Everything we’ve been seeing in the news lately points to the fact that coal is dying out as a fuel option. Coal production and usage are both down. After all, coal is the most carbon-intense of all fuels. But even though the idea of the “death of coal” seems to make things much easier on plans to reduce the effect of climate change, there’s more to be considered. Can we really just cut off usage of coal altogether, and how much is it actually being cut out of usage on a global scale? Our real progress can only be noted when we take a look at the consumption of coal across the world as a whole.
Coal Production in the US
What we’re used to seeing is what’s going on here at the home front. US coal firms have seen an 88% drop in the last several years, with some of the nation’s largest coal producers filing for bankruptcy as prices fall and the nation’s Clean Power Plan is discouraging the use of coal power generation. But what about outside of our borders? It’s important to be aware of what’s going on elsewhere in order to understand the significance of coal and the challenges we face in reducing coal consumption.
Coal Production Around the Globe
Although many European nations are in the same boat as the US, the story looks very different in other areas of the world. China, for example, is still heavily reliant on coal-fired power. This is especially significant when you consider the fact that China consumes half of the worlds coal on its own. Although projections have shifted from the thinking that coal production here would increase through 2040 to a stance where production will plateau and eventually drop off, we can expect a long and slow sunset. This is because, despite the nation’s best efforts to clean up their air, there is a lot of work that has to be done and a lot of changes need to be made before those efforts involve combating carbon pollution and completely shutting down coal plants.
India presents another problem, as it will spring up as the world’s second largest consumer of coal before the decade comes to a close. Unlike other areas, the nation is actually projected to more than double its coal usage through 2040. The new coal-fired capacity of India and other Southeast Asian countries alone will actually equal that of double the existing capacity of the US today. So while coal may seem like a dying commodity to the majority of us in the Western hemisphere, the National Academy of Sciences is still gravely concerned with the climate risks that lay ahead for the worlds as the result of this “coal renaissance” throughout the developing areas of Asia.
Putting It All Together
So is coal really a dying breed? The short answer to this question is “not yet”. In fact, when you look at coal production as a whole, the increase in production and usage throughout Asia and other developing areas will cause an increase on a global scale throughout at least 2040. Although there is still a chance that dramatic technological breakthroughs and changing economies could disprove this theory, for the time being, we should expect coal to press on in its prevalence throughout the next several decades. The fact of the matter is that coal is down right now, but it’s definitely not out.
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