Foreign Policy Blogs

King Coal

Enough hasn't been said about coal here.  This is the 600-pound gorilla, sans doute.  A friend gave me Big Coal by Jeff Goodell to read and I will get around to it in December during my winter break between semesters where I'm teaching.  I have, though, had the time to see Goodell and some other very good minds discussing his book, coal, and some alternatives at the very useful "" website.  You can find the panel discussion with Goodell here. 

An article from yesterday from the "Baltimore Sun" is headlined:  World's coal addiction fuels global warming, U.N. says.  One bit of depressing news here is that " a recent analysis by climate experts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that even if the United States and Europe could stop their carbon emissions, the developing countries are on pace to create a climate crisis on their own.  Michael Wara, a Stanford University researcher, said: "In 20 years, if India and China aren't on board, the game is lost.'"

The "Baltimore Sun" article references the work of the Center for Global Development, a superb think tank in Washington, in creating Carbon Monitoring for Action (CARMA), "a massive database containing information on the carbon emissions of over 50,000 power plants and 4,000 power companies worldwide."  They can tell you who your power provider is and where they're getting their juice.  There are some powerful graphics and data here.  Definitely visit the site.  CARMA is part of the Center's "Confronting Climate Change" initiative which is active on several fronts including a project and book on Global Warming and Agriculture: Impact Estimates by Country. 

To give you the big picture on coal production and use worldwide, here's a great little article from the AP via the "San Diego Union-Tribune" from last month:  World's addiction to coal growing, despite worries about global warming.   

To hear from the other side, the World Coal Institute recently published a report Coal Meeting the Climate Challenge: Technology to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions. The report specifically examines the potential of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology in enabling carbon dioxide emissions from coal use to be reduced by 80-90%.  (Jeff Goodell says he thinks the coal industry is just using CCS as a delaying tactic and even they don't think it's really feasible.)

But let's assume for the sake of argument that CCS is do-able.  Here's one example of a high-tech approach being piloted.  Three German groups to develop CO2 scrub system is the story from Agence France-Presse, courtesy of the WBCSD's "Energy & Climate News."  Here's a joint press release from the three companies.  The clean coal technology they are developing should, they claim, enable them "to remove more than 90 percent of CO2 from the combustion gas of a power plant and then subsequently to store this gas underground."

Finally, for now, there's a conference coming up in Washington in two weeks.  The Carbon Capture Status and Outlook Summit is billed as "the first major conference to provide a global update on key technical, economic, financial and policy developments in implementing carbon capture for power plants and other major industrial applications."

There's no doubt about the seriousness of some companies and investors to try to make CCS a reality.  Whether or not they can is another question.

There's a lot more to say about coal and I'll be attempting to get at it over the next few months.  Meanwhile, Happy Thanksgiving, if you celebrate that, and felicitations in any event.



Bill Hewitt

Bill Hewitt has been an environmental activist and professional for nearly 25 years. He was deeply involved in the battle to curtail acid rain, and was also a Sierra Club leader in New York City. He spent 11 years in public affairs for the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation, and worked on environmental issues for two NYC mayoral campaigns and a presidential campaign. He is a writer and editor and is the principal of Hewitt Communications. He has an M.S. in international affairs, has taught political science at Pace University, and has graduate and continuing education classes on climate change, sustainability, and energy and the environment at The Center for Global Affairs at NYU. His book, "A Newer World - Politics, Money, Technology, and What’s Really Being Done to Solve the Climate Crisis," will be out from the University Press of New England in December.

Areas of Focus:
the policy, politics, science and economics of environmental protection, sustainability, energy and climate change