Coal use declining in the U.S. (yay!) but going up everywhere else (boo!)

Good news, bad news

This story is a good example of why global warming and energy issues have to be looked at for the planet as a whole and not country by country or region by region. After all, all that matters for Earth's atmosphere is the absolute amount of greenhouse gas from fossil sources that we pump into it, not that the U.S.'s relative share of the total is going down. That's why I won't be celebrating the latest Energy Information Administration (EIA) numbers too much; they show that coal demand inside the U.S. is going down, mostly because of a glut of low-cost natural gas, but that this coal that isn't being used in the U.S. is exported to other parts of the world where demand is going up (Europe, Asia, etc).

Coal graphEIA/Public Domain

As you can see in the chart above, Europe and Asia show the most dramatic upward trends, while the U.S. is the only region going down.

Some interesting facts to note: Indonesia has surpassed Autralia as the biggest coal exporter in the world. Most of that is soaked up by China, the largest importer of coal since 2011, an impressive thing since before 2009 China was a net exporter of coal.

The International Energy Agency writes:

Coal demand is growing everywhere but the United States. The trend of the last decade continued in 2011, with coal supplying near half of the incremental primary energy supply globally. Coal demand grew 4.3% in 2011, or 304 million tonnes (mt). Chinese demand grew by 233 mt. The only region where coal demand declined was the United States. That drop is neither policy-driven nor a consequence of recession but rather the result of the availability of cheap gas.

Even though coal demand growth is slowing, coal’s share of the global energy mix is still rising, and by 2017 coal will come close to surpassing oil as the world’s top energy source. The world will burn around 1.2 billion more tonnes of coal per year by 2017 compared with today. That’s more than the current annual coal consumption of the United States and Russia combined. (source)

Because it is the most carbon-intensive source of energy, as well as being dirty in other ways, coal should be at the top of the priority list for environmentalists everywhere. Policy changes that make us transition away from coal currently seem to offer the biggest return on effort invested, so to speak.

Order Coal NowSolid Fuels Administration/Public Domain

Via EIA, Technology Review

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