By Melissa Lin
Americans are increasingly using high-tech devices in our day-to-day life. You may think your iPhone (3.47 kWh per year) does not use a lot of electricity, but compare it to a non-smartphone (1 kWh per year) from ten years ago. The New York Times states that data centers running your favorite applications like Google (300 million watts) and Facebook (60 million watts) require more power than a medium-size town. Americans are consuming more electricity because of these appliances but the price for electricity has not gone up in the same way. We still demand cheap electricity.
Cheap electricity stems from two sources, oil and coal. According to Institute for Energy Research, “coal was the first of the fossil fuels to go into widespread use, displacing low-energy firewood as the leading source of fuel in the U.S., and triggering the country’s industrialization in the second half of the 19th century. Within a few decades, the U.S. went from a net importer of coal (mostly from Britain) to a major exporter of the fossil fuel, a development made possible by mining the nation’s vast reserves of coal.” Even though coal is cheap, there are hidden costs to society. Despite this, over the last twenty years, production and usage of coal within the energy grid has increased.
These coal companies are not only damaging the environment but are lobbying for the deregulation of safety standards in the name of efficiency and corporate profits. They are increasingly making miners work in unsafe environments which can be seen in the increase of mining explosions, and an increase in long-term occupational health hazards, namely black lung disease.
Miners are increasingly becoming sick. “More than 10,000 miners have died from black lung in the past 10 years, compared to 400 miners who have died from accidents over the same period. The number of fatalities is expected to rise as more miners become incapacitated by this debilitating disease.
According to figures released by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), nearly nine percent of miners with 25 years or more experience tested positive for black lung in 2005-2006, the latest year for which published data is available. This compares to four percent of miners in the late 1990s. The rates also doubled for miners with 20 to 24 years in the mines, many of whom are in their late 30s and 40s.” (World Socialist Web Site)
What is the societal cost of this? Who pays for it? Not the mining companies, but the families and communities surrounding the mines. Most miners that get black lung disease have a body so damaged; they are no longer able to work any job. Therefore, they go on social security and Disability.
On the other hand, your electricity bill to charge your iPhone and watch your 40″ T.V. only went up by 10 percent.
How do we help companies operate cost-effectively to increase health of workers in a regulated manner? How do we enforce sustainable practices within these companies and help them be accountable for the health of their workers, as companies become more socially responsible? How do we help companies avoid damaging and expensive lawsuits for their negligence while holding them accountable?