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Tag: "environment"

How Republicans Became the Anti-Environmental Party

[ 91 ] April 22, 2017 |

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The environmental historian Chris Sellers explores this issue for Earth Day. In the 1950s, many Republicans were among the founding environmentalists in Congress. And of course, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Congress was passing groundbreaking environmental laws by nearly unanimous votes (which is why it drives me crazy when Richard Nixon gets called a “liberal” for signing these laws). To say the least, things changed.

One strand of coalition-building emerged in the 1970s in the western states, where a so-called Sagebrush rebellion erupted among ranchers, miners, and other larger property owners upset over new environmental restrictions. Aspiring Republican politicians rode these issues into legislative takeovers in states like Colorado in 1976, by drawing support not just from rural but also from suburban voters.

Among the victors was a 34-old Republican lawyer named Anne Gorsuch representing Jefferson County, on Denver’s edge, who railed against regional planning as well as federal regulatory “overreach.” When reelected, Gorsuch attracted sufficient attention for former California governor Reagan to bring her in as advisor to his own conservative campaign for the presidency.

The other strand of early anti-environmentalism ran through the South, where traditional Democratic dominance was in flux. Democrats like then-Georgia governor Jimmy Carter embraced environmental causes. Some Republicans did as well. When college professor Newt Gingrich ran for Congress starting in 1972 in a West Georgia district extending into Atlanta’s suburbs, it made sense that he did so both as a Republican and an environmentalist.

But Gingrich kept losing until he noticed that rural lifelong Democrats rejecting his candidacy turned out repeatedly for a John Bircher Democrat running in a neighboring district who publicly questioned the constitutionality of both the EPA and national parks. Taking the cue, Gingrich won his first of many Congressional races in 1978 by dialing down his environmental rhetoric and cozying up to local industries that had run afoul of the new agencies and laws.

Riding these political tides to the White House, the early Reagan administration undertook a frontal assault on environmental agencies and regulation much like what we are now seeing. Gorsuch stepped into the EPA’s helm, hatching plans to cut its budget and personnel by half. Her Colorado colleague over at the Interior Department, James Watt, sought a similar devolution of control over federal lands; OSHA and FDA were also targeted.

But for these Republican anti-environmentalists, the power of the Presidency was not enough. A Democratic Congress, still bolstered by the party’s Southern bloc, stood in the way. Democratic committee chairs geared up for Congressional hearings that spotlighted the ensuing consequences and corruption at agencies under fire. The hue and cry then raised, and courtroom battles the Administration then lost, turned out to be much more than it had bargained for. Within two years, Gorsuch and Watt had resigned and restoration of federal environmental agencies was underway. A seminal Supreme Court decision in 1984, Chevron, Inc. vs NRDC, required judicial deference to environmental and other agencies’ interpretation of statutes, confirming their authority to regulate.

As moderate Republicans took over, federal environmental budgets and operations were restored, but the grounds were also being laid for a next war on the environmental state. The Heritage Foundation, established in the 1970s, enjoyed a heyday as an idea factory for tugging the administration to the right, and new think tanks established in the mid-1980s like the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy came to nourish a special hostility toward the climate issue. In the South, as well, enterprising Republicans such as Gingrich successfully moved to convert white Democratic voters to their party.

Newt and Neil “My first act as Supreme Court justice is killing a disabled black man” Gorsuch’s mom. What a gallery of rogues.

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Republican Pollution Policy

[ 18 ] March 21, 2017 |

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Your Republican congresscritters:

Rep. Scott Perry was asked at a town hall in Red Lion on Saturday if he supported President Donald Trump’s proposed cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency in light of Pennsylvania’s “history of environmental problems.”

“Don’t we need a stronger EPA to protect the environment?” the questioner asked.

Perry, who has worked to restrict and limit the EPA’s abilities, didn’t directly answer the question.

Instead, he spoke of the Chesapeake Bay strategy, which he said was “forced on” the state and “left some violators out.”

Then he added:

“And by the way, some violators ― if you believe in, if you’re spiritual and you believe in God ― one of the violators was God, because the forests were providing a certain amount of nitrates and phosphates to the Chesapeake Bay.”

The crowd can be heard shouting in disbelief as Perry spoke.

“Oh, c’mon,” one person cried out.

The first thing everyone should learn about politics is that there is zero correlation between political success and intelligence.

Labor, Environment, Neoliberalism

[ 1 ] March 16, 2017 |

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I did this podcast with the environmental historian Michael Egan last week on the relationship between environmentalism and neoliberalism. This is actual neoliberalism, not the current definition of “someone in the Democratic Party who does something I don’t like” so commonly used on the left. The whole last half is a discussion on the relationship between the labor and environmental movements. Check it out.

This Day in Labor History: February 14, 1940

[ 8 ] February 14, 2017 |

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On February 14, 1940, a group of Navajos named Scott Preston, Julius Begay, Frank Goldtooth, and Judge Many Children wrote a letter of protest to their congressman, John Murdock of Arizona, against the livestock reduction program pressed upon them by Commission of Indian Affairs head John Collier. Noting how the program would radically transform their economy, driving them into greater poverty, they wrote, in part:

The Navajo Indians are not opposed to grazing permits as such, in fact we believe they heartily approve them if the manner of issuance is fair and the limits are sufficiently high to permit the family to exist.

For instance, in our own district (No.3) the sheep unit is set at 282. If a person has 5 horses, that would be the equivalent to 25 sheep; 1 head of cattle is the equivalent of 4 sheep. A Navajo family will consume 150 head of sheep or more per year depending on the size of the family. In addition to this amount, it is necessary to sell for their staples enough to keep the family from starvation. Then each family must be prepared to meet natural losses. We understand the families with smaller than the maximum are not permitted to raise that limit, but those above must be reduced.

282 sheep units is not sufficient for even the bare existence of a moderate size Navajo family without additional income, and such a policy will mean the impoverishment of the entire Navajo tribe.

The creation of Navajo sheep culture was already a response to the forced transformation of Navajo work culture around raiding and hunting in the face of white domination in 1860s, a phenomenon faced by many tribes during these years. Many tribes faced allotment under the Dawes Act, forced into small farming economies they were not equipped for and losing their lands to whites as part of the larger strategy to dispossess indigenous people of their land, culture, and work traditions.

The Navajo had begun integrating sheep into their work culture in 1598, as Spanish flocks wandered north out of Mexico into what is today the American Southwest, along with other domesticated animals that transformed what was possible for Native American life. While sheep and weaving became very important to Navajo life, it was originally another animal, the horse, that primarily redefined their work culture. Engaging heavily in raiding well into New Mexico, where they, along with the Comanches, made the Spanish colony and then Mexico, as well as the Puebloan peoples who lived there, reside in constant fear, the U.S. put a stop to this when, in 1864, the Navajo were rounded up and forced on the Long March to the Bosque Redondo in eastern New Mexico. There they were dumped for four years and about 25 percent of the population died. Reports of the conditions at the Bosque Redondo went public at the same time that the nation was engaging in Reconstruction and there was enough outrage in that rare moment when white Americans cared enough about people of color to do something to help that the Navajo were allowed to return to a large chunk of their lands, in no small part because it seemed to have no economic value to whites. But in doing so, they had to give up their raiding and horse culture ways. Sheep and weaving became ever more important to Navajo work culture after this.

In 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt appointed John Collier as Commissioner of Indian Affairs. For most tribes, this was a breath of fresh air. Collier rejected the corrupt and genocidal policies of the past, attempting to treat indigenous Americans as relative equals and respect their cultural heritage. Collier and New Deal land managers, heavily influenced by the Dust Bowl, saw Navajo sheep herding practices as incredibly destructive to the land and completely unsustainable. They noted the erosion transforming the land, the gullies turning into deep canyons, and the impossibility of this continuing for long. By 1931, the Navajo owned perhaps one million sheep on land with a carrying capacity of 500,000; they had only owned about 15,000 in the 1870s, but their population had also exploded from 8000 people in 1868 to 39,000 in 1930. So Collier acted, even though the Navajo themselves were not brought on board. Collier respected the Navajos, but felt he needed to save them from themselves. In 1934, the first of the sheep and goat slaughters took place. By 1935, the Navajos were actively resisting. People refused to sell their livestock to anyone who would kill them. By 1937, in the face of this resistance, Collier and the Department of the Interior issued a new plan setting a cap on the amount of livestock each extended family could own.

Weaving and harvesting the sheep provided about half the cash for the Navajos and nothing was done to replace that. Much of this loss was gendered. Weaving was the source of women’s income in a matrilineal society. It had provided women with economic authority even as the pre-1864 Navajo economy was forcibly terminated. They controlled their own means of production. Collier and the other New Dealers did not see this at all. Men handled the relationships with whites and so the New Dealers never even spoke to women, nor did they think of asking about them. With control over the means of production stripped away, masculine economic and political dominance was reinforced and the gendered norms of Navajo work and life were transformed.

The irony of this is that Collier was right. The Navajo were vastly overgrazing the land and they refused to admit it. It was absolutely not sustainable. But in the tradition of white northerners pushing their ideas of free labor upon African-Americans in the days after slavery without asking the ex-slaves what they wanted, Collier shoving his reforms down the throats of the Navajo without their consent resulted not only in a transformation of the intersection between work and culture, impoverishing many already poor people, but also created a long-term resistance to environmentalism still powerful on the Navajo Nation today.

The stock reduction program ended as the nation went into World War II and the government had bigger fish to fry. But it also happened in the face of widespread resistance, such as the letter that opens this post. In 1940, the Navajo Rights Association formed to lead the resistance to continued stock reduction. The government started threatening the Navajo with police power if they refused to hand over their livestock, which broke the resistance. John Collier started realizing that there was a problem with his program only in 1941, which was far too late. He relaxed some of the restrictions, but the damage to Navajo work and life was already done. An already poor people were made more impoverished. After World War II, many men would seek to escape that poverty through uranium mining, which would have enormous implications of its own on the health of the miners and work culture of the Navajo people.

The letter that opens this post was taken from Peter Iverson, ed., Dine Letters, Speeches, & Petitions, 1900-1960. You can read the whole letter here. Many of the other details come from Marsha Weisiger, Dreaming of Sheep in Navajo Country.

This is the 210th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

A Hideous Lie

[ 30 ] February 5, 2017 |
Children playing in the DDT fog left behind by the TIFA truck.  (Photo by George Silk//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Children playing in the DDT fog left behind by the TIFA truck. (Photo by George Silk//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

I see people are once again going down the “Rachel Carson is a mass murderer” road. The idea is that because Carson sought to ban DDT, cases of malaria exploded and thus millions of people died. Pravda recently went down this road too.

In 2014, Google honored Carson on the 50th anniversary of her death, prompting this commentary from Breitbart News: “Will Google be paying tribute to any of the other mass killers of the 20th century? Hitler? Stalin? Mao? Pol Pot? Probably not. But then, none of the others have had the benefit of having their images burnished by a thousand and one starry-eyed greenies.” Breitbart in 2014 was led by Stephen K. Bannon, now chief strategist and senior counselor in the Trump White House.

I am not going to debunk the whole thing because this has been discussed many times. But the short version of it is that a) Carson did not call for the complete ban of DDT when it could save people’s lives, b) The U.S. ban on DDT in 1972 did not include other nations, where malaria was actually killing people, many of which never did ban DDT, c) her actual argument was not that chemicals should not be used to kill insects, but rather that the unregulated spraying of them everywhere all of the time had massive ecological consequences that would affect humans negatively too, d) mosquitoes were becoming resistant to DDT by its ban in 1972, e) much of the rise in malaria in the developing world in the 1970s had to do with decreased anti-malaria expenditures by governments, and f) DDT is still frequently used in the developing world.

