Portable Climate

Coal lay in ledges under the ground since the Flood, until a laborer with pick and windlass brings it to the surface. We may well call it black diamonds. Every basket is power and civilization. For coal is a portable climate. It carries the heat of the tropics to Labrador and the polar circle; and it is the means of transporting itself whithersoever it is wanted. Watt and Stephenson whispered in the ear of mankind their secret, that a half-ounce of coal will draw two tons a mile, and coal carries coal, by rail and by boat, to make Canada as warm as Calcutta; and with its comfort brings its industrial power.

(Emmerson, Wealth). The unintended irony of coal as a “portable climate” and the unintended sense of it carrying the heat of the tropics to the poles of the world and of making “Canada as warm as Calcutta” was what caught my eye here.

It somewhat reminded of the Moby Dick chapter (105) where Ishmael says that fears of the whales’ extinction by human hunting are overblown (they can just hide beneath the ice caps, he says).

Anyway, no lesson to be drawn from this but that perhaps prominent nineteenth century American intellectuals had yet to guess at the capacity of humankind to negatively impact the environment.

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