Donald Trump sees the future in coal. China sees the future in renewables. Who’s making the safer bet?

Meanwhile the world’s other economic giant, China, which now uses more coal than any other country on Earth, is moving sharply in the opposite direction. China recently announced another huge new investment in renewable energy — $360 billion by 2020, which the Chinese government says will also create 13 million new jobs.

So which is the better bet on where the jobs and the energy of the future will come from?

“If you look at what people are saying across the energy industry, the future is in renewables, and natural gas and so forth,” says Mary Kay Magistad, The World’s longtime China correspondent and now the host of its podcast “Whose Century Is It?” “The cost of renewables has come down so far so fast that in some places it’s actually competitive with coal, and even beats coal. And the cost will probably continue to drop.”


“In the first half of [2016], the solar industry increased production by 300 percent. It was actually more than all countries in the world except for the US, Germany and Japan. Ever. Solar and wind are increasing much faster in China in terms of capacity compared to coal use, and in fact by some estimates coal use in China peaked a couple of years ago and is starting to go down.”

As an exclamation point on that trend, China also announced this week that it has canceled 104 planned new coal-fired power plants.

And the trend is playing out more broadly. Coal use is in sharp decline in the US, mostly due not to government regulations but the glut in cheap natural gas from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. And while coal use is still rising globally, the US Energy Information Agency says the industrial-age fuel is now the world’s slowest-growing energy source.

So with much of the world rethinking its commitment to coal, and China, the world’s biggest country and its second-largest economy, going ever bigger into renewables, is coal even a good bet for Trump and the US when it comes to putting people back to work?

“In the United States there aren’t even a million jobs in renewable energy” right now, Magistad says. “In China there about double that number already, and the Chinese government is saying it thinks it can get 13 million jobs in this sector by 2020.

“You could say, ‘Oh but the Chinese population is much bigger, China’s energy needs are much greater.’ But generally, the United States could be assuming a leadership position in this industry and exporting” to fill the booming global demand.

Instead, Magistad says, China is using green energy, and Trump’s rhetoric extolling the virtues of fossil fuels and dismissing the reality and risks climate change, as another stepping stone in its push for global leadership.


January 19, 2017

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    By: Peter Thomson

    Environment Editor

    Peter Thomson has been covering the environment for more than 20 years and signed on as The World’s environment editor in 2008.

    Peter’s a public radio “lifer” who first got hooked on radio journalism in high school, while listening to and then interning with Danny Schechter the News Dissector at Boston’s legendary WBCN. After subsequently failing in careers as a housepainter, waiter, bike messenger, oyster shucker and DJ, he eventually found his way back to radio news at WFCR in Amherst, Mass., where he soon became a regular stringer for NPR. After stints at WBUR and Monitor Radio in Boston he really found his groove when he was hired on as the founding editor and producer of NPR’s groundbreaking new environmental news program Living on Earth, in 1991. In nearly 10 years at the program, Peter helped establish Living on Earth as the preeminent broadcast source for environmental news and helped the program earn numerous awards and honors. He also reported for the program on issues from oil and natives on Alaska’s North Slope to solar power development in rural Morocco.

    In 2000 Peter left Living on Earth to travel around the world by surface with his brother via Siberia, from which he was lucky enough to escape with enough material to turn into his acclaimed 2007 book Sacred Sea: A Journey to Lake Baikal, about the world’s largest and deepest lake. Sacred Sea was dubbed “superb” and “compelling” by the New York Times, but his favorite work to date is his radio documentary about a hot dog stand in Oakland, California, Original Kasper’s: The Hot Dog Stand that Saved a Neighborhood.

    Peter’s work has received more than two dozen awards. He’s been a fellow at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire, the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Study and Conference Center in Italy, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the Marine Biological Laboratory, the Institutes for Journalism and Natural Resources, and the International Reporting Project, with whom he traveled to China in 2010, and 2014 received a fellowship from the Heinrich Boell Foundation to report on advances in renewable energy storage technology in Germany. He served 15 years on the board of Directors of the Society of Environmental Journalists and currently sits on the advisory board of the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting.

    Peter lives in a super-efficient, Deep-Energy-Retrofitted 100 year-old Boston triple-decker with his wife, Edith and his very curious young daughter, Eleanor Rose. He is often found nursing one basketball injury or another but doesn’t have the sense to stay off the court.

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