Coal Wars (Hardcover)

The Future of Energy and the Fate of the Planet

By Richard Martin

St. Martin's Press, 9781137279347, 288pp.

Publication Date: April 14, 2015

List Price: 28.00*
* Individual store prices may vary.


Since the late 18th century, when it emerged as a source of heating and, later, steam power, coal has brought untold benefits to mankind. Even today, coal generates almost 45 percent of the world's power. Our modern technological society would be inconceivable without coal and the energy it provides. Unfortunately, that society will not survive unless we wean ourselves off coal. The largest single source of greenhouse gases, coal is responsible for 43 percent of the world's carbon emissions. Richard Martin, author of SuperFuel, argues that to limit catastrophic climate change, we must find a way to power our world with less polluting energy sources, and we must do it in the next couple of decades—or else it is "game over." It won't be easy: as coal plants shut down across the United States, and much of Europe turns to natural gas, coal use is growing in the booming economies of Asia— particularly China and India. Even in Germany, where nuclear power stations are being phased out in the wake of the Fukushima accident, coal use is growing. Led by the Sierra Club and its ambitious "Beyond Coal" campaign, environmentalists hope to drastically reduce our dependence on coal in the next decade. But doing so will require an unprecedented contraction of an established, lucrative, and politically influential worldwide industry. Big Coal will not go gently. And its decline will dramatically change lives everywhere—from Appalachian coal miners and coal company executives to activists in China's nascent environmental movement.

Based on a series of journeys into the heart of coal land, from Wyoming to West Virginia to China's remote Shanxi Province, hundreds of interviews with people involved in, or affected by, the effort to shrink the industry, and deep research into the science, technology, and economics of the coal industry, Coal Wars chronicles the dramatic stories behind coal's big shutdown—and the industry's desperate attempts to remain a global behemoth. A tour de force of literary journalism, Coal Wars will be a milestone in the climate change battle.

About the Author

Richard Martin is an award-winning science writer whose work has appeared in Wired, Time, Fortune, The Atlantic, and The Best Science Writing of 2004. He is the author of SuperFuel: Thorium, the Green Energy Source for the Future. He is the editorial director of Pike Research, a leading clean energy firm. He lives in Boulder, Colorado.

Praise For Coal Wars: The Future of Energy and the Fate of the Planet

“The race to shut down the coal industry is synonymous with the race to save the climate--and from Appalachia to inner Mongolia, brave activists are leading the fight. This comprehensive account makes it clear why their work is so crucial and so hard, pitting them against not just ingrained tradition but against some of the richest resource barons on earth.” —Bill McKibben, author of Earth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet

“Martin has managed to locate dozens of compelling personal narratives that show the human face of a debate that is too often reduced-by environmentalists as much as by the coal industry-to numbers and yawn-inducing energy wonkery.” —Tim McDonnell, Mother Jones

“A clear-eyed and beautifully written narrative of the people, cities and companies whose lives and existence are wrapped up in the 4,000-year-old history of this iconic source of power. Coal Wars is a gripping account of the stakes at play as the world necessarily winds down its consumption of the fossil fuel. Given that the subject might be grim, it is a surprisingly enjoyable read and a unique contribution to the literature.” —Steve LeVine, author of The Powerhouse: Inside the Invention of a Battery to Save the World and Washington Correspondent for Quartz

“Martin chronicles his visits to a handful of places where coal is an important part of not just daily life, but the region's history and economic circumstances. A levelheaded researcher and a caring individual as well as a graceful, commanding writer, Martin is unequivocal and persuasive: The best use of coal is in holiday stockings.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Fresh and provocative, Coal Wars brings the hammer down on the world's dirtiest fuel. Richard Martin's deeply reported journey into the dark heart of coal land exposes Big Coal's big lies and offers a new approach to kicking our coal addiction. Entertaining, forceful, and full of insight, Coal Wars is must reading for a warming planet.” —Bruce Barcott, Outside magazine contributing editor and author of The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw and Weed the People

“Richard Martin's timely and powerfully written book reveals with clarity the multiple dangers emitted by coal combustion as an energy source. His journey takes him to sites around the U.S. where a number of aging and obsolete installations are being shut down as natural gas plants flourish, and to China and Germany, where coal plants are on the rise despite a growing, science-based recognition that their toxic wastes harm life and their carbon-dioxide emissions imperil ecosystems, significantly acidifying the oceans and contributing mightily to the rapid increase in climate change.” —Gwyneth Cravens, author of Power to Save the World: The Truth About Nuclear Energy