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Coal (even clean) will not save us

by Jerome a Paris Sat Oct 7th, 2006 at 12:53:44 PM EST

This is not about how horribly polluting coal is. It's not about how dangeorus coal mining is. It's not about how much it contributes to carbon emissions and thus to global warming.

No, this is to fight the meme that coal is plentiful.

Le Monde had a special supplement about energy yesterday, whose title ("Past as future"), as well as the title as the main article ("The return of King Coal") are quite depressingly explicit.

These articles make two points:

  • demand for energy is set to double by 2050, and demand for coal will increase by 300% over the period (i.e. it will quadruple);
  • coal is plentiful, with 155 years of reserves at current production rates

Without noting how contradictory these two points are.

If you consider a linear growth in demand for coal, the average demand over 2005-2050 will be 2.5 times current demand, which means that we'll have used 112 of these "reserve-years", and, at 4 times current production in 2050, we'll have about 10 years left of reserves at that rythm of production (not even considering if these reserves will actually be accessible and usable at such rates).

asdf suggested in another thread that the USA could become self-sufficient in energy by switching to coal. Even if we choose to ignore pollution and global warming (pretty damn big ifs), it's simply noy going to happen, even supposing that CTL (coal-to-liquids) somehow was developped on a large scale (knowing that 5% of current US oil demand might be satisfied by transforming 20% of today's coal production).

So, even in the rosy scenarios of the EIA and other "don't panic" agencies, we hit the wall in 50 years. Is that so far away that we should not start planning for such a life-altering event? If not us, our kids or grandkids will still be alive then. Is that where we want them: in the wall?

in an extended version (with figures specifically for the USA) over at dKos:

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Oct 7th, 2006 at 02:00:17 PM EST
Regarding the cost of coal, this is one of the blogads ad BT and orange:

You Can End Mountaintop Removal

Mountaintop removal is a radical form of coal mining in which entire mountains are literally blown up -- and it is happening here in America on a scale that is almost unimaginable.

Mountaintop removal is devastating hundreds of square miles of Appalachia; polluting the headwaters of rivers that provide drinking water to millions of Americans; and destroying a distinctly American culture that has endured for generations.

Photo of a mountaintop removal site in Claiborne County, West Virginia.

Originally printed in the Appalachian Voice, November 2003

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt ät gmail dotcom) on Sat Oct 7th, 2006 at 02:11:27 PM EST
Just Curious.

Where the hell is Clairburne Co, WVA located?

What are we stripping there?

Just mildly curious.

"When the abyss stares at me, it wets its pants." Brian Hopkins

by EricC on Sat Oct 7th, 2006 at 05:41:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry, I assumed too much.

Mountain removal is the preferred method of coal mining in Appalachia. The ilovemountains.org site I link to integrates a Google map showing the locations of all mountain removal mines.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt ät gmail dotcom) on Sun Oct 8th, 2006 at 05:31:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I have been tripped up by an error in my source material.

They seem to mean Claiborne County, Tennessee.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt ät gmail dotcom) on Sun Oct 8th, 2006 at 05:54:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Must have meant Clay Co:


I agree with everything J has said, but it would be nice if blogadders could get their names straight.

Thirty years ago, central WV was the big leasing-speculation area iw WV. Lot of the potentilal production has come on line in the last 15 years or so.

As for the esthetics and all, a mining engineer could probably tell us if mountain top seams could be drift-mined. Would cost more money though.

"When the abyss stares at me, it wets its pants." Brian Hopkins

by EricC on Sat Oct 7th, 2006 at 06:17:55 PM EST
The discussion at DailyKos covers most of the short-term points.

One consideration is that any extrapolation almost certainly goes horribly off course before 50 years passes. In this case, by 50 years from now we will have had to confront the oil supply crisis, the nuclear alternative crisis, the Asia-wants-a-high-energy-living-model crisis, the influenza crisis, the AIDS crisis, etc. It seems to me that as the price of oil rises, there will be so many huge changes in the way we supply and distribute and use energy that it is impossible to predict what will happen.

The point I was trying to make is that the U.S. has a big coal supply that will carry it quite a ways into the future with only moderate changes to lifestyle. Most other countries don't have that luxury. As a result, don't look the U.S. to be on the leading edge of any required lifestyle changes--we'll burn coal.

One thing that seems to have taken people in the DK discussion by surprize is the level of air pollution already produced by China. Here is a good summary of the situation.

by asdf on Sun Oct 8th, 2006 at 01:37:50 AM EST
the nuclear alternative crisis

The what?

by ustenzel on Mon Oct 9th, 2006 at 03:51:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The nuclear alternative crisis. You know, the one where a few hundred nuclear plants are constructed in India, China, Russia, Europe, South America, and then there's an accident with a radiation release.
by asdf on Tue Oct 10th, 2006 at 10:35:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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