Coal Is Doomed

The grim death spiral of a once booming industry.


Imagine I hand you the keys to an Apple Store.

It’s a big one, a warehouse-like, multiacre affair running floor-to-ceiling with Apple products in tightly packed rows. And it’s yours to do with what you want.

Obviously, you’d sell everything. And within an hour, you’d be making money hand over fist. You’d have some costs—staff, bags, whatever—but nothing big. Customers would be lined up out the door. Even if I charged you a $5 fee for every device you sold, it’s a spectacular deal.

After a while, though, things start to slow down, almost imperceptibly. You’d need more staff to pull items off shelves farther back in the store or closer to the ceiling. The hectic pace of extracting the right product would invariably lead to spills and clutter. More popular items like iPhone 5s would become harder to get to than things like first-generation iPads. But these are minor distractions.

Eventually, you start to sweat. You’ve given up your regular job to manage this massive moneymaker. It’s taking you more and more time to find the products people want. It’s not quite the cash cow it used to be. So I make a deal with you: If you find other Apple warehouses, I’ll let you run those for the same fee. You dedicate staff to seeking out new stores, and you find some. But in each, the same problem repeats itself: a burst of high profits until products are harder to find.

To keep reading, click here.

About Climate Desk

The Climate Desk is a journalistic collaboration dedicated to exploring the impact—human, environmental, economic, political—of a changing climate. The partners are The Atlantic, Center for Investigative Reporting, Grist, The Guardian, Huffington Post, Mother Jones, Slate, and Wired.