#1: © Daniel Berehulak, Apr. 16, 2011, A boy works at a coal depot in Jaintia Hills, India. Some of the labor is forced, and an Indian NGO group, Impulse, estimates that 5,000 privately-owned coal mines in Jaintia Hills employed some 70,000 child miners.

#2: © Daniel Berehulak, Apr. 16, 2011, 38-year-old Prabhat Sinha carries a load of coal weighing 60kgs, supported by a head-strap, as he ascends the staircase of a coal mine in Jaintia Hills, India.

#3: © Daniel Berehulak, Apr. 13, 2011, A crane lifts miners out of a 300ft deep mine shaft as they head out for their lunch break in Jaintia Hills, India.

#4: © Kevin Frayer, A young woman stumbles as she tries to carry a large basket of coal as they illegally scavenge at an open-cast mine in the village of Bokapahari, India, where a community of coal scavengers live and work. The contrast between India old and new is nowhere more vivid than among the villages of coal scavengers in eastern India, sitting on an apocalyptic landscape of smoke and fire from decades-old underground coal fires. While India grows ever more middle-class and awash in creature comforts, these villagers risk their lives scavenging coal illegally for a few dollars a day, and come back to homes that at any moment could be swallowed by a fresh fire-induced crack in the earth.

Coal occupies a central position in modern human endeavors. Last year over 7000 megatons were mined worldwide. Powerful, yet dirty and dangerous, use of coal is expanding every year, with 2010 witnessing a production increase of 6.8%. Around 70 countries have recoverable reserves, which some estimates claim will last for over a hundred years at current production levels.

Mining for coal is one of the world’s most dangerous jobs. While deadliest in China, where thousands of miners die annually, the profession is still hazardous in the West and other regions as well. Our mining and use of coal accounts for a variety of environmental hazards, including the production of more CO2 than any other source. Other concerns include acid rain, groundwater contamination, respiratory issues, and the waste products which contain heavy metals.

But our lives as lived today rely heavily on the combustible sedimentary rock. Over 40% of the world’s electricity is generated by burning coal, more than from any other source. Chances are that a significant percentage of the electricity you’re using to read this blog was generated by burning coal.

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