It simply wouldn’t be an election year in the United States without the fictitious “war on coal” talking point rearing its ugly head. But something is different this year. In years past, the “war on coal” was admittedly fake, but today we really do have presidential candidates who have expressed interest in making the industry a thing of the past, and those quotes are being used as a catalyst to rally voters in coal-dependent states like West Virginia and Kentucky.
The tweet garnered thousands of shares and likes, and on the surface it appeared to be a genuine plea for action on climate change. But as we’ve seen all too often from this administration, what they say in public rarely matches what takes place behind closed doors.
Less than one day after President Obama tweeted out that message on climate change, David Sirota and Ned Resnikoff from the International Business Times aimed a spotlight at the Obama administration’s hypocrisy in an investigative piece that exposed again the fossil fuel industry's influence over our government. Prior to that, the Public Accountability Initiative had revealed the massive influence that the industry had over the government's assessment of the economic impacts of offshore drilling.
As a country, the United States has been very slow to react to climate change. Part of the problem is that our politics has been corrupted by the influence of fossil fuel money. The other part is that the constant stream of misinformation has led to an imbalance in the acceptance of science, and the public has taken a long time to come around to the idea that we need to act.
But today the public does agree that it is time to act, and a majority of Americans no longer deny the existence of man-made climate change. The main issue is that the deniers are calling the shots, so action remains either completely absent or painfully weak.
To make matters a little more confusing, while most Americans agree that climate action is necessary, polls show us that they believe it is very low on the country’s list of priorities, with things like global terrorism, the economy, and income inequality consistently scoring higher on the priority list. The irony is that most of the issues that rank higher than climate change can all be directly related to the state of the environment.
In order to inspire action, perhaps it’s time that the environmental movement changed the way it frames the debate. Rather than speaking mostly in terms of environmental destruction we should be pointing out the economics of environmental action and the benefit that action can bring to the overall economy. And vice versa — plenty of economic actions by the government have a direct, often negative, impact on the environment and the health of American citizens.
In the run-up to the 2012 U.S. Presidential elections, the “war on coal” talking point was used incessantly by the Republican Party. It wasn’t until nearly a year after those elections that the coal industry publicly admitted that the war on coal never existed in the first place, but that hasn’t stopped politicians from using that phrase when they want to attack the EPA or plans to limit U.S. carbon emissions.
The argument, according to the politicians who carry water for the coal industry, is that reducing carbon emissions will lead to a reduction in coal industry jobs, thus harming the U.S. economy. While reports show that the EPA’s carbon emissions rules will actually create more jobs than would be lost, the claim is still used to strike fear into the hearts of the people who depend on those dangerous jobs for their livelihood.
So how can you fight a battle that doesn’t exist while simultaneously easing the fears of American workers? Hillary Clinton has the answer.
Alpha Natural Resources, one of the leaders in the practice of mountain removal mining, has made it clear that they aren’t happy with the new EPA rules that will require a 30% reduction in power plant emissions by the year 2030.
In a notice to about 1,100 employees last week, Alpha informed the workers that they could be laid off due to a mix of “weak market conditions and government regulations…”
According to The Hill, Alpha released a statement to the press with the following anti-EPA claims:
“EPA regulations are at least partly responsible for more than 360 coal-fired electric generating units in the U.S. closing or switching to natural gas. Nearly one of every five existing coal-fired power plants is closing or converting to other fuel sources, and Central Appalachian coal has been the biggest loser from EPA's actions.”
Alpha is being helped along in their attack by the attorney general of West Virginia, Patrick Morrisey, who announced on Friday a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency over their power plant standards. In announcing the lawsuit, Morrisey specifically mentioned Alpha’s plight: Our Office will use every legal tool available to protect coal miners and their families from the Obama Administration and its overreach. We can't afford to see more announcements like we saw with Alpha Natural Resources yesterday.
Not a bad return on investment for Alpha, considering the fact that they only invested $2,000 in Morrisey when he was running for attorney general in 2012.
The language used by Alpha and the attorney general is incredibly important.
Climate change-related disasters have been rising for decades; yearly temperatures are rising in a nearly consistent pattern; extreme weather events are costing economies across the globe hundreds of billions of dollars. Despite the mounting evidence that climate change is both real and a major threat to our security, more people are buying into the idea that climate change is a myth.
