We are running out of coal too

December 12, 2010 | By | Reply More

Conservative politicians insist that the United States is the Middle East of coal, and that we have no energy worries if we could only just get over our global warming worries. They often claim that the United States has enough coal to supply us for 250 years. They also insist, without any basis, that there is a way to burn coal cleanly, economically, and efficiently. There are many reasons to doubt these claims of conservatives, but let’s assume that they are correct about all of them. Those who want to base our energy policy on coal have another huge problem.

The November 18, 2010 issue of Nature available online only to subscribers) warns that recent forecasts suggest that coal reserves are running out much faster than most people believe. Therefore, “energy policies relying on cheap coal have no future.” Authors Richard Heinberg and David Fridley indicate that “world energy policy is gripped by a fallacy–the idea that coal is destined to stay cheap for decades to come.” They give two reasons for their urgent warning:

First, a spate of recent studies suggest that available, useful coal may be less abundant than has been assumed-indeed that the peak of world coal production may be only years away. One pessimistic study published in 2010 concluded that global energy derived from coal could peak as early as 2011. Second, global demand is growing rapidly, largely driven by China.… Since 2000 it has been surging at 3.8% per year… Economic shocks from rising coal prices will be felt by every sector of society.

Yet, most energy policies assume a “bottomless coal pit.” The authors point out that in terms of energy output, “US coal production peaked in the late 1990s (volume continued to increase, but the coal was of lower energy content).” They point out that two key mining regions in the United States “show rapid depletion of high-quality reserves.” They urge the federal government to complete a new national coal survey. It is their conclusion that it is unlikely that world coal supplies can continue to meet projected demand beyond 2020.


Category: Energy

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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