “The coal industry is even less moral than the oil industry.”

    I get your point, Charley, but it isn’t possible to be less moral than anyone with zero morality. You have to go in the other direction. “The coal industry is more immoral than the oil industry.” But that is debatable. Think the disaster in the Gulf, corruption in Nigeria, etc.

  6. “Power Past Coal is an ever-growing alliance of health, environmental, businesses, clean-energy, faith and community groups working to stop coal export off the West Coast. There are over 100 organizations that are part of the coalition.”

    link to powerpastcoal.org

  7. Juan R. I. Cole

    Despite its huge carbon deficit, China is doing more on green energy than anyone else in the world; has to overcome 80% coal dependence

  8. This movement and its activists and their organizations are, I’m sure being watched and infiltrated by “security” agencies with the goal, at a minimum, of minimizing their effectiveness.
    But what will defeat the anti-Coal movement–indeed, virtually any progressive reforms to the System– will be the passage of the TPP and it’s North American-European companion, the TTIP. These so-called “trade” agreements are really corporate-written investor protection dictates that will put “investor-nation”‘s rights above sovereign nations’–and their citizens’–rights. These potential corporate coup d’tats would give coal companies, to name just one example, the right to sue a government or institution in corporate arbitration “courts” for loss of profits from laws, regulations, even citizen movements such as anti-Coal. I hope that progressive actiivists recognize that the TPP and the TTIA need to defeated in order for progressive reforms to have any chance of success.

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