what to do next. East KY Power Co-op began testing switch grass as stop
gap for the transition to post fossil fuel era of energy.
SAN FRANCISCO — A new calculation of the world’s coal reserves is much lower than previous estimates. If validated, the new info could have a massive impact on the fate of the planet’s climate.
The new model, created by Dave Rutledge, chair of Caltech’s engineering and applied sciences division, suggests that humans will only pull up a total — including all past mining — of 662 billion tons of coal out of the Earth. The best previous estimate, from the World Energy Council, says that the world has almost 850 billion tons of coal still left to be mined.
So the new estimate, which opens the slim possibility that humankind could do nothing to mitigate carbon dioxide emissions and still escape some of the impacts of climate change, comes as quite a shock.
“The Chinese are interested in producing coal, not figuring out how much they have,” Rutledge said. “That much is obvious.”
And don’t look to technology to bail out coal miners. Mechanization has actually decreased the world’s recoverable reserves, because huge mining machines aren’t quite as good at digging out coal as human beings are.
With Rutledge’s new numbers, the world could burn all the coal (and other fossil fuels) it can get to, and the atmospheric concentration of CO2 would only end up around 460 parts per million, which is predicted to cause a 2-degree-Celsius rise in global temperatures.
On the other hand, if the world were really to encounter a swift and steep decline in accessible coal resources, it’s unclear how humans could retain our current levels of transportation, industry and general energy-usage.
So, even if coal were to run out and the most dangerous climate change averted, the imperative to develop non–fossil-fuel energy sources would remain.
“Peak Oil and peak gas and peak coal could really go either way for the climate,” Kharecha said. “It all depends on choices for subsequent energy sources.”
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