The other day I tossed out a bunch of links with no commentary. One of them was to an Andy Revkin piece on dot Earth, The Coal Age Continues, and it deserves a lot more attention:

Addressing potential investors in Manhattan on Thursday, Gregory Boyce, the chairman and chief executive officer of the world’s biggest coal company, Peabody Energy, simply gushed as he described how the company is ideally positioned to take advantage of “a long-term supercycle for coal,” driven by rapidly growing demand in Asia. (The company keeps a fast-moving ticker on its Web site tracking coal sales at roughly 8 tons a second or so.)

Revkin asked an independent expert, Richard K. Morse, a Stanford researcher about this, and didn’t get what I would call a reassuring response, which included:

In my view climate regimes that don’t address the coal issue — via addressing mitigation in developing world power sectors at a much larger scale than Kyoto ever accomplished — don’t have much hope from a mitigation perspective. And that is going to be really, really hard. Thus the game is looking more and more like adaptation. As we can see in China and India, they view development of a coal-based electricity infrastructure as essential to economic development…. Peabody is just the tip of the iceberg. We are going to be seeing reports like this for the next 20 years.

Revkin’s take:

It’s hard to see anything shifting these coal trends unless and until other energy choices become as cheap and convenient, or countries are kicked so hard by climate disruption that they realize the value of a global push to limit the human contribution to warming exceeds the economic value of abundant fossil energy. Keith Bradsher’s article on China’s energy concerns trumping its climate worries provides supporting evidence.

(As always, don’t trust the quotes I’m using. Click through and read it for yourself.)

The basic point here, that no one country can “fix” climate change a very small number of them (albeit with very large populations) can run us into the nearest ditch, is a point I’ve been hammering here to the point you’re likely sick of reading about it and I’m even sicker of writing about it. But it deserves our continued attention because it really is an unforgiving and deadly serious aspect of our situation.

For example, the “Living with Coal” article linked below includes this graphic:





China’s and India’s use of coal is growing rapidly, and China’s is already more than double that of the US, and India is third in coal consumption, at half of the US’s level. If you’re wondering why I couldn’t care less about the endless exhortations for consumers to “go green” and knock 10 or 20 or even (gasp!) 50 percent off their carbon footprint, this pie chart pretty neatly sums it up. US CO2 emissions could literally go to zero tomorrow morning, and unless there’s a major shift in policy in India and China, we’re still in almost unimaginable trouble. Forget McKibben’s Eaarth, we’ll be on a fast track to Romm’s Hell and High Water.

This growth in emissions from developing countries is also why I remain convinced that we’ll have to confront two scary and exceedingly nasty situations in the coming years: Carbon-tariff-triggered trade wars, and geohacking. You can spin your own scenarios in an attempt to figure out which one is worse.


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