This year the world crossed the 400 parts per million atmospheric carbon concentration for the first time in more than 800,000 years. That obviously is remarkable and could easily be the most important energy fact of 2013.
And to make the matter more stark, carbon pollution pours in increasing amounts into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels. Our global carbon pollution problem is getting worse and worse. We are stepping on the accelerator and not hitting the brakes.
The question becomes, at what level will carbon concentrations plateau and stop rising? The fact that nobody knows the answer to that question should concern everyone. But it plainly does not.
1. Coal Is Fastest Growing Fossil Fuel In World
Coal is not king anymore in the USA, but coal is booming around the world. And so the atmospheric concentration of carbon skyrockets with no sign of slowdown ahead.
Indeed, coal is the fastest growing fossil fuel, growing faster than oil or gas, according to the IEA.
In fact, the IEA says coal will grow at the rate of 2.3% per year through 2018.
Outside the USA, low-priced coal is displacing gas to make electricity. The IEA says:
"Low international coal prices push gas out of the power generation sector, where competition is possible (except in the United States, where low gas prices are isolated from international levels)."
The sharply escalating amount of coal being mined and combusted makes depressingly small the prospect of stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of carbon at levels below 450 parts per million. Moreover, the chances of keeping carbon atmospheric concentrations below a genuinely scary 500 parts per million are rapidly diminishing.
The fact that coal is the fastest growing fossil fuel in the world is the most important energy fact of 2013. And this fact drives home the reality that the world desperately needs an economic means to capture and store carbon.