Buffett shared his sentiments on the coal industry at the 52nd annual shareholders meeting of his Berkshire Hathaway holding company in Omaha, Nebraska. Despite having a certain reliance on coal himself, specifically his BNSF railroad, Buffett believes that ‘coal is essentially certain to decline as a percentage of the revenue’; that in one to two decades, they’ll be shipping less coal or might no longer be burning any of it at all, which is why they are already looking for ‘other sources of growth’.
As it is, the coal industry has been on the decline for the last several decades. Based on available statistics, there were nearly 900,000 coal workers in the 1920s. Almost a century later, that number is down to about 81,000.
By going back on its earlier commitment to support the 2015 Paris Climate Treaty whose primary intention is to keep global warming temperature ‘well below 2 degrees Celsius’ by minimizing greenhouse gas emission, the Trump administration along with coal supporters believe that they can bring back the coal industry to its former glory.
To be clear, the Paris Agreement doesn’t actually provide exact target reductions, leaving this decision to each nation that participates. It does encourage nations however, that if they decide to change their targets, they should be towards more ‘ambitious’ goals, not the opposite direction. It seems Trump is going for the latter.
Under Obama’s administration, the U.S. committed to cut down emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by year 2020. But Trump isn’t supportive of that initiative. In fact, he’s been very open about his intention to burn more fossil fuels because he doesn’t believe what most of the world, especially what the whole of the scientific world believes — that our planet is in danger of succumbing to the catastrophic threat of global warming.
Scott Pruitt, the current head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is already well on his way to implementing Trump’s agenda. It’s nothing short of ironic as the person who is supposed to rally for the protection of the environment is someone who doesn’t seem to believe that the environment is in trouble, or that it needs protecting.
Even if Trump and his entire administration do manage to roll back energy-friendly initiatives, giving way to the resurgence of coal-powered energy sources, it isn’t likely to succeed because of the ever-increasing support for clean and renewable technologies nationwide. And as investments in these types of technologies become more lucrative, it’s not likely that less stringent regulations on coal will be enough to revive interest in rebuilding the industry, much less make it become the more desirable option again. Even in terms of job generation, as reported by The New York Times, there are more jobs in the renewable power generation compared with the combined sectors of coal and natural gas.
Clearly, the man known as the ‘Oracle of Omaha’ knows what he is talking about. And while Trump may have many supporters, it might not nearly be enough to bring about the resurgence of the coal industry. And the world will be thankful for it.