Type “coal” in Google, and the news on Google News overwhelmingly tells you that renewable energy sources surpassed coal in America, for the first time in history. (Although this space wonders if that was gamed to produce a headline, given the events in the UK in 2017.) But the truth is that coal use has been on the decline in America and in Europe for sometime now, but
it’s more than offset by coal use in the rest of the world. From Oakland’s view, and considering the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal, the data on world energy consumption is vitally important, because OBOT is primarily designed to export commodities like coal out of America.
Keisuke Sadamori, the Director of Energy Markets and Security for the International Energy Agency, has provided a reasoned take on the state of coal, one untainted by politics:
“The story of coal is a tale of two worlds with climate action policies and economic forces leading to closing coal power plants in some countries, while coal continues to play a part in securing access to affordable energy in others.”
The Idea That America Drives Coal Use Worldwide Is Outmoded
There’s an idea expressed by Oakland-based lay observers on social media that the United States is the main driver of coal use in energy production: reduce it, and the world’s overall demand goes down. The reality is the reverse. According to the International Energy Agency, “Global coal demand in the next five years (from 2018) is set to be stable, with declines in United States and Europe offset by growth in India and other Asian countries – though China, the main player in the global coal market, will see a gradual decline in demand. In terms of the total energy mix, coal’s contribution will decline from 27% to 25%, mainly due to growth of renewables and natural gas.”
Thus, by 2023, coal will still comprise one-fourth of the total energy mix. Moreover, the IEA also informs us that Eastern Europe is not playing the American game of coal use reduction: “By contrast, most countries in Eastern Europe have not announced phase-out policies and a handful of new coal power plants are under construction in Poland, Greece and in the Balkans. Some countries in Eastern Europe are among the few places in the world where lignite remains the cornerstone of the electricity system.”
World Energy Demand Is Growing And Will Continue To Grow
The reason is simple: as The Guardian UK reported on June 15th “Spencer Dale, BP’s chief economist, says the world’s surging demand for energy – it rose by 2.9% last year – has cemented the defiant growth of coal. Consumption had climbed for a second consecutive year following three years of decline.”
The Continued Growth In World Population Is The Real Climate Change Problem
The real, and yet not talked about problem, causing the constant rise in energy demand is the growth in the very human population of the world, itself.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reports that “The current energy system is highly dependent on fossil fuels, whose combustion accounted for 84% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2009. Global demand for energy is rapidly increasing, due to population and economic growth, especially in large emerging countries, which will account for 90% of energy demand growth to 2035. At the same time, nearly 20% of the global population lack access to electricity. A major transformation is required in the way we produce, deliver and consume energy.”
But the OECD, perhaps reluctantly, avoided the more thorny problem of population growth and its role in the climate change problem. Fortunately, the website Biological Diversity did not, connecting population growth to climate change:
The largest single threat to the ecology and biodiversity of the planet in the decades to come will be global climate disruption due to the buildup of human-generated greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. People around the world are beginning to address the problem by reducing their carbon footprint through less consumption and better technology. But unsustainable human population growth can overwhelm those efforts, leading us to conclude that we not only need smaller footprints, but fewer feet.
