If I Were a Coal Executive

By Keith Kloor | July 11, 2013 9:34 am

If I were a coal executive I wouldn’t worry about a solar and wind revolution (see Germany’s Energiewende) or President Obama putting me out of business. I’d be worried about the shale gas revolution (and I’d hope environmentalists were successful in stopping it).

If I were a coal executive, I’d want fear to continue dominating public discussion of nuclear power. I’d want nuclear reactors to remain prohibitively expensive. And I’d want climate hawks to keep chasing green energy pixie dust.

If I were a coal executive, I’d root against state-of-the-art nuclear technology. I’d worry if a new documentary that punctured widely held myths and misinformation about nuclear power was taken seriously within the environmental movement. I’d be reassured by the dismissive (talk the hand!) reaction to it by greens and climate hawks.

If I were a coal executive, I would not want anyone who worries about climate change to take Mark Lynas seriously when he writes in his new e-book:

With an Apollo Program scale-up of nuclear and other low- carbon power sources we still – just about – have time to avoid the worst of global warming. This will require a lot of burying of hatchets, however. Most importantly, the pro-renewables and pro-nuclear tribes will have to join forces if we are to confront the vested interests which threaten to keep this planet on its current trajectory towards disaster.

If I were a coal executive, I would hope that the climate-concerned community continues to thumb its nose at nuclear power.

  • Buddy199

    Even if Obama tries to strangle the coal industry here the coal will be sold to and burned by overseas buyers, so not to worry if you’re a coal exec or industry worker. Coal is being supplanted by natural gas because of technological breakthroughs and market forces, not political fiat. Those are the elements that will ultimately create a new non-fossil energy economy. As Germany discovered, naive wishful thinking and political manipulation can’t trump scientific facts and market forces inherent to energy production and usage.

    • Tom Scharf

      Yes, I wonder why Obama is going on with his war on coal when market forces are doing it for him anyway. It’s taking on a political liability for not much payback.

      The crap hits the fan if they try to tax coal exports. You can be certain many demented greens will be fantasizing on this one.

      • Buddy199

        Think about it. The coal industry is centered mostly in red states so killing it doesn’t cost him politically and his green backers are thrilled, so it’s a winner. He can also brag that U.S. CO2 emissions are at their lowest level in 20 years, implying that it’s because of his policies when in fact it’s due to the nat gas revolution he had nothing to do with and impedes in every way he can. Taxing coal exports? I’d give it a very high likelihood – done with the same rationale as taxing the evil tobacco industry, all “for the children”, of course.

        • jh

          Not only that, but crushing the coal economy is a great way to take money out of the pockets of Republicans and their supporters.

          • Buddy199

            Your cynical tone leads me to believe it’s not all about the polar bears, sir!

          • jh

            No cynicism, buddy, just cold, hard facts.
            Both parties play almost exclusively to their bases. That’s why almost nothing gets done.

    • jh

      “naive wishful thinking and political manipulation can’t trump scientific facts and market forces…” (my bold)

      It might be better to say they didn’t, in this case, trump market forces. But that’s mostly because of an ill-timed financial crisis that forced Europe to stop throwing money down the drain on renewables.

      “the coal will be sold to and burned by overseas buyers”

      Not if environmentalists here in the PNW have anything to say about it. They’re working very hard to find any excuse in the book to prevent new coal export terminals in OR and WA, buying “research” on the effects of coal dust from trains on rivers, lakes and in the air; studies on how train traffic will supposedly clog up the economy – any edge they can find – with the full support of our Dem senators, congressional reps, governors and state legislators.

      Remember, our elected officials don’t do what’s best for all Americans, they do what’s best for their paying constituencies.

  • Scott

    you mean if i were a coal executive?

    • kkloor

      Yup. If only I wuz properly caffeinated, maybe I wouldn’t be such a dunce.

  • carolannie

    Let’s not discuss the fact that nuclear power requires water, and water is one thing the plants may not have enough of, or too much of, due to climate change. Also, we won’t mention that fracking could be stopped by massive droughts too. Of course, if I were a coal executive, I would mostly worry about raiding my miners’ pensions by faking bankruptcy via moves that would put a former presidential candidate to shame.

    Weather might affect alternative energy sources too, but drought and floods maybe not so much.

    • Buddy199

      Ah, don’t worry about coal execs scamming their workers by faking bankruptcy. Eric Holder’s on the case. He’ll nail them the same way he did all the banksters at HSBC and Bank of America.

    • kdk33

      Actually, nuclear power doesn’t require much water at all.

  • Johnny Abyssal

    Wow, nuclear waste is not really a problem. I have friends live near the former proposed Nuclear Waste Repository at Yucca Mountain. I followed that pretty closely, I have my BS in physics. You really do need to rethink your premise. I think the biggest issue is the whole paradigm of centrally generated power, be it solar, nuclear, coal or gas. Have you ever tried to put in a solar water heater? It costs thousands of dollars. Heating water with nuclear generated electricity is the height of stupidity.

    • jh

      Perhaps you haven’t looked too closely at the geological features that are important for nuke waste storage or the DOE selection process that ended at Yucca Mountain.

      The waste repository program started way, way, way, way, way back in the early 1980s. The short list came out in ’82 or so. Yucca Mountain, Hanford, and the other sites that made the DOE short list were chosen almost exclusively for political, not scientific, reasons. Yucca was probably the best of the three sites on the short list, but none of them were much good.

      Several geological environments were mostly ignored – deep crystalline rock disposal being the probably the best one – and have never been studied seriously in the US since the late 70s.

      • Buddy199

        Yucca was the most geologically stable. Burying ceramically bonded and encased waste in that location was probably the best solution, and still may be. Try to get that one by Sen. Harry Reid, or any politician.

        • jh

          “Yucca was the most geologically stable.”

          I’m not sure what you mean by “geologically stable”

          You certainly don’t mean seismic stability.
          Yucca lies in “Walker Lane”, a belt of high seismic activity that accommodates the variation in movement between the Pacific and North American plates. This seismicity _map_ shows a pronounced concentration of seismic activity (NW of Las Vegas) almost squarely on top of Yucca. One of the most pronounced active fault scarps on Earth lies just 40 miles or so to the south at Badwater in Death Valley. No doubt, of the original sites, Yucca is by far the most seismically active of all the sites in the original process.

          The supposed benefits at Yucca are low ground water recharge because of low precip (later found to be incorrect) and the presence of “filtering” minerals (zeolites) in the surrounding volcanic rocks.

          Nonetheless, it’s hard to imagine the Yucca is more “geologically” stable than the continental shield in MN, WI, or MI, for example. Note that sites in these regions were barely reviewed in the original study.

      • Tom Scharf

        It was played perfectly politically.

        Take all the funding for building the facility that helps the local economy, and then kill it after everything is almost completed.

  • kdk33

    If I were a consumer, I’d be hoping for the cheapest energy I could get.

    If I were a consumer, I’d be wanting your laundry list of activists to go away.

    If I were a journalist I would never quote anyone who had ever said anything like: “we still – just about – have time to avoid the worst of global warming”. Unless my next sentence included words synonymous with idiot.

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Collide-a-Scape

Collide-a-Scape is a wide-ranging blog forum that explores issues at the nexus of science, culture and society.

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, a senior editor at Cosmos magazine, and adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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