Roberts made some good and bad points. I think that Roberts rightly objected to Fallows conflating politico-economic “realities” (i.e. status quo) with technological ones.
I agree that coal isn’t going anywhere any time soon. But I don’t believe that Fallows has made the case that it is technologically impossible to meet global energy needs without it.
He writes that as-of-yet-unrealized cleaner coal is “the only way to meet the world’s energy needs, and to arrest climate change before it produces irreversible cataclysm” and “there is no plausible other way [than coal] to meet what will be, absent an economic or social cataclysm, the world’s unavoidable energy demands. ”
But he does basically nothing to back this up. Yes, the current infrastructure is heavily tilted towards coal dependence. That’s not alone sufficient to support the claims that he’s making (which I acknowledge from the outset may in fact turn out to be true).
If coal is literally the only way forward, Fallows should have done a better job demonstrating this rather than asserting it. I realize that this might be beyond his expertise, but that’s no reason to let the assertions pass unchallenged. I didn’t see a single line dedicated to IFR nukes, for example. I didn’t see a word about solar thermal.
Being resigned to something because changing is perceived to be hard is not the same as saying that an alternative is literally impossible. Fallows has made a case for the former but in no way has done so for the latter.