Peak Coal

I have a dim recollection that somewhere someone has done a set of graphs of the rapidly contracting time horizons of scientists’ and economists’ predictions of environmental and economic problems arising from climate change, biodiversity reduction, risk to food supply and energy resource inaccessibility and the like.

If these graphs don’t exist, they should. (I’m talking about graphing contracting time horizons of reputable predictions here).

One potentially graphable set of predictions concern the economically useful future of coal.

The Victorian Government was up until recently citing 300 years worth of coal resources in the Latrobe valley.

However ABARE in this year’s Australian Energy Resource Assessment had the figure for Australia as a whole down to 90 years (see 5.1.2 Australia’s coal resources)

ABARE uses the 2008 rate of production as a constant to make the estimate, and they also say in the following dot point that “there is 66.6 Gt of recoverable Inferred Resources of black coal, which require further exploration to delineate their possible extent and determine their economic status.”

That is, the ease and cost of extraction of undiscovered reserves is unknown, but there might be more economically feasible reserves than we think.

Shaun Carmody who blogs as Stubborn Mule, took issue with ABARE’s use of a 2008 fixed rate of production in their calculations.

“So, where does the 90 year figure come from? According to the ABARE report, Economic Demonstrated Resources are 39.2 giga-tonnes (Gt). Add to this another 8.3 Gt of “Sub-economic Demonstrated Resources”, or SDR, (i.e. reserves that are really hard to get) gives an estimate total of 47.5 Gt for Australia’s coal reserves. Now 90 × 490 Mt (the 2008 production rate) gives 44.1 Gt, which is somewhere between EDR and the combined total of EDR and SDR. Presumably the ABARE authors are allowing for the possibility that over time it will become economically feasible to mine some of the coal that is currently classified as sub-economic.

But there is no way that 2008 production rates will be kept steady for the next 90 years. Apart from anything else, there are plenty of stakeholders in the coal industry doing their best right now to see their export business grow.

To come up with a better estimate of how long the coal might last, rather than assuming zero production growth, I will assume a constant growth rate. While the annual growth rate from 1961 to 2008 averaged 5% per annum, growth has been a little slower more recently. The last 5 years have seen growth average only 3.1% (presumably the global financial crisis did not help). Working with the ABARE estimate that viable coal reserves are 90 times 2008 production levels and assuming 3.1% annual growth in production, the reserves will in fact only last for 43 years! “

However according to Sourcewatch,  Australia increased its estimates of recoverable coal reserves  from 29 Mt of hard coal in 1987 to 38.6 Mt in 2005. ABARE’s 2010 estimate of 39.2 giga-tonnes is an increase on that, so maybe recoverable coal resources are going up.

But on the side of the trend of environment and resource predictions to predict we will run out of everything but predictions sooner than we think, on this morning’s ABC Radio National “Breakfast” Fran Kelly interviewed Richard Heinberg, the author of a paper on the subject of peak coal “The end of cheap coal”, published in Nature 17 Nov 2010 (with David Fridley)

This article does not mention Australia specifically, but it does mention the poor quality of estimates of coal reserves worldwide.

“China’s reserves were last surveyed in the early 2000s, and the US reserves in the 1970s”

And Heinberg argues that on the basis of historical overestimates of coal reserves, current estimates are also likely to be excessive.

What may drive up rates of coal production in Australia at least in the short term is his prediction that coal production at current costs in the US and China will last about 10 years.

This potential increase in Australian production may very well further shorten Stubborn Mule’s 43 year prediction for our economically viable coal resources.

The Nature article concludes

“Limit consumption

At the very least, the USGS should urgently complete a new national coal survey. And it is essential for the security of energy supplies globally that Chinese domestic coal production and the timing of its likely decline is better understood.

We believe that it is unlikely that world energy supplies can continue to meet projected demand beyond 2020. Therefore, new limits on energy consumption will be essential in all sectors of society — including agriculture, transportation and manufacturing — and will be imposed by energy prices and shortages if they are not achieved through planning and policy.

