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Charcoal for lunch? – The Express Tribune

The writer is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute professor of biomedical engineering, international health and medicine at Boston University. He tweets @mhzaman

A bowl full of nicely chopped pieces of coal, served with a pair of fine chopsticks. Who wouldn’t want that for lunch on a bright summer day, right? The idea is both equally bizarre and disgusting, but apparently not to everyone. The government of Punjab, in its chest thumping exercise, tweeted a picture a couple of weeks ago to both thank the Chinese government for its support and to celebrate the opening of the 130MW Sahiwal coal powered plant. In the backdrop of the picture were the smiling Sharif brothers reminding people that they are keeping their promise of providing energy, at no matter what cost. Even in my bewilderment, I am glad that at least we live in an era where we get external support for a coal-fired plant, had we been living in a time where biogas and animal excrements were the source of energy, the bowl would have been full of you know what.

But the reality is that coal may be even nastier than the source of biogas.

Beyond the absolute revulsion that one may have at this bowl full of coal, there are also other issues that are quite disturbing. The first is that of coal, environmental pollution and climate change. And before we dismiss climate change as either a hoax or a conspiracy against our development, it is worthwhile to note that China, the very benefactor of our coal-powered plants is phasing out coal from its own soil. As part of China’s commitment to the Paris climate deal, coal is no longer going to be its favourite means of energy generation. Dealing with smog, air pollution and the declining quality of air in its major cities, China is investing heavily in clean energy. But apparently what is not good for them on their own soil is perfectly fine for us here.

The issue of environment, air quality and pollution are no longer the domains of the abstract or just the…

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