The news that three Wall Street banks would invest in coal-fired power plants only if they take into account risks associated with carbon dioxide emissions and global warming is big news.
But it overshadowed a truth-on-the-ground tidbit that is as telling about the state of coal: More than 50 coal-fired power plants planned in 20 states were canceled or delayed last year, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Construction delays are nothing new with big industrial projects, but there's something else in the air here.
Coal fueled the industrial revolution and has continued to fuel the industrial might of the United States. It is China's go-to source of cheap energy. Technology has helped reduce the impact of burning coal, by cutting back on emissions that lead to acid rain, smog and now toxic mercury contamination. But coal is also the fossil fuel with the highest carbon output, so it has a disproportionate impact on the state of the climate. Reducing the carbon emissions from coal is a thornier problem, though one that many see as surmountable, if not today.
Give coal its due: It helped lift millions out of poverty and made it possible for many to live better lives. (Though it cut short many lives too: Just ask a coal miner or an asthmatic kid.)
The era of coal may be entering its twilight, though. That will be just one indication that the second industrial revolution is underway the one that transforms world economies to run on clean, renewable energy.
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