Supply limits also have implications for the development of clean-coal technology. Also known as carbon capture and storage (CCS), clean coal is one proposal for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions while growing energy supplies. Because maintaining economic growth while cutting coal out of the energy equation globally will be difficult, and because nearly everyone assumes that coal will remain cheap far into the foreseeable future, the idea is to keep the carbon dioxide produced by burning coal from going into the atmosphere.

There are two hitches: the difficulty of scaling up such an enterprise, and its effect on electricity prices. As many analysts have noted, the scale and cost of clean-coal infrastructure will be vast13. Energy analysts agree that this will boost the price of electricity, but the scheme could work if coal prices remain low. If they don’t, building new coal plants — conventional or clean — makes little economic sense, except to replace ageing inefficient infrastructure.

Nations should immediately begin to plan for higher fossil-fuel prices and to make maximum possible investments in energy efficiency and renewable-energy infrastructure. Even then the world will have to accept a slowdown in economic growth.”

So there you go. Predictions of world peak coal now down to 10 years.

Stubborn Mule has in fact attempted a small resources- predictions graph but as I am the complete non economist, (indeed so bad as to be nearly a reverse economist) I would be really interested in Troppo economists’ predictions of Peak Coal, world and Australia.

Perhaps an enterprising Troppo contributor could graph them too?

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39 Responses to Peak Coal

  1. Jacques Chester says:

    The reason the scientists and economists don’t agree is because they have two different views of how the system will evolve.

    Actually, that’s not really fair. It’s really a division between linear and non-linear forms of modelling.

    The linear model says “X is in the ground, Y comes out of the ground; known X increases at x%/year and Y at y%/year. Solve for X=0”.

    The non-linear model asks questions like “What happens when coal becomes rarer? What happens when the cost to extract goes up? What happens when coal consumers can’t afford it any more?”

    Economists shrug and mutter about substitutable goods and incentives to increase supply.

    But what they can’t do is provide a deadline. The economist does not have that information. They can model and guess, but it would only be a guess. The information is widely dispersed in the economy and no one actor knows it for sure. All that the economist can do is generalise about the shape of the future market, not the precise outcomes.

    Here’s an insight from How to Solve It: Modern Heuristics that I found particularly striking. Suppose we have the approach of Problem -> Model -> Solution.

    Models can be accurate or approximate. Solutions can be approximate or precise.

    Generally you cannot have an accurate, precise model. But you can usually get the choice of Approximate model -> Precise answer; or Accurate model -> Approximate answer.

    The linear model is an approximate model. It ignores a lot of unquantifiable uncertainties. But it can produce an answer to an arbitrary level of precision. “Coal will run out in 10.10320322443 years!”

    The nonlinear, economists’ model, is accurate but not precise. “Producers will look for more coal when prices rise, elongating the life time of the ore body. But buyers will buy less when prices go up, reducing production, elongating the life of the ore body. At some point coal will be more expensive than alternatives and people will begin to switch to them. But I don’t know when or by how much or who or where this will happen”. Wildly imprecise, but based on what we know about economics, probably accurate.

    So basically the two groups are talking straight past each other.

  2. Julia says:

    Thanks Jacques, that is extremely interesting and explains something that had been niggling at me for some time. Presumably there is a world of difference between “precise” and “correct”?

  3. Julia says:

    …and on reflection, between “accurate” and “meaningful”?

  4. Jacques Chester says:

    Usually in modelling or estimation, ‘precise’ and ‘accurate’ have distinct meanings.

    Accuracy refers to how true a statement is. Precision refers to how detailed an answer is (usually in terms of significant digits).

    The statement “Jacques is between 6 and 7 feet tall” is accurate but not precise; the statement “Jacques is 2.243224275564 microns tall” is precise but highly inaccurate.

    As for meaningful … up to the audience, really.

