Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Coal’s “Airpocalypse”

Coal is the single largest contributor to climate change, which threatens to put 400 million people in the poorest countries at risk of severe food and water shortages by 2050. The coal industry seems determined to fight for profits at the expense of the global environment. Perversely, it is furiously attempting to capture the moral high ground by claiming that coal is essential to ending energy poverty. Coal companies and their allies argue that limiting coal production would keep the lights off in rural communities by preventing poor countries from building big, cheap power plants.
 “Let’s have no demonization of coal,” Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, put it. “Coal is good for humanity.”
 Speaking at an event hosted by the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a think tank that is skeptical of climate change, the United Kingdom’s former environment secretary, Owen Paterson, accused climate-change activists of having “African blood” on their hands.

The coal industry is posing a false choice: end the use of coal or end poverty. But, though energy is indeed central to efforts to end poverty, one must be clear: at this point in history, coal is not good for anyone.

Coal is a deadly and kills some 800,000 people per year and sickens millions more. Beijing’s ongoing battle with smog – a problem that has become known as the “airpocalypse” – provides a potent reminder of coal’s impact on air quality. But China’s capital is hardly unique in that respect. Many Indian cities have air pollution that is just as bad – and in some cases far worse.

The coal industry is seeking to burden developing countries with the same unsustainable growth model that has brought the earth to the brink of climate disaster. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has repeatedly warned – and as the experience of countries like the Marshall Islands increasingly demonstrates – climate change is no longer a distant threat. The terrible consequences of burning fossil fuels are already upon us, and those suffering the most are the world’s poor. Most people understand that coal is a dirty business. That is why we are witnessing such resistance from the industry. Coal’s day is over, but it is trying desperately to hang on.

The world needs away from dirty energy sources. It also means working with developing countries to help them develop modern, clean energy sources that provide cheap, locally produced power, and do not oblige them to use fossil fuels. We must stop telling the poor in developing countries what they should do and start listening to what they want. And what they want – unfortunately for the coal industry – is clean, affordable energy that powers their present, without costing them their future.

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