Why don’t we just let it die already? Coal companies keep getting bailed out by governments around the world despite the climate crisis, this needs to stop. Over at Climate Town they have a great idea (above) that captures coal’s contentious use and how governments prop up the industry. The concept of clean coal was just a way to keep the carbon intensive industry running at the expense of all of us.
Already renewable sources are cheaper than coal and waaaaaaaaaaaay better for the planet and people’s health. It’s time to let the coal industry go the way of the knocker uppers.
Eliminating fossil fuel subsidies would save billions in revenue for the federal government. For climate advocates and budget hawks, eliminating these subsidies is a win-win. The Biden administration projected savings of $121 billion over a decade, which could be used to fund critical public health, education, infrastructure, and social initiatives instead of raising taxes.
Pricing fossil fuels efficiently would cause a dramatic decline in global emissions. The International Monetary Fund found that efficient oil, gas, and coal pricing by 2025 would lead to a 36% decline in global emissions. This puts us well on track to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius. Current global fossil fuel subsidies reached $5.9 trillion in 2020, or $11 million every minute.
Fossil fuel companies spend public money on private lobbying. Fossil energy companies earn a greater than 13,000% return on investment while slashing thousands of jobs. In 2020, the oil, gas, and coal industries spent more than $115 million lobbying Congress in defense of their $15 billion in giveaways. Eliminating subsidies to the industry is a step toward fighting corruption and preventing the abuse of taxpayers’ hard-earned money.
Fossil fuel subsidies are economically inefficient policies. They price carbon at far below its social cost to society, and on a global scale, they are economically regressive policies that benefit the wealthiest 20%. Externalities from supporting the fossil fuel industry cost the U.S. $649 billion every year.
Ending fossil fuel subsidies is politically popular. According to polling from Data for Progress, 54% of voters are in favor of rolling back all tax incentives for fossil fuel companies, compared to only 30% opposed.
The rise of renewable energy is even more impressive given the massive subsidies given to fossil fuel industries. Despite the bailouts for companies operating in the tar sands, the car subsidies, and other related government handouts, renewable energy just gets cheaper and cheaper.
This past month the International Energy Agency declared solar to be the cheapest source of electricity in history. Cheaper than coal!
Now, the IEA has reviewed the evidence internationally and finds that for solar, the cost of capital is much lower, at 2.6-5.0% in Europe and the US, 4.4-5.5% in China and 8.8-10.0% in India, largely as a result of policies designed to reduce the risk of renewable investments.
In the best locations and with access to the most favourable policy support and finance, the IEA says the solar can now generate electricity â€œat or belowâ€ $20 per megawatt hour (MWh). It says:
â€œFor projects with low-cost financing that tap high-quality resources, solar PV is now the cheapest source of electricity in history.â€
The IEA says that new utility-scale solar projects now cost $30-60/MWh in Europe and the US and just $20-40/MWh in China and India, where â€œrevenue support mechanismsâ€ such as guaranteed prices are in place.
Everyone already knows that burning coal for energy is absolutely horrible for the planet and were still learning just how bad coal power plants really are. The positive news is that once the plants are closedpositive changes are quick to be found. A recent study found that shutting down coal power plants can be connected to the saving of 26,610 lives in the USA alone. There are other benefits too like cleaner air for plants, which in turns increases crop yields. This is yet more evidence that we need to do everything in our power to shutdown the use of coal.
An estimated 26,610 lives were saved in the US by the shift away from coal between 2005 and 2016, according to the University of California studypublished in Nature Sustainability.
“When you turn coal units off you see deaths go down. Itâ€™s something we can see in a tangible way,â€ said Jennifer Burney, a University of California academic who authored the study. â€œThere is a cost to coal beyond the economics. We have to think carefully about where plants are sited, as well as how to reduce their pollutants.â€
Open-cut coal mining and Australia have a long history that is all about resource extraction in the hopes of short-term gain. The nation’s long history of reckless destruction seems to be coming to an end since a court recently ruled that a mining operation will not be allowed to open. The reasoning is that the coal industry is too carbon intensive and will actually worsen the planet through it’s emissions.
In his ruling, chief judge Brian Preston said the project should be refused because â€œthe greenhouse-gas emissions (GHGs) of the coal mine and its product will increase global total concentrations of GHGs at a time when what is now urgently needed, in order to meet generally agreed climate targets, is a rapid and deep decrease in GHG emissions.â€ In January, Australia experienced its hottest month on record. Meanwhile, extreme weather events have caused major destruction in large parts of the country â€” fires have burned about 3% of Tasmania and northern Queensland has been inundated by rain, causing unprecedented flooding. Extreme weather events are forecast to become more frequent in many parts of the world as a result of climate change.
Back in 2014 China decided it was sick of producing so much pollution and decided to do something about it. China started to close coal plants, spent $120 billion cleaning air in cities and launched similar initiatives throughout the country. The results have been longer life spans for people in impacted areas and a more efficient economy. The rapid pace of change is impressive even for China as no other country has been so quick to reduce pollution, that being said China has a long way to go to reach WHO standards seen in the rest of the world.
Although most regions outpaced their targets, the most populated cities had some of the greatest declines. Beijingâ€™s readings on concentrations of fine particulates declined by 35 percent; Hebei Provinceâ€™s capital city, Shijiazhuang, cut its concentration by 39 percent; and Baoding, calledChinaâ€™s most polluted city in 2015, reduced its concentration by 38 percent.
To investigate the effects on peopleâ€™s lives in China, I used two of my studies (more here and here) to convert the fine particulate concentrations into their effect on life spans. This is the same method that underlies the Air Quality-Life Index that can be explored here. These studies are based on data from China, so they donâ€™t require extrapolation from the United States or some other country with relatively low concentrations of pollution.