This is a right-wing lie meant to discredit not only one of the finest Americans ever to live but the entire environmental movement. Never, ever believe it. Tell people who say it that they are grossly wrong and should never speak again about anything until they learn how to decipher truth from right-wing lie.

Richard Conniff has a more complete debunking here if you need it.

No to Federal Land Transfers

[ 24 ] February 4, 2017 |

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For most of you, the issue of western public lands is probably not as important as the other horrors that is the Republican policy agenda. But for a westerner, this stuff is exceedingly important, whether you are a hiker or you are Cliven Bundy. Jason Chaffetz, the most principled man in Washington except for all the others, and his buddies want to transfer millions of acres of western lands over to the states, which would lead to both far more limited public access and vastly more industrial development. But this was a bridge too far for westerners and Chaffetz has been forced to shelve it, for now at least.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) withdrew legislation Thursday that would have transferred 3 million acres of land from federal to state ownership, citing objections from constituents who complained that the move would limit access to public hunting and fishing grounds.

The Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act, which would have shifted federal holdings to state governments in Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon and Wyoming, prompted an outcry among hunters and anglers’ groups. Introduced three weeks after House Republicans enacted a rule change to make it easier to sell off federal land, the measure prompted two separate rallies in Santa Fe, N.M., and Helena, Mont., this week that drew hundreds of people opposed to the measure.

A wide array of outdoors groups praised the move.

Aaron Kindle, Western sportsmen’s campaign manager for the National Wildlife Federation, said in a statement that his group appreciates “that Mr. Chaffetz listened” to those opposed to the bill.

“This loss would have forever robbed the American people of the amazing bounty these and all public lands provide,” Kindle said. “Another good move would be to withdraw the recently approved House rule that devalues public lands and makes them easier to dispose of.”

Katie McKalip, communications director for the Montana-based Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, said in an email that its members and others “have sent a clear message, in no uncertain terms, that Americans greatly value our nation’s public lands and waters and that we will not tolerate actions by our elected officials that diminish them.”

Not sure I would praise him at all, although I get the need to do that publicly. It’s going to take continued pressure from westerners to stop this because Chaffetz and his merry band of Bundyites want this really bad.

Good win for now though.

Vo Quy, RIP

[ 15 ] January 12, 2017 |

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Vo Quy, the pioneering Vietnamese environmentalist and communist who not only convinced Ho Chi Minh to create Vietnam’s first national park, but also played a critical role in bringing his nation and the United States to an agreement on dealing with the ecocide the Americans committed after the war, has died at the age of 87.

Here is more about him.

Can the Koch Brothers Purchase Americans Changing Their Minds About Environmental Protections?

[ 24 ] January 6, 2017 |

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Don’t know, but we are about to find out.

The Kochs, whose use of their fortune to promote climate-change denial research has angered environmentalists, are quietly courting new allies in their quest for a fossil fuel resurgence: minorities.

Since its start in the spring of 2016, Fueling U.S. Forward has sent delegates to, or hosted, at least three events aimed at black voters, arguing that they benefit most from cheap and abundant fossil fuels and have the most to lose if energy costs rise.

Fueling U.S. Forward is “dedicated to educating the public about the value and potential of American energy, the vast majority of which comes from fossil fuels,” the group says on its website. “We’ll talk to people of diverse backgrounds — industry employees, small-business owners, community leaders and low-income families — and share their stories.”

The group has seen early results from its outreach.

“Policies that subsidize electric vehicles and solar panels for the wealthy raise energy prices and harm the black community,” read recommendations adopted by delegates at the National Black Political Convention in Gary, Ind., in August. The event brought together African-American political groups and counted Fueling U.S. Forward among its sponsors.

“We’re standing up for poor, underserved communities,” said Linda Haithcox, executive director of the National Policy Alliance, which organized the convention. She said her group’s funding from Fueling U.S. Forward and other energy groups had not affected its position on energy.