A new poll from Yale University and George Mason shows that the percentage of Americans who don’t believe in climate change rose 7% in 2013 to 23% of the entire population. While 63% of the general public believes that climate change is occurring, only 47% believe that human activities are to blame. The poll also revealed that less than 50% of Americans believe that climate change will affect their lives, but 65% say that it could harm future generations.
All of the evidence points to the fact that climate change is real and that human beings are making it worse. Scientists agree that it is happening, and the physical evidence is all around us, so the big question is: why is the number of climate change deniers increasing?
The answer is that the misinformation machine has kicked into high gear, and 2013 saw a massive increase in the amount of climate change denial being given a microphone throughout various forms of media.
For over a decade, oil and gas executives and the policy makers who support them have repeated a single bold claim: there has never been a single documented case where fracking contaminated groundwater.
But a blockbuster investigative report by the Associated Press offered up new evidence earlier this month that the shale industry’s keystone environmental claim is simply not true.
Multiple states confirmed that drilling and fracking contaminated groundwater supplies, the investigation found. There have been thousands of complaints from people living near drilling over the past decade, the AP reported, and three out of the four states from which the AP obtained documents confirmed multiple instances where oil and gas companies contaminated groundwater.
Out of the four states the AP obtained documents from, only Texas reported no confirmed oil and gas-related groundwater contamination. But one high-profile incident in Texas has again come under scrutiny, as a report quietly released by the Obama administration on Christmas Eve has called the adequacy of the state’s investigation into question.
On Monday, over 200 environmental groups called on President Obama to reopen the federal investigations into that case and others in Pennsylvania and in Wyoming, and to personally meet with people whose drinking water supplies have been polluted.
“The previously closed EPA investigation into these matters must be re-opened,” said the letter, sent the day before Mr. Obama's State of the Union address. “These three are among a growing number of cases of water contamination linked to drilling and fracking, and a significant and rapidly growing body of scientific evidence showing the harms drilling and fracking pose to public health and the environment.”
Even the coal industry itself has conceded that there is no “war on coal”, but lawmakers in the coal-dependent state of Kentucky are still fighting this imaginary battle.
In the wake of President Obama’s speech earlier this summer where he discussed the need to reduce our dependence on coal and work on ways to control coal plant pollution, a bi-partisan group of lawmakers in Kentucky sent a letter to the president last week, warning him that his “war on coal” would be devastating to their state.
The 50 state legislators who signed onto the letter accuse the president of launching an “unfair attack on coal,” which the lawmakers argue will have a devastating effect on their state economy.
The bi-partisan group told the president that the coal industry is responsible for as much as $10 billion in “yearly” economic activity, although that number only represents the year 2010, and subsequent years have seen a sharp decline in the profitability of the industry’s operations in Kentucky.
For Part 1 of this article, click here.
In the first part of this article, I described what specific challenges the climate movement faces when confronting its own limiting tendencies as well as industry funded public relations campaigns. In this second part I outline what I think are four essential ways the climate movement must evolve in order to overcome these obstacles.
FIRST, we must become a lot more political, in the sense that it’s fundamentally the laws, policies, and agreements that shape our greater society and economy. And it’s our society and economy which are the foundations of our personal lifestyles. What is available, affordable, practical, and possible in our lifestyles is largely a product of the society in which we live – what clean energy sources exist at what price relative to dirty energy, how available public transit is, how well or poorly our cities are designed for walking, cycling, and accessing our needs, how energy efficient our buildings are, and so on.
No individual is an island unto himself; the way we live is fundamentally shaped by the economy and society in which our lifestyles are nested.
After years of apathy and political inertia, North America’s climate sustainability movement has found itself in the midst of a timely resurgence, as is evident by the recent massive expansion of Bill Mckibben's 350.org movement against the Keystone XL pipeline.
With climate change regaining its footing as a central political issue, now is the time to pressure governments to enact the needed laws, policies, and agreements required to curtail runaway global warming. But unless the moment is seized right, climate action will be stymied again – and there is no time to wait for another opportunity.
During his State of the Union address on February 12, 2013, US President Barack Obama stated:
“For the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change…We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it’s too late.”
Recent studies project that the Earth’s average temperature is on course to rise over four degrees this century, far beyond the two degree rise when “runaway” global warming kicks-in due to positive feedbacks that make it extremely difficult to halt.