Blackout: Coal, Climate, and the Last Energy Crisis


Blackout coverCoal fuels about fifty percent of US electricity production and provides a quarter of the country’s total energy. China and India’s ferocious economic growth is based on coal-generated electricity.

Coal currently looks like a solution to many of our fast-growing energy problems. However, while coal advocates are urging full steam ahead, increasing reliance on the dirtiest of all fossil fuels has crucial implications for climate science, energy policy, the world economy, and geopolitics.

Drawbacks to a coal-based energy strategy include: Scarcity–new studies prove that the peak of usable coal production may actually be less than two decades away. Cost–the quality of produced coal is declining, while the expense of transport is rising, leading to spiraling costs and potential shortages. Climate impacts–our ability to deal with the historic challenge of climate change may hinge on reducing our coal consumption in future years.

Blackout goes to the heart of the tough energy questions that will dominate every sphere of public policy throughout the first half of this century, and it is a must-read for planners, educators, and anyone concerned about energy consumption, peak oil, and climate change.

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“Coal lies at the very center of our predicament as a civilization — it’s the habit we must kick, and fast, as Richard Heinberg makes abundantly clear in this powerful volume. It’s your program for understanding the drama now unfolding on the global stage.”

–Bill McKibben, author Deep Economy

“Blackout provides a startling wake-up call for energy optimists who believe our economic future is guaranteed by centuries worth of available coal – as well as for environmentalists who see “peak coal” as a salvation from climate hell. This clearly written and meticulously documented book provides a powerful case for a rapid global program to rewire the world with clean energy. Any other option puts the survival of our coherent civilization at risk.”

–Ross Gelbspan, author, The Heat Is On and Boiling Point

“A great deal of the human future depends on how clearly and carefully we think about coal . . . Richard Heinberg is an insightful and reliable a guide to the subject and his conclusions are spot on. Should be required reading for those making energy policy everywhere.”

–David Orr,  author of Down to the Wire , Earth in Mind, and four other books

“Blackout reviews the most recent analyses of global coal reserves and concludes that peak coal production is likely much nearer than is commonly assumed. In the context of global warming, peak oil, and declining net energy, Heinberg argues cogently that the most rational strategy is to reduce consumption and to rethink our growth imperative.”

–David Fridley, Scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Labs

“In Blackout, Richard Heinberg has made a major contribution to the coal debate.  What is new is his focus on the question of how much minable coal there is.  Governments have consistently over-estimated it, but the answer is critical for climate policy and for planning for alternative sources of electricity.”

–David Rutledge, Tomiyasu Professor of Electrical Engineering & Former Chair, Division of Engineering and Applied Science, California Institute of Technology