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Geoscientist Online

Metals, Energy and Sustainability - the Story of Doctor Copper and King Coal

dlxfhIn our era, as global challenges rightly take centre stage, this book is very timely. The imperative to confront human-induced degradation of climate, soil fertility, ecosystems and freshwater resources must be reconciled with the need to provide the burgeoning human population with sustenance, shelter, healthcare and other means of comfort and pleasure. The scale of these challenges can feel overwhelming. Yet this highly-readable book, of only four chapters, provides a worked example of how much insight can be obtained by rigorous scrutiny of the inter-dependencies between just two Earth resources. 

Having worked in and around coal and copper mines for decades, I imagined I would learn little from this book. I was very much mistaken.  I soon realised I was learning something important on every other page.

The first chapter gives an engaging explanation of how and why, among all the world’s mined commodities, copper and coal remain pre-eminent in social and economic importance. The second chapter is essentially geological, summarising the principal economic occurrences of copper and coal deposits. The third chapter provides a historical overview of the technology and economics of exploitation of both commodities – over seven millennia in the case of copper, and over several centuries in the case of coal. The final chapter considers the future of both commodities, examined quantitatively within a framework of holistic sustainability.

The narrative confounds the customary over-simplifications which dominate the qualitative literature on sustainability. For instance, renewable energy technologies use far more copper than conventional fossil-fuel technologies. So to advocate massive expansion of renewable energy use is to demand an expansion and intensification of copper mining and refining.

The lively prose and striking colour illustrations make for an enjoyable read. Quibbles are few and minor. I spotted just two minor typos (of the ‘to/too’ variety), and in chapter three, I missed scale-bars on ore specimen photos, and would have liked more thorough labelling. These pale into insignificance alongside the depth and breadth of this volume.  It is essential reading for anyone interested in the contemporary interface between economic geology and sustainability debates.  

Reviewed by Paul L Younger

METALS, ENERGY AND SUSTAINABILITY - THE STORY OF DOCTOR COPPER AND KING COAL by Barry Golding & Suzanne D Golding, 2017. Published by Springer, Cham (CH). ISBN (print) 978-3-319-51173-3, ISBN (electronic) 978-3-319-51175-7. 196pp. List price: Hbk £44.99. e-book £35.99. W: