The editors of the New York Times are concerned about coal consumption:
If we keep burning coal and petroleum to power our society, we’re cooked — and a lot faster than we thought. The United Nations scientific panel on climate change issued a terrifying new warning on Monday that continued emissions of greenhouse gases from power plants and vehicles will bring dire and irreversible changes by 2040, years earlier than previously forecast. The cost will be measured in trillions of dollars and in sweeping societal and environmental damage, including mass die-off of coral reefs and animal species, flooded coastlines, intensified droughts, food shortages, mass migrations and deeper poverty.
The worst impacts can be avoided only by a “far-reaching and unprecedented” transformation of the global energy system, including virtually eliminating the use of coal as a source of electricity, the panel warned.
Sadly, their zeal appears primarily to be a vehicle for attacking President Trump:
Yet President Trump, who has questioned the accepted scientific consensus on climate change, continues to praise “clean beautiful coal” and has directed his Environmental Protection Agency to reverse major strides undertaken by the Obama administration to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. This is unbelievably reckless. In addition to undermining the fight against climate change, the president’s efforts to prop up the dirtiest of all fuels will also exact a significant toll on public health, on the hearts and lungs of ordinary Americans.
Whether you agree with the findings of the UN’s panel or not, whether you think anthropogenic global warming is real or not, coal is problematic. Those dramatic pictures illustrating the incredibly poor air quality in Shanghai, Beijing, and other Chinese cities are primarily showing us the effects of airborne particulates, primarily from coal-burning power plants. Nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, mercury, and other pollutants are also produced.
Consider the graph at the top of this post. Were the United States to eliminate burning coal as a means of producing electricity entirely it would reduce world consumption of coal by less than 10%. If you concern is environmental, you cannot escape the conclusion that China must reduce its dependence on coal and India and other Asian countries must not increase their use of coal. Chinese pollution does not remain in China as any meteorologist living on the West Coast of the U. S. can tell you.
What should we be doing if we wish to reduce our use of coal?
- We should be seeking alternatives to the economic activity that coal production represents.
- We should promote the development and construction of nuclear power plants, particularly small modular ones based on thorium.
- We should promote the production of natural gas.
- We should discourage our consumption of products manufactured in China.
Due to their variability there is no such thing as pure wind and solar power generation. They all have fossil fuel backups. Nuclear power is the only truly carbon-free way that we have of producing electricity reliably. In its irrational zeal to eliminate its use of nuclear power, Germany is actually increasing its use of coal for power generation, something not reflected in the graph at the top of the page.
That’s what proportionality demands. I wish the New York Times could see issues in terms other than those of partisan politics.