Old King Coal: on why we will most likely fail to avert serious climate change

Daniel Gross has written an interesting article in the UKs Guardian on why it is more than likely we’ll fail to avert catastrophic climate change:

Why has every attempt to set prices for global carbon emissions failed? The answer can be found in one word: coal – or, rather, the fact that coal is cheap and abundant. 

Burning hydrocarbons (natural gas and petrol) yields both water and CO2. By contrast, burning coal yields only C02. Moreover, compared to natural gas and crude oil, coal is much cheaper per ton of CO2 released. This implies that any tax on carbon has a much higher impact on coal than on crude oil (or gas). Owners of coal mines and their clients are, therefore, strongly opposed to any tax on carbon. They constitute a small but well-organised group that wields immense lobbying power to block efforts to limit CO2 emissions by putting a price on them, as the planned US cap-and-trade system would have done.

Gross isn’t optimistic:

A planet composed of nation-states that in turn are dominated by special interest groups does not seem capable of solving this problem. Unfortunately, there is enough cheap coal around to power ever-higher emissions for at least another century. The world will thus certainly become much warmer. The only uncertainty is how much warmer that will be. 

Determined action at the global level will become possible only when climate change is no longer some scientific prediction, but a reality that people feel. But, at that point, it will be too late to reverse the impact of decades of excessive emissions. A world incapable of preventing climate change will have to live with it.

Russia is burning and the seas are dying.

But company profits are up.

You win some, you lose some.

[Hat tip Hot-topic.co.nz]


3 thoughts on “Old King Coal: on why we will most likely fail to avert serious climate change

  1. Prof. Vaclav Smil wrote an interesting article on coal and why I feel that even though coal can take us further into the future, without it, we’re stumped!
    The Iron Age & coal-based coke: A neglected case of fossil-fuel dependence.
    In every possible way, it seems this addiction to fossil energy is blinding us to the upcoming fall.

    • Watching the Deniers says:

      I agree, especially when you consider more than 90% of Australia’s energy is generated by coal. I don’t think anyone aware of the issue can underestimate just how hard it is to move from coal to renew-ables. It would take a large scale program with billions – trillions? – of dollars needing to be invested.

      • Barry Brook at BNC often makes the call that Hazelwood should be the first station to be converted to nuclear and I couldn’t agree more. I grew up in Morwell, where my sister suffered the worst asthma because of that brown coal plant (she was fine once we moved to SA).
        In doing so, I reckon it would be possible to overcome much of the concerns relating to nuclear energy as well as preserve coal for the more important steel production.
        Green energy should also play a role.
        Baby-steps are definitely in order. If it’s planned out of the coming decades to move to predominantly fossil fuel free energy supply, I think it’s feasible and will lead to cheaper energy which in turn helps to give the transition momentum.

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