  5. conrad says:

    I would have thought that the economic usefulness of coal (for which I thought there were essentially infinite reserves if you want to dig them out — the reserves are constantly getting updated everywhere, see e.g., here) would have been when other technologies become cheaper than them (rather than just coal becoming more expsensive). That might be alternative energy sources as we know them today, which are constantly getting cheaper, it might be things like nuclear fusion that are not in people’s minds much now but hold a lot of promise in the really long term, or it might be things that people don’t really think about much at all now.

  6. Julia says:

    My reflection (unstated) was about the degree of generalisation in the prediction. With a big enough generalisation you can be pretty sure of hitting some bullseye or other. If I say “At some point in time, we will run out of easily accessible coal”, I can be pretty sure of being correct but not precise and thus not really useful or meaningful. On the other hand if I say “Coal will run out in 10.10320322443 years!” I am precise but unlikely to be correct and thus also it is not very meaningful or useful.

    From where I come from, “Meaningful” is the whole point. Even reading tea leaves will alert you to cues in your environment that allow you to make real meaning out of not very effective data. It focuses your attention.

    If you take a Pragmatic view of the world what we say we do with our attempts at precision, is in fact not the way we actually proceed. Which is why, I believe, economists accept Herbert Simon’s bounded rationality. Logic can be useful but limited and so can intuition. In fact, as Hubert Dreyfus argues, in an expert’s hands, intuition can be extremely useful, not to mention both accurate and correct. They are not to my mind mutually exclusive. They are just different ways of sussing out the world. More than anything however intuition relies on what you find meaningful.

  7. Jacques Chester says:


    In estimation the problem of precision vs accuracy is usually express as “the cone of uncertainty”. To be accurate, early estimates must be imprecise. As the estimated outcome draws nearer, more information is available and so more precise estimates can be given. If estimates are expressed as a range of outcomes, then on a graph you will see a cone-shaped narrowing of estimates over time.

    I haven’t seen the “cone of uncertainty” used outside of software estimation, but then I am unfamiliar with estimation in other fields.

    So really every consumer of estimates needs to decide for themselves whether they prefer imprecise accuracy or deceptive precision. I guess that’s what you mean by meaningfulness. Generally the trick is to expand the model to include the outcomes you actually care about. So, for coal running out, what is it that actually concerns you?

  8. D W Griffiths says:

    This is a question with a rich history. Peak Coal was a big political issue in Britain in the mid-1860s. W. S. Jevons published a book on The Coal Question (which among other things invented the still-useful Jevons paradox, that increased energy efficiency can cause increased energy use). Jevons concluded that Britain would soon be crippled by the falling supply and rising cost of coal. His main palliative was to pay off the national debt quickly. His thinking became a centrepiece of the 1866 Budget and triggered the creation of a Royal Commission on Coal, which eventually concluded that the problem was not as big as Jevons had calculated.

    Jevons was doing linear modelling, in Jacques’ terms. He was a man who believed in measuring quantities. He also understood the limits of his approach, the non-linearities to which Jacques refers. But he felt compelled to have a go at answering a question he thought endangered his society. He was an admirable figure, the first great resource economist, and still a worthwhile read. (Read The Coal Question here.)

    Like Conrad, I suspect (and hope) we will desert coal – for solar power, thicker curtains etc – before it deserts us.

  9. Jacques Chester says:

    Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

  10. Julia says:

    What a ripper find that is! Like many another prognosticator though Jevons was not wrong, just a little temporally and nationally confined. However, even if it was a cry of wolf, that does not prevent it being an actual wolf on perhaps the third or the thirtieth or the 300th occasion.
    I don’t think it is a matter of whether there are reserves, but how hard they are to extract and transport – at least according to the Sourcewatch site I was using which seems to be fairly even handed about its round up of evidence. It compares models of change as well as bemoaning the parlous state of actual evidence of resources. Like DW I’m with you on the need for a change to something less hazardous, regardless.
    What makes this meaningful for me is a real sense of panic if Richard Heinberg turns out to be right and we do indeed have 10 years. Imagine the increase in CO2 emissions from the increase in production that would represent, and the increase too from trying to extract harder to find sources and transport them from more remote or inaccessible places. 10 years is hardly enough time to move to a new energy base unless we all agree to adopt the BZE Stationary Energy proposal which can, according to it, be executed in 10 years, but which I suspect some on this blog would not sign up to, let alone the rest of Australia. Curtains futures are looking good.

