Coal Wars: The Future of Energy and the Fate of the Planet

Richard Martin Palgrave Macmillan, 284 pages, $28

There is no doubt about which side of the great divide over coal Richard Martin stands on. "If we don't shut down Big Coal, the fight against global warming is lost," the energy analyst says early on in "Coal Wars: The Future of Energy and the Fate of the Planet."

Still, Martin does more than an adequate job of laying out both sides of the debate, both in the United States and in China, the world's largest carbon emitter since it surpassed the U.S. in 2007. Both countries struggle with the task of weaning themselves off the cheap, abundant energy that coal provides despite the increasing damage it does to the environment.

Mention environmental catastrophes and incidents like the Exxon Valdez leap to mind. Martin reminds us that coal more than holds its own in this category. He cites the 2008 failure of a containment dam at a Tennessee mine that released a billion-gallon flood of coal ash, 100 times the amount of pollutants from the Exxon Valdez, as well as a 2013 "coal storm" in China that left a grimy black coat on people and their surroundings.

Martin's "Coal Wars" provides plenty of information and analysis needed for a productive debate on coal's future. The fact that so many will not seize that opportunity doesn't ­diminish the merit of his effort.