In “The Wonderful Tar Baby Story,” Uncle Remus told about the one time Brer Fox outsmarted Brer Rabbit.
Brer Fox mixes tar with turpentine to create a “Tar Baby” and sets his creation in the road. Brer Rabbit comes by and gets increasingly offended when the Tar Baby fails to acknowledge him. Brer Rabbit gets so incensed he decides to “bus’ you wide open,” only to get stuck, head, arms, legs, and all, in the tar. Oddly, Uncle Remus never tells us how (or whether) Brer Rabbit ended up as Brer Fox’s dinner.
As EE Newssaid recently, “Coal’s survival beyond 2030 is not consistent with [President] Biden’s emission goals.” Biden’s climate envoy John Kerry in Glasgow assured his UN colleagues that, “by 2030 in the United States, we won’t have coal.” Indeed, the last U.S. coal-fired power plant came online over a decade ago.
Except for a few tiny nations, the rest of the world may be giving lip service to coal’s coming funeral. But in the real world, global power generation from coal rose 9 percent in 2021 to a projected 10,350 terawatt-hours, and many Asian nations are increasing their reliance on the tried and true provider of heat and electricity.
In 2022, global coal demand was expected to return to its all-time high (set in 2013), then surpass that level in 2023. Projections are that, by 2025, countries in Asia will use half of the electricity in the world. The biggest user is China, whose share has risen from just 10 percent in 2000 to a projected 33 percent by 2025. [The better to build more EV batteries and solar panels with coal-fired electricity.]
It seems that the more Biden, Kerry, and the Net Zero crowd attack King Coal, the more they get stuck in its clutches. Maybe, like Brer Rabbit, they are too self-absorbed and too much in a hurry to realize that demonizing the old fossil is a pathway to enslavement. And the Chinese Brer Fox is laughing his tail off.
As China, by far the world’s largest consumer of coal (at 4,320 trillion million cubic feet), expands its reach across the developing (and developed) world, nations with ties to China are also increasing their use of coal. India, too, dwarfs the U.S. in coal consumption (at 966 trillion MMcf compared to our 731 trillion MMcf). Meanwhile, five of the top seven per capita coal consumers are in Eastern Europe (Australia is number 1).
The latest coal news out of India, where coal today accounts for nearly 75 percent of annual electricity generation, is that the government has asked utilities to NOT retire any coal-fired powerplants until 2030 due to a surge in electricity demand. Reuters quotes an anonymous utility official as saying, “Peak power demand has already risen 5 percent this year…. There is no question of retiring old coal units.”
Next-door Bangladesh is set to increase its generation of coal, which currently provides just 12.6 percent of the nation’s electricity, because of frequent energy blackouts. The nation, which relies heavily on India for electricity, gets just 2.5 percent of its energy from solar installations and nearly none from wind.
Pakistan just announced plans to quadruple its domestic coal-fired capacity to reduce power generation costs – and not to build any new gas-fired plants, which rely on increasingly expensive and hard-to-get imports. The move responds to an economic crisis that has led the nation teetering toward bankruptcy.
Pakistan’s brand-new, 1.32 gigawatt, Shanghai Electric Thar plant, which runs on domestic coal, was funded under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. But, Reuters warns, financial institutions in both China and Japan are under heavy activist pressure to stop funding fossil fuel power plants – despite the urgent worldwide need to increase electricity capacity.
Even coal-rich (yet energy-starved) South Africa has no plans to abandon coal, which today supplies about 80 percent of the nation’s grotesquely inadequate electricity. President Cyril Ramaphosa urged people to avoid “the perception that we are called upon to make a trade-off between energy security and a just transition to a low-carbon economy.” Ramaphosa said that newly built plants will remain operational until the end of their 40-year lifespan.
Even in Europe, at least in the short run (so they say), nations scrambling to meet their energy needs (in the wake of the Russia-Ukraine war) are sinning against Net Zero. Last June panicked policy makers in Germany and Austria announced emergency restarts; the Netherlands lifted all its restrictions on coal power stations the next day. The ripple effect spread across the continent.
Curiously, according to The Economist, the war-inspired spike in coal reliance, together with massive subsidies, has also “turbocharged the green transition.” Nations with carbon taxes will use the receipts to further subsidize the shrinkage of carbon tax revenues. Climate analyst Sarah Brown last summer assured her readers that “coal is not making a comeback.”
Uh, Sarah. As we just said, global coal demand is expected to surpass its all-time high this year. And the West can do little to slow down that demand, which is largely in developing nations (if you call India and China “developing”).
All of which means that Joe Biden and the entirety of the Net Zero community are stuck with Tar Baby coal, for which, much like cobalt and rare-earth minerals (and so much more), China controls the world market.
Nobody has told this to state governors, mayors, and other virtue-signaling politicians – and voters – who keep enacting or pronouncing “100 percent ‘clean’ electricity by 2040” (as Minnesota lawmakers just mandated). The carbon-free club also includes California, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island by 2033), Virginia, Washington (state and DC), and Puerto Rico. Maine and Nevada set goals (not mandates), and the governors of Michigan, New Jersey, and Wisconsin joined the club via executive order.
Apparently, most Net Zero advocates have no idea how to replace the myriad byproducts of fossil fuel production, or even that they are carbon-based goods. Yet fossil fuels are essential in the manufacture of steel, cement, plastics, and ammonia, which Vaclav Smil calls “the four pillars of modern civilization,” and thousands more products, including laptops and cell phones.
The Zeros may not even realize that wind turbines require both concrete and steel to stay vertical.
Ol’ Brer Fox Jinpeng is having a good laugh.
And America? America is with Alice in Wonderland.
Duggan Flanakin is Director of Policy Research with the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow who writes about a multitude of issues, innovations, and ideas.
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