The end of cheap coal?

10 thoughts on “The end of cheap coal?”

  1. Ultimately of course Megan we will run out of all our easy resources. The challenge will be to find an alternate sources that will not result in wholesale destruction of the remainder of the planet. Applying a Sci Fi perspective ultimately it seems that this will entail exploiting resources elsewhere in the solar system. The challenge will be to develop technologies that will enable this before the easy energy runs out. This may mean burning the candle faster in the short term to build the momentum to “reach for the stars” before the candle burns out altogether leaving us without the capacity to get off the ground. Once aloft of course there is a virtually endless supply of resources.

    (Must be something to do with growing up with Star Trek.)


  2. Then there’s the typical argument that I hear all the time that coal can be converted to assist petrol supply post-peak oil. It irritates me no end, because this accelerating overproduction will no doubt bring peak production to an earlier date and, regardless of increasing cost, such consumer based societies are likely to slide down the post-peak slope far quicker than they climbed to peak – a world run on fossil fuel simply will not exist by 2100 and the sooner we address this, the easier transition to other technology will be (ie. it takes energy to change and our major supply of energy is still, for the short term, relatively cheap).

    Then there’s the excellent argument provided by Vaclav Smil, that coal is in reality too important for steel production to be used as a fuel anyway [ ]. Put simply, without coal and our current wasteful attitude of steel (how often do we see train cars and beams left out to rust?) means that the life of our great-grand children will be radically different to that we know and we’re far too complacent about this changing world (both environmentally and resource availability).

    Nice post Megan! We certainly need to make this point as loud as possible. πŸ™‚


  3. @Marc – I don’t make a habit of applying a sci-fi perspective to sustainability issues, so can’t help but feel like we should probably focus on finding a solution closer to home (that preferably doesn’t involve digging ever deeper holes). WALL-E provides an elegant summary of what likelihood there is of humans prospering in space.

    @Tim – thanks for the link – very interesting! We can add steel production to the list of reasons (economic, climate, health…)why burning coal is a dumb idea.


  4. WALL E – lol. I don’t know, the people seemed to be happy little gluttonous consumers. I always had a problem with two loop holes – firstly, they couldn’t exist 700 yrs in space if they dump so much material into space (using those massive WALL E robots) – like a good ecosystem, recycling of material would be paramount; secondly, those people wouldn’t have been able to walk off of the ship – not with the lack of muscular development and excessive weight… But that’s Disney for you I guess (“Tim! It’s just a cartoon!” – believe it or not, I’m terrible to watch a movie with!) πŸ˜‰

    Valcav has some really excellent articles and book – well worth a read of his work.


  5. If the price of coal goes up steeply the likelihood new plants will include sequestration will surely go down; the needs for keeping energy costs down (for the sake of keeping economies ticking along) having precedence over keeping emissions down. I suspect the incentives will favour finding ways to reduce the costs of exploiting those ‘less economic’ coal reserves rather than result in a shift away from coal. Unless there are serious regulatory or other interventions and those don’t look very likely. Sorry for the pessimism – although I do keep hoping the costs of alternatives will indeed come down enough to be a game changer.


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