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date: 14 April 2021

Abstract and Keywords

In the midst of activist, citizen, and policymaker concerns about and advocacy for the end of coal as a fuel, this chapter takes a long-term historical-materialist perspective on energy and society relations. The historical evolution of coal commodity chains from mines in global peripheries to consumption in world-system cores through four periods of attempted and real hegemonic ascent (British, US, Japanese, and Chinese) are addressed. This analysis from the nineteenth century to 2015 demonstrates that generative sectors based on coal helped drive economic ascent in all four of these cases. Further, coal remains critical for aspiring powers, notably China and India, to produce steel and electricity. China’s and India’s combined coal consumption drove a near doubling of global hard coal production between 2000 and 2015, despite declining coal use in the OECD countries. The medium-term future of coal is therefore far from certain, despite environmental costs and concerns.

Keywords: coal, historical-materialism, hegemony, OECD, US, China, India

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