San Francisco (CA) – Previous estimates are way off in regards to the world’s coal reserve, says a new calculation from Caltech. If this is true, this information could have a huge impact Earth’s future climate forecasts and the impact of man on the greenhouse effect.
The majority of CO2 emissions responsible for our dramatic climate change come from coal. Therefore it naturally follows that if the coal supply is limited the individuals who model our climate will have to make changes to their estimated climate projections based on maximum revised potential emission levels by man.
Many scientists feel the stability of Earth’s climate will be dictated by how the coal resources are utilized and burned to create energy. To date, the thought process has always been that the world coal reserve is capable of wreaking havoc on the climate – at least without major societal changes and new legislation.
This newest model, designed by Dave Rutledge, chair of Caltech’s engineering and applied sciences, tells us that humans will only be able to mine a total of 663 billion tons of coal from Earth ever (including all mining which has already been done in the past). The World Energy Council’s previous estimate of coal supplies claimed about 850 billion tons of coal is left, still to be mined (excluding mining from the past).
Prior estimates were big
All previous estimates have been very large. Therefore, if the Earth has less coal to deliver than we’ve believed, the climate over greenhouse gas emissions can relax a bit knowing that we might not be as damaging as previously thought.
The new model takes a closer look at historical examples of times when fossil fuels were exhausted. One example of this was when British coal production dropped dramatically following its peak in 1913. American Oil also had a famous peak in the 1970s. At these times both countries had overestimated their reserves greatly.
Looking at past to predict future
Rutledge manipulated data compiled during previous peaks to create his new model. His belief is that he was capable of creating a much more stable estimate by fitting curves to the cumulative production of a region rather than individual countries. Still, this process remains invalidated and may not be accurate.
Larger surveys of our natural resource also don’t take into account how expensive it is to mine some of the coal reserves worldwide, which are not as easily accessible.
Given the new numbers Rutledge has compiled, and if they are accurate, it is possible that the world could burn all of the coal and many other fossil fuels with the resulting concentration of CO2 never getting above 460 parts per million (up from 350+ ppm today). At that level, it is predicted to cause a 2-degree Celsius rise in temperatures around the entire globe, and nothing more. While such an increase over time would be felt, it may not be the catastrophic end widely reported on today.
In the end, if the coal reserve estimates are true, and if even by using fossil fuels to continue to power our world we avoid a catastrophic climatic event, ultimately this would not change our path. We are still deep in the search for alternative fuel sources as there are none who would not desire to have cleaner sources of energy. In addition, it would not affect the realities to our farmers, on crops, the cost of food, and other social impacts today on our economies as we he search for those greener sources.