The End of Coal?
With the decline of coal, some former mining communities have transformed their defunct economic base into tourist attractions. Whether a coal-themed museum can generate enough tourist dollars to replace the revenues derived from a working mine remains to be seen.
What is more predictable is that coal’s fate in the wake of climate change augers no comeback on our shores or, ultimately, throughout the world.
That said, coal usage will not disappear in the immediate future despite its deleterious effects on the environment and public health. While global use of coal is forecast to decrease by three percent in 2019, it is still for the moment gaining ground in China, India, and Southeast Asia. These countries cannot deliver electricity to all of their huge populations solely from their current investments in renewable energy. That state of affairs puts humanity drastically behind schedule in the phaseout of fossil fuels and the quest for a carbon-neutral planet.
Even in our country where the overall domestic coal industry is shrinking, exports of the ore have risen.
The International Energy Agency predicts that, by 2040, coal will still generate 25 percent of the world’s electricity. We have a way to go on our own soil where coal is responsible for approximately a fifth of our greenhouse gas emissions.
What then are the chances for achieving a carbon-neutral world before full-blown catastrophe strikes?
There have been some promising inroads.
In our country since 2010, 299 coal-fired power plants have either been retired or are scheduled to close. Renewable energy surpassed fossil fuels in supplying electricity to the USA last year, 23 percent to 20 percent. American jobs in the renewables and energy efficiency fields already outnumber employment in the fossil fuel industry by two to one.
A carbon-neutral world may not be as remote as current projections make it out to be. Many of the analysts’ assumptions underestimate the potential of human ingenuity and technological prowess to expand the contributions of solar, wind, and other renewable energy sources.
There is always the chance that scientists will solve the riddle of nuclear fusion and its potential to provide a clean, extremely safe and virtually inexhaustible energy supply. Climate change’s adverse effects have become more pronounced and figure to spur acceleration of remedial efforts.
Already, sequester of carbon from burning various fossil fuels is in the process of becoming commercially viable.
Some countries have instituted moratoriums on the construction of coal-fired power plants. Are there bans on subsidies to coal in the offing?
Salvation hinges heavily on the political will of world leaders to take bold steps. Unfortunately, most Heads of State are missing in action, and none more so than our own.