No, Minerals Council of Australia, Coal is Not an Element on the Periodic Table

No, Minerals Council of Australia, Coal is Not an Element on the Periodic Table

Have you ever noticed something so silly that you just have to show someone? On the website of the mining lobby group, the Minerals Council of Australia, are a few items from the Periodical Table. The Minerals Council has spotlit three major Australia exports from the Periodic Table: Gold (AU, 79), Uranium (U, 92), and… Coal (6, C). Looking at that last one, I think there’s a mistake here, guys.

This was brought to my attention by a tweet from The Australian Institute’s Kristen Scicluna – and she’s right, it’s an extremely embarrassing bit of artistic license, though I suspect the Council isn’t sufficiently embarrassed that they would take it down from their home page.

We’d be wrong not to note that what they’re actually talking about here is Carbon (the actual 6, C on the table), and does in fact derive from the Latin word ‘Coal’. In non-Latin terms, the Periodic Table focuses on individual elements and not composites. Coal is predominantly made from carbon, but it also includes hydrogen, sulphur, oxygen, and nitrogen. It’s a bit like saying saliva is pure H2O. It has water in it, but it also has a lot of stuff that isn’t water.

So what we’re left with is a website with a bunch of things that read in bad faith. If I were to hazard a guess, the Minerals Council has used Coal as a stand-in because the the true name, Carbon, might carry an obviously negative connotation connected all the stories about how we can’t stop putting that sh*t in the atmosphere, and we’re killing life on Earth as we do so. We should probably do something about that.

But the Minerals Council isn’t done yet. When clicking through to the coal section, you’ll see a particularly bad-faith piece of writing: “Coal is used for energy generation, cement making and water filtration. More than 220 tonnes of coal is required to build a wind turbine.”

This is an interesting line to include because it sounds eerily similar to a viral Facebook post from 2019 that has been widely debunked. Nobody’s going to contend that you need coal to make these things. We need it to power the industries that build the components and assemble them, industries that will increasingly be looking to cleaner alternatives to power their manufacture. But it reads as if it were a subtle gotcha, a hint that we shouldn’t be using wind turbines at all and simply rely on the coal that we already have (even though wind turbines produce more energy than it takes to build them). By that logic, then we should never have swapped burning biomass for coal in the first place (which I’m sure the Minerals Council wishes very much was the case).

Anyway. Scrolling down the page includes a section on “lowering emissions with Australian coal”, and a plan “to reduce the emissions associated with coal-fired power generation”. I hope one day carbon capture facilities make more sense.

Image: Paramount, Gizmodo Australia

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