The War on Coal Heats Up

global warming coal plants The War on Coal Heats Up

If humans survive global warming, they’ll probably one day look back with disbelief at how previous generations generated electricity — especially electricity from burning coal. Burn coal to boil water, then use the steam to spin a turbine that creates electricity. What a stupid concept! Why manufacture electricity when it surrounds us?

One reason is money. Coal is relatively cheap and easy to find (if you don’t mind cutting off mountain tops). The other is an unwillingness to change. We have been burning coal since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.

I don’t have to tell you about coal’s dirty side, but perhaps you don’t know that electricity from coal contributes more CO2 to the atmosphere than that from any other source — including burning gas in our cars. Another oft-overlooked factor is that coal is a finite resource. It will run out, although probably not before we destroy both the environment and the atmosphere.

And then there’s this energy crisis thing in the U.S. Our consumer society, combined with warmer summer temperatures, have significantly increased electricity needs over the past 15-20 years. There’s also the “reduce dependence on foreign oil” argument, which is a valid one because it makes sustainable sense to create our own energy rather than import it from far away. Home production also makes our country more secure by eliminating crisis based on foreign decisions.

What I don’t buy is that we need to find, mine, and burn more coal to meet our needs. The current coal rush, buoyed by unenlightened Bush administration policies, threatens to keep our energy production in the past instead of looking to the future.

That’s where the Sierra Club steps in. For every new coal plant proposed — and there have been over 100 proposals in recent years — the Sierra Club files a lawsuit to stop it. The goal, according to David Bookbinder, the Sierra Club’s chief climate lawyer, is “to clog up the system” and to pressure “Congress to put together a comprehensive plan.” Imagine that, a climate plan in the U.S.

The plan that draws fire from coal industry lobbyists (not a big surprise) and elicits the dusty “unpatriotic” label from those who believe the U.S. is continually under attack. The strategy is working, however, with delays or outright blocks to 65 coal plants. 50 more plants are in the proposal pipeline, which means the Sierra Club will be busy for the next several years.

The Sierra Club should be commended for their effort to reduce CO2, but I can’t help but think of what they could do with all the money they’re spending on legal fees.

Hopefully out of this mess will arise a new technology that harnesses the electricity around us. Because, in case you haven’t figure it out yet, that’s where the future lies.

(via the Los Angeles Times)

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