In a World Fighting Climate Change, Fossil Fuels Take Revenge

With its chimneys towering 200 meters above the industrial heartland of England, West Burton A power station is a relic of the fossil fuel age. When fired up, its boilers burn thousands of tonnes of coal each day, spewing out the carbon dioxide that’s warming up the planet.

After more than 50 years of operation, it will close next year, part of a global transition into green energy sources like wind and solar. It’s only rarely used, but for several days in September, it was this old, polluting facility that kept the lights on in the U.K.

West Burton isn’t an oddity. Across the world, fossil fuels are making a remarkable comeback as a super-charged recovery from the pandemic boosts demand. For all the green energy promises and plans, that transition is in its infancy, and the world still leans heavily on fossils. It’s an addiction built up over two and a half centuries, and it runs deep.

In Europe, where electric vehicles are becoming ever more popular, gasoline sales are booming, reaching a 10-year high in some countries. In the developing world, from Brazil to China, natural gas consumption is stronger than ever. The global hunger for energy has collided with constrained supply, itself the result of a tangle of factors, sending power prices surging in many countries.

Adding it all up, fossil fuel demand is already flirting with pre-pandemic levels, which means emissions are on the rise too. On current trends, the combined consumption of coal, natural gas and oil is likely to hit an all-time high by mid-2022.

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