The Coal Paradox

  • Franklin Obeng-Odoom University of Technology Sydney
Keywords: Fossil, Coal, Biofuel, Property Relations, Africa


The analytical foundations of the debate about coal mining in Africa tend to be buried or sacrificed for the advocacy of certain policy choices centred on unhelpful binaries: ‘no coal’ or ‘more coal’. Attempts to bridge the polarised positions – often centred on the development of renewables - contradictory because they seem to accept that both positions are accurate. Dissatisfied with these three positions, this paper revisits the coal question by seeking to develop W.S. Jevons’path-breaking treatise, The Coal Question (1906), as an analytical critique of, and alternative to, the existing state of knowledge. Jevons’ work is insightful but incomplete becauseit is weak in its grasp of property relations in the coal industry which, in the case of Africa, are highly monopolistic. A stronger framework must view as nested the analysis of the relationship between coal and technology, the implications of the historical development of energy for the current interest in renewables and, the relationship between ecological and economic questions.


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