Understanding how coal rose can hasten its fall
The common narrative of the history of coal is wrong, and clearing up the misunderstanding will be key to a cleaner energy future. Overinvestment in railroads, the lack of unions in many important coal-mining regions, and the coal industry’s failure to agree on how much coal to produce all conspired to depress coal prices and to cement the American economy's dependence on this carbon-intensive fossil fuel. This analysis suggests that the rise of coal was not inevitable. That’s important, because it also suggests that the hegemony of coal is not preordained. Coal emerged as the dominant source of fuel for electricity in the United States because of the confluence of many factors that were unexpected at the time. The lesson: Today, cleaner energy sources may rise to prominence through a similar complicated and unpredictable set of drivers. In short, understanding how the black rock grew may hold the key to hastening its demise.
Branden Adams | PhD Student, History