  11. Jacques Chester says:


    So you’re concerned about the effects on the economy of a coal supply shock? If so, economists can talk reasonably authoritatively about the effects of supply shocks.

  12. JC says:

    So Ehrlich is making another come back. Any bets coming up?

    It took a brave man like Ehrlich to suggest there was going to be a change in the trend in long term commodity prices and he lost the bet.

    I suppose it never stops other brave people either.

  13. Julia says:

    Feh! Very provocative!

  14. First thing to appreciate – occurrences vs. reserves vs. resources.

    Second thing is that miners don’t go looking for stuff on a whim they only go looking when the price is high. Hence global uranium reserves and resources have gone up a lot in the past few years.

    Another thing to appreciate in the context of “running out of…” arguments is that coal, oil, and gas aren’t like metals. Hydrocarbons are either present or not (though there are certainly less accessible forms, like shale oil). In the case of most metals of interest, the amount of ore available increases exponentially as the ore grade required goes down.

    Compared to the extraordinary efforts to extract oil from inaccessible places, we’re still at the stage of digging it up from the most convenient spots (google “mountaintop removal” for a particularly striking and environmentally destructive example).

    Another thing to keep in mind is that we can use coal considerably more efficiently than we presently do. A lot of coal plant around the world has thermal efficiencies around the 35% mark. A state-of-the-art gasifier plant can have efficiencies close to 60%.

    On the flip side, while clean coal is technically possible, thus far it’s been as expensive as all hell, and shows little sign of becoming less so.

    As such, it’s my view that we will stop burning coal long before it becomes scarce enough that its cost is an issue.

  15. Patrick says:

    I’m a bit dumb and as a result I struggle with abstractions. Hence I will believe that peak something is realistically possible when I see peak something happen.

  16. John Turner says:

    This debate appears to have neglected the real value of coal. Carbon, at a reasonable cost, is essential as a reducing agent in the production of iron and steel and most other metals. It is not feasible to rely on charcoal for the needs of future generations of humans for these metals. I am by no means the first to state this but, “Coal is too valuable to future generations for it to be burned for its thermal value!”
    Only coal that is never likely to be extracted by mining means should be exploited for coal seam gas and then only if the gasification process has no adverse effect on agricultural land.

  17. Julia says:

    What an educative thing a blog is! That is a very useful distinction. So does that mean as the price goes up, an occurrence becomes a resource, and a resource becomes a reserve? This suggests to me that price will never be an incentive to swap from coal to renewables. It looks like social pressure or a change in what is deemed acceptable energy sources is the only force for change.
    Is anyone adding the carbon cost of the greater energy requirements created by more difficult extraction and transport to the carbon cost of using the actual coal?

    Does that mean you did or did not notice peak oil? James Schlesinger did. That’s the James Schlesinger who was Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (1971-73), US Secretary of Defense (1973-75), Director of the CIA and was the first Secretary of Energy (1977-79)

  18. Patrick says:

    Yep, but it is still pumping into my large car at a price signficantly higher than I would like but significantly lower than I am willing to pay.

    Like I said, I am not as clever as eg Mr Schlesinger. So I will wait to see the empty pump or the $10/L sign before I panic.

    Perhaps I am really expressing faith in humanity rather than disbelief in prognosticators.

  19. Julia says:

    There appear to be a number of potentially valuable alternate uses for coal including that of using the brown coal in Victoria as a thermal blanket from under which heat can be extracted to produce steam for electricity generation. That is the kind of use for which you don’t even have to dig it up.

