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Trading Clean Energy for a Lump of Coal

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View David Lawlor's blog posts
25 January 2011, 12:36 PM
States pay to import pollution while ignoring healthier energy options
Wind farms could reduce the need for states to import dirty coal. Photo by Brian Robert Marshall.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has a snazzy new interactive slideshow on its website, highlighting states that are bypassing opportunities to ditch dirty coal and embrace clean energy. The slideshow is both interesting and an office-safe distraction good for at least a five-minute break from your spreadsheet formulas.

Go ahead, call it up on your browser and if your boss asks: “Hey, you fooling around on the Internet again?” You can say: “No, I’m reviewing the Union of Concerned Scientists’ analysis of the nation’s energy infrastructure.” There’s no good comeback to that line; the only conceivable rejoinder is, “Really, what does it say?”

Well, it says that a large portion of the country is foregoing clean energy resources in exchange for lining the pockets of the coal industry.

Primarily targeting Midwestern and Southeastern states, the slideshow offers informative (and slightly depressing) factoids about the flow of clean energy resources going out of the states and the flow of polluting coal coming in. For example, the slideshow notes that New Hampshire is “more dependent on coal imported from Venezuela than any other state” although it has the “technical potential to generate 100 percent of its 2008 electricity needs from in-state renewable energy resources."

As the slideshow illustrates, it’s not a matter of having the capability to implement a clean energy infrastructure, the real quandary is countering the power of the coal industry, which isn’t going to bid adieu to the profits it has been enjoying for decades without a fight. That’s why Earthjustice is working in the courts and on Capitol Hill to stem dirty coal’s massive toll on the environment and its serious threats to human health.

Most recently, EPA vetoed what would have been West Virginia’s biggest mountaintop removal mining operation. The rejection of Arch Coal’s Spruce No. 1 Mine is a landmark victory that offers hope for the health and safety of Appalachian communities. It also illuminates the need to embrace a clean energy infrastructure to prevent catastrophic climate change and to keep our air and water clean.

The public feels unable to choose between the science and the political rhetoric telling them that the science is 'junk'. This is particularly hard for those convinced who feel a particular version of climate science threatens their paychecks, as it does for some Americans.

I'd like to suggest another vision be placed before the country by politicians who have accepted science for what it represents - truth not alterable through votes or financial contributions to campaign war chests.

Ask leaders to paint a portrait of a world in which the people of oil-rich countries can diversity their economies when no longer of primary importance as fuel producers.


-an end to despotic rule by those taking the lion's share of that commodity.

-a need to educate all citizens to be employed in diverse economic endeavors ending isolation among world nations. When a nation no longer holds others in a stranglehold for access to natural resources, societal changes occur. Such nations become needful of tolerance and pluralism without such change actually threatening basic characteristics of national identity.

-a need to build and keep an infrastructure that constant warfare dismantles. It is no longer a viable option to consider it disposable and welcomes assistance by other nations to expedite such development.

A shift to technology that recognizes the threat of climate change and our movement beyond the peak oil phenomenon, makes for a safer world. This is something the public can easily grasp and cannot be opposed by those who wish to be regarded as rational.

Barbara Rubin

"We will find ourselves here on Earth with a clean energy source and will further improve our environment by saving, each year, a billion tonnes of fossil fuels." Professor Gerard K. O'Neill, 'The High Frontier', 1976.

Professor O'Neill proposed a vision for space development that included building solar power stations in space to supply energy to Earth. If this had proceeded, the main energy source for Earth could have become solar energy, accessed directly in space from the unlimited energy-well of the Sun. Earth-based solar power collection would also have swiftly raced ahead.

Through serious space development, we could have avoided global warming, climate change and ocean acidification, which Lovelock and Hansen warn could send the Earth toward becoming a second Venus.

If avoidance of the problem that we have created lay in building solar power stations in space, which would also have allowed much heavy industry to be located in space, then I am obliged to ask if the solution to the problem and surviving any drift toward the Venus syndrome, lies in catching up with the future that we skilled out on in the 1970s?

With a confident survival presence beyond Earth, I can see that we could build a healthy human society on Earth and win back a healthy planet. To shrink our activities beneath the shadow of the Venus syndrome on Earth may be a recipe for stumbling into collective suicide and taking life on Earth with us.

Without survival, no other activity is possible.

I am keen to pursue survival and how we can win a creative star-faring civilization, that at the same time delivers a healthy Earth and sends poverty marching off into history. I am keen to hear from anyone who shares these concerns and also an interest in delivering a healthy and creative future for all Earth's children.

Kim Peart

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