Biological Diversity then points to a 2009 study called “Reproduction and the carbon legacies of individuals”, to prove its point. The paper by two Oregon State researchers, Paul A. Murtaugha and Michael G. Schlax, has an abstract that gets right to the chilling point: human population causes climate change:
Much attention has been paid to the ways that people’s home energy use, travel, food choices and other routine activities affect their emissions of carbon dioxide and, ultimately, their contributions to global warming. However, the reproductive choices of an individual are rarely incorporated into calculations of his personal impact on the environment. Here we estimate the extra emissions of fossil carbon dioxide that an average individual causes when he or she chooses to have children. The summed emissions of a person’s descendants, weighted by their relatedness to him, may far exceed the lifetime emissions produced by the original parent. Under current conditions in the United States, for example, each child adds about 9441 metric tons of carbon dioxide to the carbon legacy of an average female, which is 5.7 times her lifetime emissions. A person’s reproductive choices must be considered along with his day-to-day activities when assessing his ultimate impact on the global environment
But the paper’s abstract is less chilling that the details, which comprise of an equation-based simulation of various scenarios of change in rates of reproduction and in carbon emissions over the next century. Consider these two paragraphs toward the end of the study:
Clearly, the potential savings from reduced reproduction are huge compared to the savings that can be achieved by changes in lifestyle. For example, a woman in the United States who adopted the six non-reproductive changes in Table 3 would save about 486 tons of CO2 emissions during her lifetime, but, if she were to have two children, this would eventually add nearly 40 times that amount of CO2 (18,882 t) to the earth’s atmosphere. This is not to say that lifestyle changes are unimportant;in fact, they are essential, since immediate reductions in emissions worldwide are needed to limit the damaging effects of climate change that are already being documented (Kerr, 2007; Moriarty and Honnery, 2008). The amplifying effect of an individual’s reproduction documented here implies that such lifestyle changes must propagate through future generations in order to be fully effective, and that enormous future benefits can be gained by immediate changes in reproductive behavior.
What the authors don’t note about the world’s population is that while it has increased, it has done so at a decreasing rate. Right now, the world’s population is projected to grow at just 1.1 percent.
The Halt In World Population Growth In 2100 Combined With Technological Change, Will Save The Planet
The other aspect of the climate change issue not talked about by climate change activists is that by 2100, the very growth in the population of the world itself is expected to stop. Even Wikipedia informs us that “Projections of population growth established in 2017 predict that the human population is likely to keep growing until 2100, reaching an estimated 8.6 billion in 2030, 9.8 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion by 2100, while the 7 billion milestone was reached in 2011.”
So, if we take Biological Diversity‘s study-supported and quite logical take that human population causes climate change, and then combine that with the efforts to change energy consumption, and then consider the coal industry’s own work in attempting to reduce emissions via technological change, then this space has to ask one question: Why all the protests, bullying of folks like Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal Developer Phil Tagami, lies by the City of Oakland, and fear-mongering on the part of activists, rather than funding for technology that modernizes energy production with an eye toward lowering emissions? And why can’t we combine that with a campaign to increase worldwide rates of education, since it’s proven that when the education rate goes up, birth rates go down?
Hopefully, Robert Downey, Jr., Can Save Us And The Planet, And Rediscover Industrial Investing
Recently, famed actor Robert Downey, Jr., announced he was starting something called The Footprint Coalition. The effort plans to “use technology and robotics to fight the climate crisis.” An effort that came right out of his Tony Stark character, the fictional industrialist who believed tech could save the planet because his tech saved his life.
As of now, the plans for the The Footprint Coalition are under development. But the idea that one would foster a plan and funding to “use technology and robotics to fight the climate crisis” implies that The Footprint Coalition will be a device to direct venture capital money toward companies that produce, say, electronic organisms that can rapidly eat pollution. Or produce energy at insanely low rates of emissions. Or create a bulk terminal in Oakland that transports commodities with zero harm to the environment.
The last sentence was a test, because in truth, that’s what the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal and Oakland Global are made to do. If some local climate activists and (politicians like the Mayor of Oakland Libby Schaaf) would look at the details of the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal, they would find a facility plan that uses covered cars and bypasses the need for dirty trucks, for clean rail technology.
Climate Change Activists Must Get Tech Smart About Industrial Processes
The main problem in all of this is that climate change activists operate off a way of behavior that has zero to do with understanding industry itself. They just create a series of cherry picked reasons to oppose a project, then work to intimidate and bully anyone who disagrees with them. Well, that approach has a natural political and intellectual counter. There are people who want to work with the energy industry to make positive change, and the energy industry wants to work with them.
Climate change activists would do well to understand technology, financing, and industrial economic development policy, all so they can get jobs more effective and lucrative in the climate change discussion, and more so than protesting just to make a viral video.