Month 4, Day 13: Not King Coal

I read a terrific piece at Kos about a politically viable strategy for weaning the US off its terrible coal addiction. So I appropriated a chunk of the piece, shuffled the clauses around, changed some verbs and punctuation, filed off all the serial numbers, and I’m now going to send it off to the Senators in charge of the climate bill.

Dear Senators Kerry, Lieberman and Graham,

As the recent tragedy in West Virginia reminds us, coal mining is a dirty and dangerous business. The true cost of coal includes places like Southeast Ohio, where even the cows have cancer; it includes hundreds of thousands of cases of black lung disease, and it irrefutably includes huge CO2 emissions which lead to global warming. And yet, these factors are never considered when we think of how “cheap” coal is as a source of energy.

In the long run, America needs to stop burning coal, and it needs to stop burning oil. The hidden costs of fossil fuels aren’t going to stay hidden much longer, now that the polar ice caps are melting and catastrophic climate change is just around the decadal corner. On the other hand, it’s not politically or economically realistic to think that we can start decommissioning these coal fired plants any time soon. A switch to natural gas would lead to massive price hikes in that commodity, creating conditions for poor people to freeze to death, and US agriculture’s total dependence on fertilizers created with natural gas would mean that food prices would closely track heating costs.

If we are to accomplish a lessening of CO2 emissions from the US energy system, we must be pragmatic. The legacy of coal and natural gas-fired electrical capacity is both a burden and a blessing. We need to focus on using coal and LNG as part of a strategy to integrate renewables into the electric grid — on thinking of renewable electricity is a way to conserve our fossil fuel resources rather than as a way to replace them. If every megawatt of power produced from renewables can keep a megawatt of coal or gas fired capacity offline when it’s available, we can start reducing our country’s grossly disproportionate carbon footprint.

If this strategy is coupled with a vigorous national push to reduce energy wastage, we might have an energy policy that actually accomplishes something. What we don’t need is a “political solution,” where our CO2 emissions are simply augmented with a lot of hot air.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders