Froma Harrop: Fighting climate change for real
Time to drop this “war on coal” talk. Time to ignore the hollering by coal country politicians over President Obama’s beefed-up plan to combat global warming.
No, the Clean Power Plan will not ruin their local economies, because coal has already done that, certainly in Appalachia. Look at those barren flats where majestic mountains once stood. The coal industry lopped off the mountaintops and fouled the streams, depriving West Virginia and eastern Kentucky of a key recruiting tool for modern employers prizing a healthy environment.
But let’s not go overly negative here. Coal did its job. It powered 20th-century America. The Appalachian coal regions gave and gave. We honor their sacrifice.
So rather than call the new plan a war on coal, let us call it a retirement party for coal. Coal is the largest source of planet-warming gases. It must make room for 21st-century power.
Mother Nature has already offered us a foretaste of what she has in mind should global warming go unchecked. Higher temperatures have worsened drought in the West, igniting large swaths of California, Washington and Oregon.
Glacier National Park in northern Montana may sound like a cool, watery place. But tourists there have been abandoning their cars to flee wildfires. The glaciers themselves are melting and may be gone in 30 years.
Flooding in other parts of the country is part of the same climate phenomenon.
Natural gas emits about half as much carbon as does coal and can transition us to truly clean power. But the future is clearly renewable energy from such sources as the sun and wind.
The new rules push us in that direction. They will require utilities to generate at least 28 percent of their electric power from renewable sources by 2030. (Renewables accounted for only 13 percent last year.)
This is not mission impossible. In 2011, California mandated that 33 percent of its electricity come from renewable energy sources by 2020. California’s economy is booming — aided no doubt by all that clean-energy venture capital (almost 60 percent of America’s total) flowing into the state.
Obama’s plan promotes a cap-and-trade system. States place a limit on greenhouse gases and let businesses buy and sell permits to emit them. This market-based approach started off as a conservative idea. Do remember that when the opposition rails against the idea as “cap and tax.”
California already has a cap-and-trade system, and 10 other states have followed suit. At least 30 other states also have mandates for renewable energy.
Foes will no doubt bash the Clean Power Plan as radical, but the public should know that even these stricter regulations will not save us from global warming. They will only stop a free fall into planetary catastrophe.
What about other countries? A reasonable question. The plan will give Obama something serious to unfurl at the climate change summit this December in Paris. When the United States offers a plausible blueprint to meet the challenge, other countries, notably China, will be pressed to follow suit.
And what about the coal regions? Appalachia has considerable natural beauty left, a great location and plenty of water. Coal-producing Wyoming has its own attractions, some quite magnificent.
Coal is yesterday’s fuel. Give it a respectful goodbye and dry the tears.