Ask anyone what their favorite flammable rock is and most will answer, “Coal”, although some will certainly answer, “French fries” because they didn’t hear you clearly.
Coal was first postulated by cave men who wondered, “What can I find to burn?” Little did they know that coal had been created millions of years ago during the Carboniferous and Permian periods and he was just too STUPID to dig for it. But, you can’t blame cave men for not being on top of things. Saber-toothed tigers were nothing if not distracting. It might surprise you to find that some coal veins predate the Carboniferous period to a time when there were no forests, especially if you are easily surprised. Those veins are composed of fossilized algae and not trees.
By the neolithic era, Chinese were both burning coal and wondering aloud why they weren’t doing this during the Lithic period when they were thinner and had hair. By 1000 B.C. they were using it to smelt copper. The producers of that copper were also compelled to sell it themselves because the Chinese were firm believers in “he who smelt it, dealt it”. I plan on apologizing for that awful pun when I get some free time.
The first mining of coal began late in the seventeenth century. Until then, to find coal, you had to rely on an exposed above-ground vein… or a genie; but, anything genies give you comes with an ironic twist. He might grant you coal, but take your pancreas for some reason. Maybe “pancreas” and “coal” were the same word in Arabic or something. Regardless, it was just safer to dig.
Mines were bleak awful places with no lights and dangerous gas build ups. But, mine owners were clever. They addressed the lighting problem with mining helmets that had their own lights; they addressed the poisonous gas issue by not caring if their employees died. Ponies were often used to pull coal carts in the mines so holding a child’s birthday party down there was a snap. And, with all the child miners, there were a LOT of child birthdays.
Until the industrial revolution, coal was only burned to make things warmer. The Industrial Revolution brought us coal-powered giant robots called “factories” and those factories produced stuff… you can only get so warm and cook so much food but people can NEVER get enough stuff. Plus, it was a great way to keep immigrants off the streets so they didn’t turn into anarchists. Also, you needed coal-powered trains to move the stuff or the distribution of stuff would be non-homogeneous. With factories and locomotives running like mad all over the planet, we began an era of global warming.
Some will tell you that global warming isn’t real… that it was a lie started by the ungodly powerful windmill industry and it’s hippie army; but, like when your best friend grew a stupid-looking mustache, eventually most people had to agree that it is real and a very bad thing. So, they decided to find other things to burn. There was oil, which is like coal but runnier. There was enriched Uranium… but that’s only for when you’ve given up on the Earth still being here a hundred years from now. Right now, the best they can do is natural gas, which is the cleanest energy source if you ignore wind, solar, tidal and geothermal.
What’s the future like for coal? Some fear that coal is being phased out for cleaner energy sources; others fear snakes and public speaking. Miners become unemployed and live in poverty. Kind of the opposite of what those old educational “World of Tomorrow” films taught us. They taught us that automation would set us free. Instead, it’s:
Machines will one day do all our work so what do we need with us anymore?
Maybe bring coal back as “retro” so the hipsters will start using it. Then, it will die slowly on its own like Buddy Holly glasses and Fonzie. The miners can make other plans during that period and find work for their ponies. Why do I have to do all the thinking for you?