Britain joins the shift from coal, taking us away from the climate nightmare

Summary: Burning coal contributes to pollution (many kinds) and is a major driver of anthropogenic climate change. Last month we looked at the good news from the US about the shift away from coal, and last week about the good news from China. Here’s more good news from Britain. It is part of a global story, putting the world on a path away from the nightmarish scenarios of climate change based on slow tech growth, reliance on coal for power, and rapid population growth.

Good news, for many reasons
Britain is using more solar (yellow) power and burning less coal (black).

UK electricity from Coal and Solar
From CarbonBrief, 13 April 2016. Click to enlarge.

“UK coal power hits 0% output for 2nd time this week: 11:40 on 11/5 to 04:00 on 12/5. Likely only 2nd time since 1882.”
Tweet from Simon Evans, Editor of Carbon Brief.

The good news from Britain…

Burn less coal,
lower the odds of catastrophic anthropogenic climate change

Climate forecasts (called “projections” by the IPCC) rely on two key factors. First, the scenario — a forecast of future emissions, must occur. Second, the model must accurately predict temperatures for that scenario. Previous posts have focused on the latter factor, showing climate scientists’ reluctance to test their models using the decades of data after their publication.

Recent events highlight that the first factor is also important. The nightmarish predictions of climate change that dominate the news almost all rely on the most severe of the four scenarios used by the Fifth Assessment Report, the IPCC’s most recent: RCP8.5. It describes a future in which much has gone wrong (details here), most importantly…

  • a slowdown in tech progress (coal is the fuel of the late 21st century, as it was in the late 19thC), and
  • unusually rapid population growth (inexplicably, that fertility in sub-Saharan Africa does not decline or crash as it has everywhere else).

Looking at such scenarios, however unlikely, is vital for planning. Sometimes we do have bad luck. But presenting such outcomes without mentioning their unlikely assumptions — or worse, misrepresenting it as a “business as usual” scenario — misleads readers and puts the credibility of science itself at risk.

Clean Energy. CEA image
CEA image.

Not just in Britain

The entire world is shifting away from coal, year by year and nation by nation. Coal use has peaked in every continent (see the details here). And the shift continues…


All three core assumptions of the RCP8.5 scenario look less likely every day; we have no reason to suppose that trend will change. We are shifting away from coal to natural gas (cleaner and lower carbon) and renewables. The daily news disproves the assumption of slowing tech progress, as the new industrial revolution slowly begins. See this post for details about the assumption of population growth in the top quintile of the UN’s latest forecast (and why that’s unlikely); coming advances in contraception will make this even less likely.

I believe that future generations will look at our fears and laugh, as we laughed at early 20th century fears of cities buried in horse dung. We have many serious challenges, some appear imminent (e.g., our dying oceans). Let’s prioritize those more and obsess less on more speculative threats.

For More Information

Please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. For more information see The keys to understanding climate change, My posts about climate change, and especially these about the rumored coal-driven climate apocalypse…

  1. Is our certain fate a coal-burning climate apocalypse? No!
  2. Manufacturing climate nightmares: misusing science to create horrific predictions.

4 thoughts on “Britain joins the shift from coal, taking us away from the climate nightmare”

  1. The future of low carbon energy requires natural gas, principally methane (CH4). Natural gas requires fracking. No avoiding – the gas reservoirs are low porosity and very low permeability (I’m an oil and gas geologist).

    The eco-green world cannot exist without backup high density energy sources. Without coal, oil or nuclear choices, natural gas has to be accepted. That means fracking. Right now NIMBY pushback is offloading fracking to the “others”, but can’t stop it.

    Much environmental and progressive idealism romotes “holistic” thinking. So far this has not extended to the modern, first world quality of life and its energy needs. It’s a shame. There are better solutions but no perfect ones. We could solve many energy-related concerns if a mindset of unicorns and forest fairies wasn’t conflating the natural world with the world which 7 billion men and women insist they live in.

  2. Pingback: Britain joins the shift from coal, taking us away from the climate nightmare | Watts Up With That?

  3. Pingback: Five trillion is a red line. Cross it and the environment crashes! | Watts Up With That?

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