Even as Germany cuts back on the enormous subsidies for renewables, it is becoming clear that, if present trends continue, the future of world energy is in coal. The above graph, based on figures from the International Energy Agency, shows the huge upsurge in coal burning in China over the past five years and projects it ahead through 2030. Projections, of course, aren't data but it is notable that the graph is actually optimistic, showing China's coal surge leveling off by the end of this decade. Coal burning in the West remains almost perfectly level as well. But the overall result is that by 2030 the world will be running 5 billion tons of coal, double the consumption of 2005. And of course coal consumption in the West may not stay level, either. Even now, Germany is planning a huge expansion of its coal plants to make up for closing its nuclear reactors.
If one thing can be blamed for this foreboding trend it is the West's failure to develop nuclear power. The technology has been known since the 1950s and was once seen as the logical replacement for coal, but except for France it has not been exploited. China and India are doing all they can to develop nuclear - China has 26 reactors under construction - but they could have been helped immensely America had continue developing the technology instead of opposing it. As early as the 1950s, Glen Seaborg, winner of the 1951 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, said that nuclear energy had come along at exactly the right time because we were reaching the limits of coal. He was right - but it didn't happen.