    Sorry, I thought you were originally referring to Peak Oil as a global resource and a societal dependency, not to your personal peak oil ‘willing to pay’.

  20. Ken Parish says:

    Actually Schlesinger’s piece does not clearly assert that peak oil has actually occurred yet, just that it is now beyond argument that it will. Which is strange because I would have thought it was true almost by definition for any non-renewable resource unless we choose to keep using it faster and faster until the very moment when there’s none left!

  21. Patrick says:

    Isn’t willingness to pay the point, Julia? As the readily-extractable resource diminishes, the price rises and stimulates further exploration discovering further resource, the price rises again and makes the less-readily extractable resource financially viable, the cost of that extraction is reduced by mass-deployment and technological advances, that then starts to run out and the cost rises again and stimulates alternative technological development…

    And so on and so forth until we die, but not from lack of any given resource, except water, which in sharp contra-distinction to largely freely and globally traded oil, we should probably be more worried about not less.

    I will offer brilliant odds that someone of comparable eminence to Schlesinger will write in the same terms about peak something-or-the-other in 10 and then in 20 years hence, and probably again and again and again.

    In addition I fully expect this to happen without any of the resources in question ever being actually right now this minute at ‘peak’ stage.

  22. Patrick says:

    Sorry, make that in sharp contra-distinction to any largely freely and globally traded resource, including both oil and coal (which I believe is much less freely traded than oil, but still much more so than water).

  23. Julia says:

    It’s true that Schlesinger does not give exact timings and in view of the estimation issues raised above by Jacques, he would be foolish to over do the precision. However he does say, “Even the International Energy Agency, which previously had been sanguine, now suggests that we can no longer increase production of conventional oil in the course of this decade.” This suggests he is considering a shortish time frame.

    Patrick, that was exactly the answer I had anticipated you would give. Just like Zeno’s Paradox, Achilles never gets to catch the tortoise.

  24. JC says:

    It’s theoretically impossible to run out a resource. Not trying to sound snarky but a casual look at a demand and supply chart will tell easily explain why. The price of the last barrel will be astronomical. We will all be walking well before then.

    Considering that 5% of the land mass has been explored and almost sweet nothing in the oceans it’s really brave to be arguing we’ve peaked with such little information.

    People seem to end up reading the scare stories that surface from time to time in the regular dailies. But we don’t seem to read the more boring news that would usually come out in the most boring parts of business papers stuck in the middle of the paper.

    The US in the 90’s and until a few years ago was really looking like it would run out of natural gas. New technologies and new ways of exploiting methane gas seams (or whatever they are called basically turned the US for being short of gas to having a serious glut.

    Or even more boring still… Oil search Ltd is expanding it’s production budget because the reserves found in Papua are materially larger than they originally thought.

    The mistake most of us make is to look at the demand side and then extrapolate from that current supplies and what it means in terms of running out. But it’s wrong to do that unless we also figure in technological change and what it means to both the supply and the demand side of the equation.

    Is it likely we won’t see cheap oil reserves again like the Middle East gushers? Who is to say. There is speculation for instance that Afghanistan is sitting on a large number of oil lakes.

    And then what about the demand side and the large number of new model hybrids hitting the market over the next 5/10 years that will crunch mileage?

    Take this example of what technological change can mean.

    USEC is a US nuclear enrichment company using old centrifuge technology to produce fuel rods for the nuke utilities in the US.

    It’s currently working on new centrifuge technology that could reduce it’s own power usage to spin those things by a whopping 95%. That’s correct by 95%! It will send the firm’s power bill down from $700 million a year to $35 million. This an example of huge technological change allowing us to get more for much less.

    These peaks are simply not even worth the worry.

    John Turner.

    Storing for future use by generations that aren’t alive simply doesn’t make any sense. How do you know that steel will even be in demand 30 years from now except as an arty/architectural feature in a building? I wouldn’t like to make that bet especially with some of the new materials coming out. The eventual introduction of the Boeing 787 will see the first plane built mostly in composite materials and little to no aluminum skin or alloys used except for the airframe and even that is supposed to be partially composite.

