One reason President Obama’s strangulation of the coal industry, if it makes it through the courts, is not going to reduce global temperatures is that it is not going to stop the combustion of fuels and their release of carbon dioxide.
How can this be?
Well, likely when you think of renewable energy, you think of solar panels and windmills. These are not the only forms of renewable energy. Corn ethanol is a form of renewable energy. Another is wood pellets.
The wood pellet industry in the U.S. south has taken off in the last 10 years. I happen to know because of my links to the pulp and paper industry, and this industry has been screaming because they are now competing for wood with pellet plants. Yes, this makes your paper products cost more.
Where are the pellets going? They have been going to Europe by the shipload.
According to National Geographic, Dec. 10, 2014, “More than half of the exports go to the United Kingdom, where the utility Drax is converting three of its six power plants to burn wood pellets instead of coal. Drax is setting up shop in the U.S. to feed those plants, building two pellet mills in Louisiana and Mississippi that are slated to open next year.
“Maryland-based Enviva, a Drax supplier, has opened five wood pellet mills in the last four years. At least four additional export-focused plants are under construction in the South, and a handful of others have been proposed…”
The second part of the folly here is that the U.S. coal-derived electrical production is small when compared to the rest of the world.
For instance, in 2012 (latest data I could find), China produced four times the amount of coal produced in the United States. Two-thirds of the coal used worldwide is used in Asia (source: Center for Climate and Energy Solutions). Coal usage in the U.S. was 21-percent lower in 2012 than it was in 2007. Coal is primarily used for electricity production, although there is a metallurgical use as well (steel making).
Almost all energy sources depend on the sun. Wood pellets are obviously from trees, which require sunlight, as does corn. Hydroelectric sources depend on water evaporation and subsequent rain storms in the right areas to fill the lakes. Solar and wind sources are obviously sun driven as well.
There are two sources that don’t depend on the sun. The first is nuclear. The second is tidal, which depends on the moon.
Oil, natural gas and coal were all formed via sun activities; it is just that those activities were long ago and are not considered active methods of energy production today and hence not renewable.
A fact that most people do not realize is that today, the largest producer of renewable biomass energy in the U.S. is the forest products industry, producing 77 percent of the total.
The renewable energy produced by the forest products industry exceeds all of the nation’s solar, wind and geothermal energy generation combined. This is according to twosides.us.
So, for a long time to come, our energy sources will largely depend on combustion of one fuel or another. Whether those fuels are identified as renewable or not is merely an asterisk on the activities of humankind.