If you watched the Republican Convention, you saw delegates waving placards that said “Trump Digs Coal.” The candidate declared he would put the miners back to work.
It seems logical at first: America has lots of coal, we have miners willing to dig for it, and coal-fired power plants waiting to burn it. But this misses a crucial point. The fact that we can do something, or that there are people willing or wanting to do it, does not mean that we should do it. Even if some workers and some communities rely on coal mining economically, that does not mean that we can afford to keep mining the coal.
Why not? Because some activities are so harmful that we have no choice but to turn away from them, even if it means that some individuals or localities might suffer some consequences.
Peabody Energy, the world’s largest coal company, filed for bankruptcy this year, following a string of others. The reason is that burning coal is a terrible way to produce electricity, not only because it is no longer price-competitive but more importantly because the greenhouse gases it produces are leading us down a road to the most severe consequences for the entire planet.
When we take into account the true costs of coal – because of its devastating effects on the atmosphere and the climate – it is impossible to justify its continued use. The same goes for other fossil fuels.
“Keep it in the ground” is the watchword of those fighting to stop our slide into climate chaos. We need to keep 80 percent of all known coal and oil in the ground if we will have any chance of avoiding climate disaster. All our efforts should be focused on the development of alternative clean energy as rapidly as possible, and meanwhile to diminish – not expand – the extraction of fossil fuels.
It is hard – and it can seem uncaring – to tell those working in fossil fuels that their days are numbered. But sometimes the hard choice is also the unavoidable choice, and the only responsible one. We need leaders who recognize these hard choices, and will act to protect our future generations.
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• Thom Krystofiak is a graduate of Al Gore’s Climate Reality Leadership training. Jonas Magram serves on the steering team for the Bakken Pipeline Resistance Coalition and on the Executive Committee of the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club. Comments: NoBakkenHere@gmail.com