In a statement, Charles Drevna, president and chief executive of Fueling U.S. Forward and a former vice president at Sunoco, the company behind the Dakota Access oil pipeline, confirmed that the group was supported by Koch Industries, among other backers. “I am proud to help Fueling U.S. Forward promote the importance of domestic oil and natural gas to making people’s lives better,” he said.

You’d like to think these groups won’t take Koch money, but LOL at that.

Fueling U.S. Forward is a more emotional campaign. “How do we start winning hearts and minds?” Alex Fitzsimmons, the Fueling U.S. Forward spokesman, wondered in a Facebook Live broadcast he hosted with Mr. Drevna in August at the RedState Gathering in Denver.

Eddie Bautista, executive director of the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance, a nonprofit that works with low-income and minority neighborhoods on environmental issues, called the campaign “an exploitative, sad and borderline racist strategy.” He pointed to the falling costs associated with renewable energy, which he said made shifting away from reliance on fossil fuels a winning proposition for everyone.

In seeking to change hearts and minds, Fueling U.S. Forward addresses a greater conundrum for the Kochs, their private empire — which generates an estimated $100 billion in sales a year — and the wider fossil fuel industry.

I don’t know whether it will as successful as the hearts and minds campaign of the U.S. toward South Vietnam during the Vietnam War, but the catastrophe of climate change will certainly be comparable or worse to the death toll of that war. But hey, there was so much corporate profit to be made in both!

More Critical Republican Policy Points

[ 73 ] January 2, 2017 |

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Other than making sure that black people can’t vote, that Democrats can never win, and that women have no control over their own bodies, the major thing binding Republicans together is to hate those hippie Democrats. And thus we have very important policies like this coming out of Michigan.

A new law in Michigan will prohibit local governments from banning, regulating or imposing fees on the use of plastic bags and other containers. You read that correctly: It’s not a ban on plastic bags — it’s a ban on banning plastic bags.

Michigan Lt. Gov. Brian Calley signed the new public act into law on Wednesday, along with 11 other bills. Gov. Rick Snyder is currently on vacation out of state, local news sources reported, and Calley has the authority to sign bills into law in his absence.

The new public act prohibits local ordinances from “regulating the use, disposition, or sale of, prohibiting or restricting, or imposing any fee, charge, or tax on certain containers,” including plastic bags, as well as cups, bottles and other forms of packaging. This means individual cities and municipalities are not allowed to ban plastic bags or charge customers a fee for using them.

Bans and restrictions on the use of plastic bags are widespread in other parts of the country and around the world. The rationale is simple: Plastic bags are infamous non-biodegradable sources of pollution — although they will eventually break down into tiny pieces, scientists believe this process can take hundreds of years, or even up to a millennium, in landfills.

And this of course, plus the tears it will cause environmentalists and conscious consumers, are all the reason Michigan Republicans need. I look forward to the bill for a national ban on banning plastic bags coming out of the GOP House.

Zinke

[ 20 ] December 16, 2016 |

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Adam Markham has an excellent rundown of Trump’s nominee for Secretary of the Interior, who I am sad to say is also a former offensive linemen for the University of Oregon. Other than getting the job because of swapping hunting stories and making manly bonds with Uday and Qusay, Ryan Zinke is likely to be a complete disaster for the department, including how it needs to act on climate change.

In his first term as a Congressman he has voted to:

Weaken controls on air and water pollution in national parks
Lift the federal ban on crude oil exports
Undermine protections for endangered species
De-fund efforts to clean up Chesapeake Bay
Weaken the Antiquities Act by limiting the president’s ability to designate new national monuments

Well, that’s promising…

Zinke will be administering our more treasured places through the National Park Service. There’s a lot of front line research on climate change in the NPS.

Some of the most convincing evidence of climate impacts of climate change and of the work of National Park Service scientists can be found right in Congressman Zinke’s backyard—Yellowstone National Park. Average annual temperatures have risen 0.17˚C per decade since 1948 and spring and summer temperatures are predicted to rise by 4.0-5.6˚C by the end of the century, making hot dry summers the norm and transforming the ecosystems this iconic landscape.

