Coal use worldwide is expected to double in the coming decade.
In the United States, the last decade has brought a steady uptick in coal production, reaching record levels in 2008 before a recession-driven dip in 2009. Some production is exported to other countries, but domestic consumption has grown too: the amount of electricity generated through the burning of coal in the U.S. equals more than three tons of coal per person, per year, with per capita electricity consumption almost seven times higher than in China and India combined.
But China and India are catching up. In China, which already has twice as many coal power plants as the U.S., coal use has skyrocketed by 400% between 1980 and 2006. Many of China’s coal power plants have been built in the last five years alone, and there are no signs that coal plant production will slow in the near future. In India, a similar picture is emerging, with coal use growing at a rate even faster than in China—450% between 1980 and 2006.
As standards of living increase and economies in the developing world grow, the global climate crisis could deepen. The reality is that coal is not going away—nor is the growth that spurs its consumption. The challenge is, can we figure out how to get the coal without the carbon dioxide?