Peak All

It matters somewhat whether fossil fuels are used up before or after really major climate change cuts in. Peak oil seems to be in our future regardless, but there is some question about peak coal.

Climate change specialists in my experience scoff at the concept, but there is some talk here and there that we will run out of coal somewhere not too far in excess of the 500 ppmv that climate folks are hoping to see as the peak. (Yes, we are still saying 450, but you can discount that a tad.)

Here’s the picture from somebody called the Energy Watch Group. (Sorry for the excruciating colors. I can’t help noticing that fuel people have a uniformly dreadful sense of graphic design.)

In the Oil Drum report, Shaun Chamberlain of the Lean Economy Connection points out that, as with oil, the energy required to extract the material increases over time, but, as is less true of oil, the quality of the material also varies dramatically. Accordingly, the mass peak of coal happens some time after the energy peak. The peak energy extraction appears to be only 25 years in the future.

I have zero expertise to bring to bear on the question. It seems plausible either way.

After all, I’ve seen several arguments that holders of oil resources are motivated to exaggerate their reserves. (Kunstler’s Long Emergency, which seems excessive in many places, is pretty compelling on this score.)

Actually, I hope this scenario is true, because rather than science having to convince the world to avoid scenarios that they have a hard time imagining, those scenarios simply wouldn’t be accessible.

The upshot would be the same: we have to move off of carbon as quickly as possible.

The only case where the delayers have anything useful to say is the one where greenhouse sensitivity is extremely small compared to the conventional wisdom and where coal supplies are large compared to the conventional wisdom. So this possibility of peak coal just further weakens the argument against getting in gear to make the shift.

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