Up against a wall — of coal

Coal demand is through the roof even as prices soar. And that’s why “Carbon emissions race past all predictions.” And, of course, U.S. coal exports are soaring. As the NY Times reported in a major piece:

United States exports of coal grew from 49 million tons in 2006 to about nearly 59 million tons in 2007, according to coal industry statistics, while domestic production increased by 1 percent. Coal executives say they expect exports to reach 80 million tons this year, and with railroad and port improvements, to rise to as much as 120 million tons in the next few years.

China is the big driver, adding a stunning 200,000 Megawatts of fossil fuel power (most coal) in the past two years alone. As the Washingon Post reports today in a long must-read article:

China, the world’s largest consumer of coal, is burning through more than the United States, European Union and Japan combined. And its consumption is increasing by about 10 percent a year. In 2006, it installed power plants with more capacity than all of Britain.

If any sentence bears repeating, that one does: “China, the world’s largest consumer of coal, is burning through more than the United States, European Union and Japan combined.” Also, China has “limited electricity rate increases for years, encouraging greater use” and in January, it froze electricity prices. This completes a total reversal from their pro-efficiency policies of the 1980s and 1990s. The immorality of their energy policy (i.e. climate non-policy) almost matches ours.


India is working hard to catch up: “By 2012 India expects to add 76,000 megawatts of power, according to Upendra Kumar, a member of the mining committee at the Confederation of Indian Industries.” And many in India seem stuck in the same old misguided mindset that dominates China and parts of this country:

“Coal will continue to be king in India. There is no way out,” said Kumar… “The other choice is asking the country to stay poor. . . . The question is, are we going to allow poverty or allow a little bit of pollution?”

If that were their only choice, the answer would be obvious. But they have huge renewable and efficiency opportunities. Sadly for India, they are one of the countries that will suffer the most from climate change, especially the loss of the inland glaciers that provide water to hundreds of millions.

It is worth noting, though, that it isn’t just China and India fanning the flames. As the Post article explains, Germany and even the United Kingdom are turning back to coal, even as our country is having second thoughts.


So is there enough coal to fill demand? Well, the NYT headline from Wednesday reads: “An Export in Solid Supply.” The Post article from today reads, “Coal Can’t Fill World’s Burning Appetite.” Ah, don’t you just love the traditional media….


I think the bottom line is that, unlike conventional oil, there is more than enough coal at current prices to push us on the irreversible path to 1000 ppm of atmospheric CO2 concentrations and satisfy the world’s apparently insatiable demand for self-destruction.

If it wasn’t clear before, the next president is perhaps the only person in the world (other than the leader of China), who has any hope of providing the global leadership needed to save the climate.