Leave It in the Ground

The Politics of Coal and Climate

by John C. Berg


Burning all the earth's coal will increase climate change, but developing alternative energy sources to replace coal will, ironically, take energy.

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Cover image for Leave It in the Ground

September 2019


Pages 198
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics Politics, Law, and Government/General

Employing scientific explanations and hard data, this book shows why coal is such a problem, how the pro-coal forces got to be so powerful, and how those forces might be defeated through political activism.

Coal provided the energy to build modern civilization. This energy source raised standards of living, multiplied the earth's population, and enabled people in developed countries to enjoy leisure time. Today, we know that if we burn all the coal available, climate change will continue to increase. But the use of coal isn't purely an environmental issue; there are also political and economic forces at play. This book examines the politics and environmental impact of coal production and distribution, presenting a clear point of view—that we must shift away from coal use—backed by hard data and supplying specific prescriptions for opposing and regulating the coal industry.

Author John C. Berg explains how ending the burning of coal (and of oil and natural gas) is a political problem rather than a technical one; explodes the "clean coal" myth, providing scientific documentation of how burning coal emits more greenhouse gases per unit of energy than any other fuel; and describes how controlling coal use in the United States will also serve to restore the possibility of a meaningful international climate agreement. Additionally, readers will understand the critical importance of activism—from local to international—in spurring government regulation to control the coal industry, which can only be defeated politically.


  • Examines scientific data to provide a clear explanation—in layman's terms—of the relation of coal to climate change
  • Illustrates how activism can lead to meaningful government policy change
  • Provides non-expert readers with a clear understanding of the political issues surrounding coal mining and coal burning as well as the domestic and international politics of coal and climate
  • Shows the interconnection of coal's role in labor exploitation, the environmental destruction of Appalachia and other coal areas, and the acceleration of climate change
Author Info

John C. Berg is professor emeritus at Suffolk University, where he taught political science and environmental studies. Earlier in his career, he chaired the government department, and he directed the environmental studies program. His research has been increasingly focused on environmental issues in recent years, but he has also conducted research on legislative and party politics. Berg is author of Unequal Struggle: Class, Gender, Race, and Power in the U.S. Congress and editor of Teamsters and Turtles? U.S. Progressive Political Movements in the 21st Century.



"Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty and professionals. General readers."Choice


"Humanity faces few questions bigger than what to do with coal. So this book is a godsend. It mines coal's violent history and enables us to see how we can indeed 'leave it in the ground,' and not only survive but prosper. Plus, it's a great read!"—Frances Moore Lappé, Author of Diet for a Small Planet, Daring Democracy, and 17 other books

"Making sense of the climate crisis has never been more urgent, and John Berg cuts through the smog to reveal the core problem: coal. Managing and reducing our collective addiction to burning coal is one of the core policy problems facing the planet. Berg's adept analysis combines historical context with a discussion of contemporary policy proposals and will be required reading for students, practitioners, and activists interested in navigating the transition to a low-carbon future."—Hugh E. Bartling, Associate Professor, DePaul University

"John Berg's book will prove to be a defining account, and it adds much to the study of climate politics. It interweaves policymaking and science so as to provide a compelling narrative. Leave It in the Ground deserves a very wide readership."—Edward Ashbee, Professor, Department of International Economics, Government and Business, Copenhagen Business School

"John Berg offers a probing consideration not only of America's relationship with coal, but of the history, politics and science surrounding this significant environmental issue. Detailed and informative, the work concludes with suggested solutions for the future. Leave it in the Ground is required reading for anyone who wants to understand this aspect of our climate crisis."—Clodagh Harrington, Associate Professor, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK

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