Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Here comes the sun? You are my sunshine? Good day sunshine?

With a few notable exceptions, most Americans get that coal mining, like buggy whip making and switchboard operating, is a profession of the past. Fewer people and industries want to use coal – it’s dirty, it’s expensive – and a lot of the coal that’s being extracted is being extracted by machine, not men.

While natural gas  - frack on! – is one of the fuels currently making sure coal stays buried in its seams, according to the Bloomberg New Energy Finance outlook, here comes the sun.

Solar power, once so costly it only made economic sense in spaceships, is becoming cheap enough that it will push coal and even natural-gas plants out of business faster than previously forecast.
That’s the conclusion of a Bloomberg New Energy Finance outlook for how fuel and electricity markets will evolve by 2040. The research group estimated solar already rivals the cost of new coal power plants in Germany and the U.S. and by 2021 will do so in quick-growing markets such as China and India. (Source: Bloomberg)

If the forecasts pan out, fossil fuel pollution may actually start going down in 10 years time.Woo-hoo!

And it’s not just solar. The costs associated with wind energy are plummeting as well.

We hear a lot about tipping points – are the ice shelves goners? Well, this would actually be a good tipping point.

But it got me thinking about another tipping point, that probably occurred shortly after Loretta Lynn warbled “Coal Miner’s Daughter” nearly 50 years back now. And that’s the end of songs about coal mining. Not that these coal mining tunes romanticized coal mining.

“Sixteen Tons”? Hardly.

You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and a deeper in debt.
St. Peter don’t you call me ‘cause I can’t go.
I owe my soul to the company store.”

Owing one’s soul to the company store? That doesn’t sound like much fun. What would a contemporary song reference? I owe my soul to Visa or Mastercard? I owe my soul to my payday lender?

Then there was “Working in a Coal Mine”?

Workin' in a coal mine
Goin' down, down, down.
Workin' in a coal mine
Whew! About to slip down.

I guess if you were lucky the only bad thing that would happen to you in a mine was that you slipped. You could have contracted black lung (if you lived long enough). Or gotten yourself killed in “The Springhill Mine Disaster.” Terrible as it must be if all you ever wanted to do in your life was be a coal miner, or if coal mining is all that you can imagine doing (whether you want to or not), the loss of jobs coal mining jobs… Well, the disappearing act isn’t a completely bad thing.

Even the “Coal Miner’s Daughter” wasn’t exactly an advertisement for the wonders of the coal mining life. Forget Daddy and black lung and cave ins. Mommy ended up with bleeding hands from scrubbing the coal-dust covered overalls on the washboard. Sheesh.

But while the coal mining songs weren’t exactly romantic – unlike, say, songs about cowboys and truck drivers – there were at least songs.

Are there going to be pop tunes about guys working with solar panels, working on wind farms?

Oh, there are plenty of sun songs. “You Are My Sunshine.” “Here Comes the Sun.” “Good Day Sunshine.” And plenty of songs about wind. “The Wayward Wind,” “They Call the Wind Maria”…

I suppose just as the coal-fired plants are being converted, we could convert a song or two so that they applied to those working in the renewables industry But I doubt they’ll hold a candle to the coal mining songs.

Kind of reminds me of Tom Lehrer’s classic tune, “Folk Song Army.”

Remember the war against Franco.
That’s the kind where each of us belongs.
Though he may have won all the battles.
But we had all the good songs.

Coal mining didn’t have all the good songs, but they sure had some of them.

Guess they just don’t make work songs like they used to.

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