    Nanotech is likely to explode over the next decade.

    Storing reserves will simply drive the cost of commodities much, much higher leaving less for technology R&D. We want as much money as possible devoted to R&D.

  25. JC says:

    Take a peak at this thing of beauty. It’s a carbon free hydrogen engine that can produce and astonishing 300 horsepower and would leave gasoline engines of this category in the dirt.

  26. Patrick says:

    Even better, take a look at this chunk of awesome: Mercedes AMG CLS 63.

    Motoring being the ultimate example of trickle-down economics, the technology deployed in this car which manages to run something with a motor probably nearly three times as big as what most of you drive but with less petrol is almost inevitably the future: less than 10L/100km in normal conditions (even less obviously on the highway).

  27. D W Griffiths says:

    “It’s theoretically impossible to run out [of] a resource.”

    JC, I know what you’re getting at, and I occasionally shock people by telling them that we won’t run out of oil.

    But the statement is only true for what you might call “economic resources”. If you can create a system where no-one pays for the resource, you can run out of it quite easily. If you doubt me, try seeking advice on the issue from a passenger pigeon.

    Hence the paradoxical result that we have run out of various “renewable” resources, but never to my knowledge have we run out of a non-renewable resource.

  28. JC says:

    But the statement is only true for what you might call “economic resources”. If you can create a system where no-one pays for the resource, you can run out of it quite easily. If you doubt me, try seeking advice on the issue from a passenger pigeon.

    DW, I think what you’re alluding to is the tragedy of the commons in this example. I don’t doubt it. The world’s fisheries are quickly heading that way too.

  29. Dave Kimble says:

    What everyone here seems to be misunderstanding is that coal production will not increase at 3.1% per year and then suddenly crash to zero. Long before the resource is exhausted, the difficulty of extracting it, and the decreasing quality, and its distance from the market, and the lack of basic infrastructure in the country where it is found, will make the production rate fall and taper off slowly to zero.

    Thus the peak of production rate occurs long before the production rate reaches zero. “Peak Coal” is the peaking of production rate, NOT the end of coal.

    This is best illustrated with the production of oil in the US, where expertise, finance and markets are all as good as they are ever going to be (think Kazakstan). Despite still having more than 30 billion barrels of oil underground, the US oil production rate peaked in 1971, and is now only half what it was then.

    The tiny little bump in production rate due to the “vast resouces of deepwater oil” will never turn things around. The difficulties associated with deepwater drilling were seen in environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico just recently.

    Worldwide, Peak Oil seems to have occurred in 2008, although that won’t be proven until we are a bit further down the track. It is true that scarcity will cause an increase in price, and that will make some uneconomic reserves economic. But from 2004 to mid-2008, the price of oil rose from US$30 /barrel to US$147 /barrel and yet over the period only 0.7% more oil (in barrels/year) was brought to market. Many poorer countries couldn’t afford the new expensive oil and had to do without, the major oil importing nations has US$1.75 trillion sucked out of their economies for no benefit.

    For a list of scientific papers and articles on Peak Coal, see

  30. Dave Kimble says:

    For a list of scientific papers and articles on Peak Coal, see

  31. Patrick says:

    Or for a different view, from the NYT no less.

  32. Julia says:

    The NY Times article conflates together the idea of peaks with the ending of resource availability in a similarly erroneous way to that pointed out by Dave Kimble above. In addition, it conflates types of non renewables – coal, oil and gas – into “energy” which obscures distinctions between peaks. I always thought the last spike in oil prices to which they refer, was an artificial shortage created by OPEC but I stand to be corrected. However, The Economist seems to think so too.
    The greater problem however is the reductionism and linearity implied in your comment #21. As I have previously intimated, I am so far away from being an economist it’s a surprise I recognise my wallet, however even I can figure out that there is a difference between price and value.
    “Ordinary” externalities of non renewables are enumerated in a report of The Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (Credentials here)
    The 2009 report, “THE HIDDEN COSTS OF ELECTRICITY: Externalities of Power Generation in Australia

    “Combining greenhouse and health damage costs for Australia gives representative total external costs of $A19/MWh for natural gas, $A42/MWh for black coal and $A52/MWh for brown coal.”