Across the American west, climate change is driving a trend toward larger, more damaging wildfires, and fire season has lengthened by an extraordinary 78 days since 1970.

Yellowstone winters are already shorter, with less snowfall and many more days when temperatures rise above freezing than there were in the 1980s. Earlier snow melt and warmer summer temperatures are dramatically changing stream flow, river temperatures, and the condition of seasonal wetlands in the park, putting populations of native cutthroat trout, chorus frogs, and trumpeter swans at risk for the future.

Damaging climate impacts to wildlife and ecosystems have been recorded in Saguaro, Rocky Mountain, Glacier Bay, Biscayne, and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks as well as Yosemite, the Everglades, and many others.

Cultural resources are no less at risk. As UCS’s 2016 joint report with UNESCO and UNEP, World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate documented, The Statue of Liberty was closed for nine months after Hurricane Sandy and $77 million has had to be spent to restore services and access on Liberty and Ellis Islands.

Extreme rainfall has damaged the Spanish mission church at Tumacácori in Arizona; sea level rise threatens black history at Fort Monroe in Virginia and the Harriett Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument in Maryland; colonial heritage is at immediate risk from rising water levels at Jamestown, Virginia; American Indian heritage has been damaged by floods and fires at Mesa Verde and Bandelier; and Native Alaskan archaeology thousands of years old is being lost forever as a result of coastal erosion at Cape Krusenstern and elsewhere in Alaska.

Unlike natural ecosystems which have the capacity to change or move, cultural heritage such as buildings, artifacts or archaeology can be permanently damaged or instantly destroyed by a fire, flood, or storm.

In a 2014 policy memorandum to all NPS staff, Jon Jarvis noted that “Climate change poses an especially acute problem for managing cultural resources because they are unique and irreplaceable — once lost, they are lost forever. If moved or altered, they lose aspects of their significance and meaning.” Aside from thousands of historic structures and sites, there are approximately 2 million archaeological sites within the National Park System alone, many of which are vulnerable to climate change.

I await the Zinke/Tillerson/Perry/Trump solution of privatizing the national parks. I’m sure Yellowstone brought to you by Exxon/Mobil will really take this problem seriously! But, once again, this is just a bog standard Republican pick by Donald Trump, mainstream Republican.

The Wages of Mining

[ 9 ] December 8, 2016 |

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In 1985, I took the first trip of my life. We drove from Oregon to Minnesota for a family reunion. For me, at that age, this was exciting. As we drove east on I-90, we stopped in Butte, Montana. There, I saw the Berkeley Pit, the gigantic open pit copper mine now filling with incredibly toxic water. To say the least, it blew my mind. I have since visited the Pit one other time. This was in, I think, 2002. At this point, you could press a button and there was a very low-grade recording of a woman talking about how the water in the pit wasn’t that toxic anymore. She said something like “The geese landed in the water and they did not die. This was a big step.” Well, OK then! But this optimism may be just a little bit unwarranted.

Several thousand migrating snow geese perished in the toxic Berkeley Pit water where they landed last week in Butte, mine officials told the Montana Standard today.

Montana Resources and Atlantic Richfield Company officials say they are not yet ready to release a hard number because federal and state agencies have to verify numbers collected. But MR manager of environmental affairs Mark Thompson said the mining company expects the final number to be several times greater than the 1995 snow goose die-off incident.

A $100,000 restitution proposal for the deaths of 342 snow geese in 1995 was challenged by Montana Resources, a mining company that accepted blame for the deaths and planned to pay a $10,000 fine.

The mine estimates that as many as 10,000 snow geese landed on the pit’s contaminated water last week on the night of Nov. 28. Thompson said previously that the pit’s 700-acre lake was “white with birds.”

There’s not any real great solution here either. It takes a lot of work just to keep this toxicity out of the general water supply that eventually flows into the Clark Fork River and eventually into the Columbia River. And how comfortable are you with the EPA in a Trump administration managing this at all responsibly?

