Blankenship: 'There are treesitters in the trees;' Plus Lame Questions From Real Reporters and Debate Wrap, Part 1

Yesterday, we liveblogged a debate in Charleston, West Virginia between Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Here’s Part 1 of that wrap-up.


Broadly, Don Blankenship made arguments that coal is paramount in building prosperity and national security, and he prioritized the importance of these two values. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. on the other hand, argued that coal fueled an “illusion of pollution-funded prosperity.” He made the point that our children would deal with the future consequences of pollution and climate change, and outlined the devastating impacts mountaintop removal practices are having on West Virginian communities today.

An overflow crowd and a sizeable national media presence (the best local reporter, Ken Ward of the Gazette, is a little annoyed) demonstrated the significant attention this debate garnered. Whatever drives that interest- whether its a genuine interest in the topic at hand, a thirst for celebrity-infused conflict, or a mix of both- one can only imagine that the attention generated from a debate between Gore and Palin would be several multiples larger. It’s worth reflecting then, on the usefulness of the exchange. While some watchers may have had their opinions or views changed last night, most seemed to leave redoubled to the ideological values they had arrived with.

For me, that was disheartening. It’s a naive sentiment, but part of me did want to see a TKO victory for Kennedy, with Blankenship having some kind of on-stage breakdown that would permanently affect the credibility of his arguments. That desire comes from my view of the urgent nature of our climate crisis. In that sense, the argument that these debates cause more harm than good, that they just give well-spoken myth-slingers an additional soapbox, is a compelling one.

Lame questions that real reporters asked in the post-event press availability

With one or two exceptions, the questions reporters asked Blankenship afterwards seemed entirely inadequate. The reporters seemed ill-prepared to question some of Blankenship’s statistical references and were, in a few cases, just plain groveling.

A sampling (in some cases I have paraphrased slightly)

-First off, congratulations on your performance at the debate. There are no winners in the debate, but there are winners and losers in the real world we live in. How would you comment on that?

-Kennedy pointed out that you make a lot of money. You pointed out that his only experience with poverty is reading about it. For those who might not know, could you just talk about your upbringing and what you grew up with?

-Mr Blankenship, there was a lot of mention about Massey Energy specifically in what Mr. Kennedy had to say tonight, do you think that the debate got more personal tonight?

-Were you nervous, at all, about tonight and what did you do to prepare for it? And that’s a hard question for a man to answer but I want you to be very reflective in your answer.

[Riveting follow-up] Were you scared? Were you scared?

-You talked about your research of the statistics you were using to make sure they were true. Did you find that some of the statistics he was using were not true, that they didn’t match up with what you were finding?

-Kennedy’s alternate solution was wind and solar energy, what’s your response on that?

The Desmog team asked two questions

Desmogblog: If you were convinced that man-made climate change was real, and that it was going to effect your children in the next 25 years, how would that change the direction and policy of your company and the place of coal?

Blankenship: Don’t forget…everybody keeps jumping out in front of the math that I keep repeating. The kilowatt hours produced in the United States generates less carbon than it does almost anywhere in the world, particularly in Asia. So, if you really believe that and you were fearful of it what I would be doing is when I visit the Chinese steel mills or when I visit the Indian or Chinese power plants I would be pleading with them to do something about the huge increase in carbon that they are creating. At the same time I would realize that this country can’t do anything about it. What’s been missed in this country, even under the Bush administration, is that we’ve made our boilers, and our refrigerators, and our air conditioners so efficient is that we actually reduced carbon emissions. The US industries since 1990 may be the only industry in the world that complied with the Kyoto agreement, but its been for a bad reason because its meant a lot of lost jobs and transferred a lot of industry overseas. So I would be talking about those things in a way where I was trying to get them dealt with, with efficiency, including with the Asians and the ones trying to do something about it. I personally don’t believe it but I’m certain that mathematically that the United States can’t do anything about it.

Note: In Part 2, we’ll look at Blankenship’s mathematical certainty and his assertion that US industry met Kyoto targets.   

We also asked about the three Climate Ground Zero activists who began a treesit on a Massey site yesterday.

Blankenship: There are treesitters in the trees, I don’t know who they are, it looks like young people, I saw a picture of them, but other than that at this point I don’t know anything about it.

Someone else in room: Aren’t they trespassing?

Blankenship: Yes they are trespassing.

Desmogblog: Do you have a message for the tree-sitters?

Blankenship: No, just that they need to be careful, they need to learn more about the issues rather than being in the trees because being in the trees is not going to solve any problems.

Desmogblog: Would you meet with them?

Blankenship: No, if I met with everyone who trespassed on my property I’d use up all my time that way.

*Photo credit: Andrea Lai/Climate Ground Zero