Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. New posts: Mondays & Wednesdays.
Will the American president throw thousands of US coal miners out-of-work in an utterly futile climate change gesture?
US president Barack Obama is expected to make a major climate announcement tomorrow. Advance media coverage says it’s “likely to be the most significant initiative of his presidency to combat climate change” and could lead to the shuttering of “hundreds of coal-fired power plants” across America.
When you read the news coverage tomorrow, here are two things to keep in mind:
#1: When he ran for re-election in 2012, Obama participated in three televised debates. Not once, during those debates, did the term climate change pass his lips. Not once did he hint that he was prepared to throw potentially tens of thousands of American coal miners out of work in order to combat climate change.
Those debates were Obama’s opportunity to explain his concerns, priorities, and vision to voters. That was the time and the place to convince the electorate that drastic measures were required.
Instead, during the debate televised on October 16, 2012 Obama bragged that “coal production and coal employment” had increased during his first term. His campaign also ran television ads attacking his opponent, Mitt Romney for – in the words of one commentator – “shutting down an old coal-fired power plant in Massachusetts.”
At a bare minimum, therefore, Obama has no democratic mandate to take the steps he is expected to announce tomorrow. Nothing like the informed consent of the electorate is involved here.
#2: If your rationale is fighting climate change, the reason you shut down coal plants is to reduce the volume of CO2 being emitted into the atmosphere. But the global warming hypothesis has always been based on the idea that emissions are a collective, global problem.
If you are concerned about potentially dangerous climate change and sincerely believe that human emissions are a major cause, the only circumstance in which it makes sense for your own country to cut emissions is if other major players are also doing so. Otherwise, you’re indulging in an utterly futile gesture. You’re throwing thousands out-of-work and accomplishing nothing in return.
So are other large economies shuttering a significant percentage of their coal fleet? I’m afraid not. As an article published in January at ClimateCentral.org acknowledges, China has been on a coal-plant-building spree. Between 2005 and 2009, that country reportedly “added the equivalent of the entire U.S. fleet of coal-fired power plants, or 510 new 600-megawatt coal plants.” Over the next four years, it “added half the coal generation of the entire U.S. again.”
Then there’s Germany. Last November, a new coal plant came online in that country. Ten additional new coal plants are expected to swing into action within the next two years. German politicians say they’re concerned about climate change, but they’ve chosen to authorize the construction of new, CO2-emitting coal plants rather than rely on existing, non-CO2-emitting nuclear power stations.
In other words, Obama’s announcement tomorrow will be so much hot air. No doubt it will be accompanied by a good measure of somber posturing. But the bottom line is that, rather than making sensible decisions, rather than accomplishing something tangible, the president of the United States is going to sacrifice American coal miners and their families so that he can appear to be doing something about climate change.
This is pointless, partisan pandering to the small but noisy green lobby. This is pretend leadership.
Hope and change this is not.