It would be difficult to find a weekend that brought more dire environmental news than the past one. And we probably could not have expected anything more given the natural calamities the world has faced over the past few months, from the floods in Venice, to the hurricane winds on Florida’s panhandle, to the deadly fires in California.
This past weekend the Trump White House released an extensive and authoritative report on our worsening climate, predicting century-long losses in the hundreds of billion of dollars to the world economy, a good share of which will be borne by Americans. I point out that last fact not because we’re better than the rest of the world, but because Trump’s avowed America First philosophy will not save the American farmers whose crops are destroyed by endless droughts, the American ranchers whose herds cannot be sustained because of water shortages, or any American dependent upon food and water. Unless The Walking Dead is a documentary, that’s all of us.
The Trump White House will bury the report—the president has already said he doesn’t believe it—but neither that report nor its interment constitute the worst news of the weekend. That honor goes to a New York Times story about the energy source we thought was on the way out until resurrected by the president. If you guessed coal, you win! Then you lose.
In short, coal is dirty, and when burned constitutes the worst of the fossil fuels. But it’s abundant and, most of all, it’s cheap. In Asia (especially India and Vietnam, but China also) people in outlying areas for whom electrical power was always a crapshoot can now flip a switch and know their wells will work, or their fans will spin, or their factories will hum. Power from coal has changed their lives. It’s hard to reproach them.
And coal is political—in Germany, Poland, even Australia, right wing leaders play on the importance of coal mining as good honest labor. New mines are promised; new coal-fired plants are constructed.
Even a decade ago this drift away from clean energy seemed unimaginable, but here we are; and in America we have a leader fabricating the resurgence of coal while clean energy costs drop around him.
That White House report on our worsening climate may turn out to be, in the end, optimistic. We seem to have learned little from climate scientists and from our own observations; and America—which despite the ongoing idiocy of the president is still held in high esteem globally, has instead of setting an example and a goal for other countries to achieve, officially sanctioned the one fuel that can speed our own demise.
If you guessed coal, you win! And then….