Coal was the calling card of early industrialization: replacing wood, charcoal, wind, and water. At the onset of the 20th century, coal dominated energy supply. As the century wore on, other fossil fuels, particularly petroleum and natural gas, came to the fore.
In 1928, coal still accounted for 75% of world energy production. Petroleum was 17%, while water was 8%.
In 1950, coal provided 50%, with petroleum and natural gas 30%. By 1980, those percentages had more than reversed. Nonetheless, in several countries, including the US and China, coal continues to play a critical role in energy supply, particularly in electric power generation. China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of coal, accounting for 25% of the world’s total.
Coal-burning power plants invariably spew massive quantities of greenhouse gases and other pollutants into the air. The most ambitious effort to develop “clean coal” technology was at Southern Company: the electric-power provider for much of the southern US.
The company began construction on a prototype “clean coal” plant in Kemper county, Mississippi in 2010. The Kemper project was to be completed by May 2014, at a cost of $2.4 billion. By mid-2018, the plant was still not in service, after nearly $8 billion had been sunk into it: the most expensive power plant in history. The Kemper design has what proved to be an insurmountable problem: it requires twice the maintenance downtime than predicted (50% versus 25%).
The company hid known problems from regulators for years, deceptively touting progress while mired in intractable difficulties. Having received government subsidies, the company decided upon the stratagem of denial. Despite the revelation of deception, as of mid-2018, the government has not asked for any money back. After all, doing so would be an admission to taxpayers that oversight was lacking – so, denial all around.
In the 2nd decade of the 21st century, cheap oil from fracking sent coal prices plummeting. As US coal companies collapsed into bankruptcy, they left billions of dollars in mandatory cleanup for taxpayers to pay; this after decades of subsidizing the coal industry to massively pollute in the first place.
These groups collectively are the heart and soul of climate denial. ~ American environmentalist Kert Davies
Before their decline, America’s largest coal companies spent millions funding dozens of groups that cast doubt on man-made climate change and oppose environmental regulations. This was on top of funding politicians favorable to their cause (mostly Republicans).