Coal and Poverty

[ 21 ] October 31, 2016 |

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I am as anti-coal as anyone else. It’s a terrible energy source if you care about the future of the planet. However, there’s no question that there’s a good reason why people burn coal, especially if you are poor–it is cheap and relatively abundant. The use of coal was central to the Industrial Revolution and continues to be for newly industrialized nations. That doesn’t mean it has to be that way–certainly we could be investing huge amounts into clean energy in newly industrializing companies to forestall this.

But that said, it’s really a cherry picked argument to say that coal actually doesn’t help the poor in the short term.

More coal doesn’t help people living close to the grid

The report notes that approximately 15% of people in energy poverty live close to existing electric grids, but there are a variety of barriers blocking their connection. For example, the poor consume relatively little electricity, so the costs of connecting them may exceed the resulting profits. The power lines used to connect them also result in high energy losses and power system instability. The poor also have little political influence in many developing countries. As the report concludes:

This means that for energy-poor families living close to the grid, building new power generation capacity – coalfired or otherwise – will not help them get connected. Instead, access will require financing the upfront costs of new connections, and rationalising tariffs to reflect the true costs of supplying power.

More coal also doesn’t help people in rural areas

Approximately 84% of energy-poor households live in rural areas further away from the grid. For this group, decentralized stand-alone and mini-grid solutions are much quicker than waiting to build a new centralized power plant and distribution lines. A single power plant can take a decade between planning and ultimate completion, while distributed wind turbines or solar panels can be deployed much more rapidly, as Elon Musk explained in ‘Before the Flood’:

So more coal only helps the capitalists? I mean, you might argue that coal is not the most efficient way to provide this electricity in terms of getting up the fastest. But that doesn’t mean that coal isn’t useful, especially on a smaller scale.

It then goes on to an unfortunate use of Bjorn Lomborg of all people to “show” that China’s poverty reduction in recent decades wasn’t really because of coal use. Um, OK. To be fair, China’s rise was due to a lot of factors. But very cheap energy built by a government that couldn’t care less about pollution was a big part of it.

At the end, the author notes that coal causes lots of pollution and the poor bear the burden of that. True enough but then that’s not really the argument here, right? In the short term, coal helps the poor. In the long term, it probably doesn’t. Finally, the real point:

Wind and solar are already becoming cheaper than coal

Not only are wind and solar better for the poor in terms of ease of deployment, clean air, and slowing climate change, they’ve also become cost-competitive.

South Africa, for example, is the cheapest place in Africa to generate coal-fired power, yet electricity from its new 4.7 gigawatt Medupi advanced coal plant will cost … 17% more than the electricity generated from South Africa’s 2 gigawatt of new onshore wind power. In India, the minister responsible for power development recently stated: ‘I think a new coal plant would give you costlier power than a solar plant’ (Climate Home, 2016). The statement is supported by the extremely low bid prices for recent solar procurements in India (Kenning, 2015). Renewable energy investment in the emerging world now outpaces that in developed countries (McGrath, 2016).

Renewable energy also has low operating cost and zero fuel cost, while fossil fuel costs are variable and susceptible to price spikes. And renewable energy creates more (and safer) jobs than coal.

Coal companies and their allies often argue that we need to burn their products to lift the poor out of poverty. For example, Matt Ridley has claimed:

those who advocate no support for coal are effectively saying that the adoption of renewable energy is more important than alleviating African poverty

In reality, there are better, faster, cleaner alternatives to help deliver electricity to the energy-poor. Those who argue to the contrary often do so to advance their own agendas.

That is starting to happen, but there’s no good reason to prevaricate about the role coal has played and continues to play in poverty reduction and rapid industrialization. Once again, these things would happen with far less damage to people and nature if wind and solar were built instead of coal. But the article as a whole is far from compelling in refuting the arguments for coal. The argument needs to be that “Yes, coal is an effective way to move people out of poverty but that the long-term damage makes it a terrible idea. Instead, let’s engage in the rapid buildup poor nations’ industrial capacity through renewable energy.” Fudging the facts about coal doesn’t help.

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