Magazine article Geographical

Coal-Lapse

Magazine article Geographical

Coal-Lapse

Article excerpt

Geographical's regular look at the world of climate change. This month. Marco Magrini asks if the days of coal are coming to an end

It powered the first industrial revolution, paving the way for the economic boom and the demographic explosion. Yet, as scientist James Hansen bluntly argues, 'it is the greatest threat to civilisation'. Coal is irrevocably on the wrong side of history. Blamed for its side effects (it emits as much as twice the amount of carbon dioxide released from natural gas, per unit of energy) and for its dirtiness (adding sulfur dioxide, arsenic, mercury, cadmium and lead to the air), the most abundant fossil fuel on Earth has begun to bow out.

China's consumption of coal peaked in 2013, fell last year by 5.7 per cent and now, as part of efforts by President Xi Jinping to clean up its unbreathable air, the People's Republic has announced a plan to shut down 500 million tons of capacity in the next three to five years. No new mines will be authorised this decade. Last November, according to the latest data available from the US Energy Information Administration, power generation from coal fell to its lowest level in 35 years. Thanks to abundant and cleaner shale gas, coal prices in America have tumbled, not to mention the coal companies' stock prices: former giants like Peabody Energy or Arch Coal have shed a staggering 98 per cent of their value since mid-2011. No wonder that, just last year, over 15 gigawatts worth of American coal-fired plants have been shut or converted to gas. …

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