The most worrisome energy trend in the world, by a wide margin, is rising coal consumption in China:
The figures are pretty stunning: Chinese coal demand has been rising at about 9 percent a year for the last 12 years. By comparison, coal demand in the rest of the world has been rising at about 1 percent annually. China now burns almost half the world's coal.
Cheap coal power has been a boon to China, an engine pulling millions and millions of people out of poverty. But it has also brought nightmarish local pollution problems -- which are not remaining local -- and it of course threatens to tip the climate into chaos, which will do more damage to the Chinese people, over the long term, than the last decade of growth has done good. It is, as China expert James Fallows says, an "environmental emergency" that threatens to stop China from ever catching up to the developed world.
Most projections [PDF] have coal use in China continuing to increase for decades to come. But there are reasons to think those projections overstate demand -- that China's appetite for coal may peak sooner than expected. For one thing, the Chinese government is signaling that the country's coal consumption will peak by 2015, at 4 billion tonnes.