As the mountains of climate change studies pile up, we are now faced with the very clear reality that humans are indeed the cause of the increase in greenhouse gasses that are causing our global temperatures to rise. There is no more debate, and there is no more speculation…it is officially a global scientific consensus. So now that we are all on the same page, we need to focus our attention on solutions to keep our planet habitable.
Our society’s appetite for cheap energy has been fulfilled by coal for generations. We now know that coal is not only the cheapest, but also the dirtiest. If we are going to slow the devastation of climate change, we will need to shift away from this filthy fossil fuel…and do it quickly. The obstacle right now is that coal currently supplies nearly 40% of the electricity consumed in America, so the transition to renewable energy will certainly not be an easy one.
The fact is, we don’t really have the luxury to stay on the convenient path of burning fossil fuels. The average American uses roughly 18 lbs of coal every day to power their modern life. Burning this coal fills the air with soot and toxic heavy metals such as lead and mercury, and produces more than double the greenhouse gas as burning natural gas. It doesn’t take a scientist to come to the conclusion that breathing in toxic chemicals while warming our planet is bad, but we are still meeting resistance when attempting to make progress.
If we want to know what America could look like if we were to continue on our current path of coal consumption, we need only to look to China. In Bejiing, the smog from coal is so thick, they project the sunrise on large TV screens because the sun is otherwise not visible. It has gotten so bad that it is difficult to breath outside without a mask or some other respiratory protection.
Linfen, China, was recently named the world’s most polluted city, and credited their awful air quality to unregulated coal plants. Just breathing the air in Linfen is equivalent to smoking 3 packs of cigarettes a day. Is this the future we want for our children? So it’s clear we need a strategy to move from dirty coal to clean renewables like solar and wind. In June 2014, the Obama administration and the EPA released the Clean Power Plan, which intends to reduce the U.S. carbon footprint by 30% by 2030.
You may hear some conservative TV hosts and right wing politicians angrily declare this a “war on coal”. It’s pretty easy to connect the dots when a politician is in support of coal or oil. You just need to look at their biggest campaign contributors, and you will usually find a pretty good incentive for certain politicians to have strong objections to EPA regulations or a transition to renewables. So is this really a “war on coal” or is it just political rhetoric using catchy bumper sticker slogans to capture the attention of the weak minded? For the sake of political correctness and preserving his image, Obama may seem to tip toe around what this really is.
It’s painful to utter these words, even ironically…but the right wingers are right. This absolutely is a war on coal. It’s a war that is necessary for our planet to remain habitable. If some miners in Kentucky lose their jobs for the sake of our children being able to breathe the air safely, so be it. It is unfortunate for that small microcosm of the economy, but the risk of keeping coal far outweighs the benefit. Of course they’re mad, that is our current reality and they should accept it instead of filing suit against the EPA for federal overreach. Perhaps their time would be better spent applying for training programs to work within the solar and wind industry.
But what about clean coal you ask? That really is an oxymoron. Clean coal isn’t actually clean. It reduces the air pollution a little, but mainly hides that pollution elsewhere, usually underground. This shouldn’t be considered as a viable option when solar and wind are on the table.
Lets not pretend that the coal industry wasn’t struggling for decades anyway. There are roughly half of the available jobs in coal as there were 30 years ago. The economics of energy production and consumption are changing in America. Huge advancements in clean technology are exploding exponentially, so suddenly burning any fossil fuel seems antiquated.
Currently we are more heavily relying on natural gas, but the writing is on the wall for what the future holds. Solar and wind have really burst onto the scene in the last 5 years, with 2014 being a record setting year for the solar industry do to a drastic decrease in cost. The technology is improving in efficiency every day, and prices are dropping rapidly. Coal power isn’t indefinitely sustainable, but solar and wind are. The choice just seems so obvious. Doesn’t it?