Coal kick-started the modern world - is it possible that it could also end it?
Scientists are claiming that if growth in carbon dioxide emissions is to be constrained and even reversed then the world cannot afford a 'coal renaissance'.
But at an American Geophysical Union meeting, researchers said it was possible oil's demise could trigger an acceleration in emissions through more coal use.
Which is worrying, considering that in the US coal has for some time been touted as an environmentally friendly alternative to oil ... yes, that's right ... Coal. Environmentally friendly. In the same sentence. Without the word 'isn't' inserted in the middle. Environmentalists have been fuming (geddit?) during the election over the coal industry's concerted efforts to establish the 'myth' of 'clean coal' so they can cash in on the drive for cleaner energy.
And is it working? Well, in his speech accepting his party's nomination on August 28th 2008, President-elect Obama promised to end America's dependence on Middle East oil within a decade by investing $150 billion in 'alternative' energy sources that included, yep, so-called clean coal alongside wind, tidal etc.
As the Washington Post found itself, almost Cassandra-like, forced to point out - coal ain't clean, whether you're sticking it in a power station or liquefying it to stick in your car's fuel tank. It ALL produces as much, if not more, CO2 - the primary climate change gas - than the demon oil. And demand is rising.
Obviously, while the Americans argue, everyone else seems to have decided it's a gamble worth taking in a world where extracting oil means dipping toes into the Middle East. The Russians and the Chinese continue to consume coal like it's no tomorrow - reserves are believed to be far, far greater than those of oil - and in response to the Russian propensity to use its natural gas supplies to Europe as a bargaining chip, Europe's getting in on the act too ...
Coal has become another pawn in the global trend towards major countries striving for 'energy independence'. The consequences on the environment of these nationalistic concerns are grim.