Making the transition

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How much coal is there in the world? Where is it found? How much of it should we keep in the ground to avoid negative environmental impacts? Can renewable energy really replace it? How is the transition going to look like?
  • There are an estimated 1.1 trillion tonnes of proven coal reserves worldwide. This means that there is enough coal to last us around 150 years at current rates of production.
  • Coal reserves are available in almost every country worldwide, with recoverable reserves in around 70 countries. The most prominent reserves are in the USA, Russia, China and India.
A 2015 study in the journal Nature revealed that we need to leave at least 80% of the world’s known remaining fossil fuel (coal + oil + natural gas) reserves in the ground to prevent runaway climate change. It’s 2018 now.
What’s the alternative? A lot of doubts float around renewable energy’s power. Here’s taking the cloud off of it:
  • Renewable energy is not expensive.
  • Renewable energy is big enough to power the whole world.
  • Renewable energy can supply electricity 24X7.
  • Our infrastructure can handle renewable energy.
  • Renewable energy is not bad for the environment.


In India, coal is expected to stay for at least the next 30 years due to its abundance and cost advantage. In the meantime, we have a family of technologies called Carbon capture and storage (CCS) that can help.

Technology, however, doesn’t solve everything.

How do we make this transition humanely? What about the lives that are dependent on the fossil fuel industry? Iron & Earth is led by oilsands workers committed to incorporating more renewable energy projects into our work scope.

What happens to the landscapes where the coal mines exist? Worldwide, former mining lands have become valuable real estate.  This floating solar farm in China, for instance, sits on a coal mine.

Shout out: Thanks, D, for suggesting this topic! :)

8 thoughts on “Making the transition

  1. Thank you for this informative blog. I come across your write up just when I was discussing with my friends about coal reserves and its life period. Interesting to know that we have 150 years life time of coal. But its kind of concern when we realized that billion years old coal reserves will exist only for another 150 years.
    I am also wondering if we increase the pace of transition into renewable energy, would the life period of coal reserve extend beyond 150 years? Also wondering whether there is pact to preserve coal reserve which aims to increase its available period?

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you for sharing about this. I am learning a lot about sustainability from you.Kind of feeling enlightened and empowered. Please continue educating us!!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. My understanding is that coal is the worst polluter, and that the biggest, quickest and cheapest gains are to be made by switching from coal to gas. In the UK, since 2012 the amount of coal burned has dropped enormously, and the results is that the UK’s CO2 emissions are now 38% below 1990 levels – that’s the lowest they have been since 1890! That’s proof that the situation can be changed very rapidly. As solar and wind use grow steadily, emissions will decline further.
    Here’s the source:
    Note that the headline for this article focuses on one small negative (an increase in CO2 emissions from vehicles), rather than the 38% drop in total emissions. Seems like the pessimists always want the last word. :)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are right in saying that coal is the worst polluter. A lesser known fact is that there is an unconventional source of fossil fuels called tar sands (highly viscous oil), which emits more GHGs than conventional oil does. Tar sands is the largest contributor of Canada’s GHG emissions. Tar sands are found in Alberta, Canada. It’s great too see UK statistics, definitely adds to the argument that renewables can compete with fossil fuels. To reiterate someone, “you can’t solve political problems with technology.”


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