Robert Stevenson: Creating better future
April 15, 2016
Responding to Chuck McConnell's opinion on what he calls "Coal job destruction," I doubt that any politician sets out to "destroy jobs" as a goal. That's not a good election strategy. In this case, Chuck notes that concern over carbon emissions from coal burning is at least one factor in reducing jobs in the coal industry, which is, no doubt, true. Chuck, himself, notes that "the proportion of CO2 produced from burning coal is greater than from other fuels." In that respect, news reports today regarding the Peabody Energy bankruptcy have noted that a key factor in reducing the use of coal is the abundance of less-expensive, and cleaner, natural gas. So it's not just hypothetical and inexplicable "coal-haters"; it's also market forces.
Plus, let us remember that the root reason for concern over burning coal is the small matter of saving the only planet we are currently able to inhabit. I am not a climate scientist, but virtually all in that field believe we must materially reduce carbon emissions, at risk of drastic, if not existential, threats to our planet.
I am not here to debate that issue; for purposes of the downturn in coal's fortunes, I believe it, because it's science, it's the overwhelming view and, as Chuck notes, coal produces more carbon emissions than other fuels. If this science is wrong, and we heed it, nonetheless, the downside will have been economic changes and cleaner air. If the science is right, and we don't react to it, the downside will be massive destruction — if not the end — of life on Earth. This is high-stakes stuff here, and it's not fiction.
At one time, horses were the primary form of transportation in the U.S. The buggy whip industry thrived, as did others. And (per the book "Super Freakonomics"), the city of New York had to deal with tons of horse manure every day. The rise of the automobile had the unintended consequence of relieving that problem. In the same vein, changing the methods we use to generate needed energy will surely lead to other benefits.
Change is often disruptive and creates economic winners and losers. I worry about Routt County's fortunes, for sure. And I worry about my neighbors' livelihoods. This is my home. But so is planet Earth, and we in northwest Colorado know better than most what a beautiful place Earth is.
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We can take the micro-view and resist the demise of the horse, because we are making money selling buggy whips. Or, we can take a chance on creating a better future. It's hard to sacrifice today's comfortable status quo for the good of tomorrow and of generations yet to come. But it is selfish to ignore the greater good and longer-term needs.
In times like this, society (which is driving the transition to cleaner fuels, with the goal of improving and perhaps saving our planet) needs to provide transitional help for those people and industries bearing the brunt of the changes. But if society wants the changes, they are going to come. The world is not flat, and in fact, it orbits the sun, not vice-versa. At some point, science will prevail. One hopes it will prevail in time and won't be derailed by short term and me-first thinkers.