Looking at the role of coal in China and the USA underlines how coal's position in national economies varies considerably around the world.
Once but no more king in the USA, coal reigns in China, where it provides 70% of China's total energy. Uncle Sam gets 21% of his energy from coal and nearly all coal is burnt to make electricity. Both oil and natural gas provide more of the USA's total energy, or coal is the USA's third biggest fuel. Renewable energy in all forms, including large hydro and corn ethanol, ranks fourth an nuclear energy fifth in America.
Already high in China, coal demand is still rocketing up in China, jumping another 9.7% in 2011, while oil demand rose 2.7%, natural gas 12%, and electricity consumption 11.7%. See http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-02-22/china-energy-consumption-rises-at-fastest-pace-in-four-years.html. China must import coal from around the world to meet its demand, including from the USA. US coal exports rose 31% in 2011 to reach 100 million tons.
With its nearly unquenchable thirst for energy, China consumed 20.3% of the world's energy in 2010, making it the world's biggest energy consumer. The US ranked second at 19%.
Despite the USA and China consuming similar amounts of the world's energy, China emits more approximately 50% more carbon pollution than the USA because China is much more dependent on carbon-intensive coal than the USA is.