    However, coal may also decline from a peak of acceptability on the basis of social and ethical judgements which go beyond the economic cost of production or of treating the environmental and health effects.
    The disaster in NZ at Pike River, the mess that was created in the Gulf of Mexico and the debacle of the Montara oil spill in the Timor Sea, not to mention the running sore of corruption and social justice violations in Nigeria, are the sort of events which remind people of other values inherent in extraction of coal and oil that may result in the end of coal and oil use far before the resource actually runs out. Notwithstanding the odd Orange Bellied parrot, on design alone, even without taking CO2 production into account, it is hard to imagine solar and wind power creating similar human and animal death, injury and misery in addition to the other negative environmental impacts of fossil fuel extraction.
    Ultimately it is the social value of fossil fuels which are determined in heterogenous, subtle, and occasionally ethical ways which will determine when we stop using the stuff, not the price alone.

  33. Patrick says:

    I guess those last paras are true, Julia, but they aren’t very illuminating.

    On design alone, it is hard to imagine [insert mmodern expensive ‘luxury’ technology here] creating similar human and animal death, injury and misery in addition to the other negative environmental impacts of [insert older technology here].

    That doesn’t get us very far though. For another reason why that statement doesn’t get us very far, hydropower usually features in lists that start with solar and wind, but not yours, funnily enough.

    Finally, I really don’t get why you don’t like my comment at 21. It seems like it is saying much the same thing as your last comment, but without the extra layer of gratuitious and not-necessarily-true analysis.

  34. Julia says:

    You misunderstood my point. Of course newer technologies are often safer than old ones. What matters for whether the old ones or even new ones continue to operate or not is as much due to how people think about their social and ethical value as a whole as it is to do with their efficiency or their price. As an example, proponents of nuclear power know this and are trying to change opinion that it is a dangerous and unethical way to generate power. They already believe it is safe and efficient. Their belief remains a minority belief and unless or until it is not there will be an impediment to the introduction of this technology.
    In addition, because I support two technologies does not automatically mean I support all renewable technologies. I remain to be convinced that biofuel works to reduce CO2 in practice and not just in theory for instance.

    As for your last comment, in the interests of maintaining a civilised discourse, I will ignore its latent aggression. I meant “reductionist and linear” as a description, not an insult. I thought I then went on to describe in what ways your comment #21 reduced, ie by reducing value to price. My following comment on adding social acceptability to the mix of considerations was to illustrate one of possibly a number of ways that reducing production from a peak is likely to be non linear.

  35. Gregory John Olsen Esq says:

    It’s clear that whatever stats one uses, fossil fuels WILL run out. Renewables won’t. If we want energy security, transition to renewables as soon as possible. :-)

  36. S says:

    This recent study has Australian peak at over 100 years:

  37. Julia says:

    Not quite. But thanks for the article. What it actually says about recoverable coal resources is ” Although total resources have been relatively stable in the past few decades, the years remaining has been declining due to rapidly
    growing production, and Australia now has less than a century of economic coal resources remaining (assuming constant production). ” But since we already know Australia is ramping up extraction, that’s a big “if”.

  38. S says:

    Thanks I will look for that, I must’ve missed it. I was just looking yesterday as I was arguing with someone whom seems to think we have plenty of coal and keeps shrugging me off as just following “popular media”. I am trying to find some research that supports 40 years.


  39. Julia says:

    If you start with say, 90 years from the above estimate, then reduce it for increased extraction rates, then increase it a bit for improved extraction technology that might increase the economically recoverable coal, then add another deduction for diminishing “social licence to operate” you could pretty much ensure a huge argument.

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