China Peak Coal, Slow Crawling Europe and Where the Under 20’s are

We were absent last week from our INTN responsibilities, traveling to NYC where we visited with family, friends and the tour guides of the modest but cool Louis Armstrong house in Queens. We also saw Ken Griffey, Jr. take his rightful place among the greats of Cooperstown. So we missed most of the chatter of the two political conventions but heard enough to be reminded that rhetoric is unfortunately like food: what tastes good and makes us feel better is rarely good for us.* Sad but true we live in a world where broccoli is better for you than ice cream. Nonetheless, we offer a bit of both as we examine whether China has reached peak coal usage, ponder the EU’s weak economic recovery and track down where those under 20 live. It’s this week’s International Need to Know, providing tasty bones of information in the dog days of summer.

But one more ado, before we jump in, our friend, six-year-old Maya Gladhart was recently diagnosed with kidney cancer. She is as brave a girl as you would want to know, who after having her kidney removed is now facing months of chemotherapy. Fortunately her cancer is eminently treatable and we know she will beat it, but there is also a financial toll that is affecting her wonderful and courageous parents, Pete and Jackie. A You Caring account has been set up and should any of our dear readers like to contribute to help Maya, Pete and Jackie, please do so. Here’s the link to help Maya.

Now, and finally without further ado, here’s what you need to know.

China Peak Coal?

A few months ago” href=”” target=”_self”>A few months ago, we noted that peak oil (usage) is imminent. But forget about black gold, coal usage appears to be peaking too with some claiming peak coal usage in China is already here. After rapidly increasing for over a decade, in 2014 coal usage in China dropped 2.9% and in 2015 by 3.6%. Is this just another underlying sign that China’s economy is not really growing at the rates its leaders claim? Or, is something else going on? According to that great summer beach read,Nature Geoscience,Slowing GDP growth, a structural shift away from heavy industry, and more proactive policies on air pollution and clean energy have caused China’s coal use to peak. It seems that economic growth has decoupled from growth in coal consumption.” Up until 2014, China’s GDP growth rate and power consumption had a 1-1 relationship. But in 2014, China claimed GDP growth of 7.4% while power demand grew by only  3.8%. Again, this may be an indication that China GDP growth is like my belief each year that the Seattle Mariners will finally make the playoffs–a bit rosy and optimistic. Regardless of the reasons why, China, which represents half of global coal consumption, is a big reason why world consumption of Santa’s favorite gift for bad kids has stalled too. Coal consumption decreased by 0.9% in 2015 after averaging 4.2% annual growth for the ten years before that. Just as with China, lower coal usage may be a sign of worldwide economic stagnation. But if so, this economic malaise could be a bridge of despair to a cleaner land by providing time for the exponentially increasing use of solar to further dampen the use of coal. We may not be at peak coal yet, but there’s a good chance within a decade we will be.


The EU’s Slow Crawl

Speaking of slow economies, the EU continues to lag behind the other democratic market economies of the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) as you can see in the chart below. Back in 2007, the EU was already behind in terms of the percentage of the population of 15-74 year olds working. Over the last nine years, the gap has increased. In the OECD as a whole, the percentage of that age bracket working has finally reached the 2007 pre-financial crisis level. In fact, Germany and Chile are above the pre-crisis level as is Turkey (although with all the teachers, judges and journalists now out of work thanks to the purges of Erdogan, their employment percentage is surely decreasing!). For much of the rest of the EU, however, tough times remain, including and especially in Greece, Italy, Ireland and Spain, who are all still below pre-financial crisis levels. The Brexit vote and other fracturing events in the EU take place in a context of continued economic difficulties. The fracture is a symptom of a long-standing more challenging disease–whether Europe can heal itself is a huge question for the world economy.


Follow the Young

We’ll admit to having a bit of an obsession with demographics, but there are worse obsessions to have and we’re fairly certain we will not end up in jail or rehab over this one. Nonetheless, we are compelled to inform you of where the under 20-year-old set lives. We’ve noted before that Africa has the youngest demographics. According to the World Bank, in 40 of Africa’s 54 countries, over half the population is under the age of 20.  In Niger, remarkably over 60 percent of the population is under the age of 20. The United States has more people (25.4%) too young to drink than China (23%). France has the most south-of-20 people in Europe, a continent full of aging demographics. Japan, of course, has the fewest under 20s overall, though Germany is not far behind.  Overall, a third of the world’s population is under the age of 20. Follow the young people if you want to understand our future for economics, violence (at least in terms of young men) and good times.


*Although at least one speech we saw was a full, balanced, nutritional meal. To find out which, you will have to buy us a beer, a fine companion to such meals.

If you have a spare moment and dime, don’t forget to help Maya and her family. Donate here. 


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