Coal Tattoo

Friends of Coal gets religion … well, kinda

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Another  interesting e-mail showed up in my inbox last week from the good folks over at Friends of Coal.

“This issue is critical to our industry as well as all West Virginians as it will raise everyone’s energy costs and use the money for totally unrelated matters and subjects,” the e-mail warned. “It is a ‘smack in the face’ for energy producing states.”

What is this dire problem that needs confronted?

“Go to the link below and enter your zip code,” the e-mail told me. “It will take you to a page that has your senators already there. An email urging your senator to oppose a global warming tax is already constructed. You can edit or modify any way you see fit. we encourage you to take time to do this – a global warming tax would be an onerous burden on every American.”

I clicked … and I was directed here, to the Web site of the Ethics & Liberty Religious Commission. The site will help me write a letter to Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, urging them to oppose passage of a “global warming tax.”First things first. Here’s how the commission describes itself:

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is an entity of the Southern Baptist Convention that is dedicated to addressing social and moral concerns and their implications on public policy issues from City Hall to Congress. The SBC is the largest non-Catholic denomination in the country with over 16 million members.

With offices in Nashville, Tennessee, and Washington, D.C., the ERLC’s impact stretches from homes across the nation to the White House. Through its groundbreaking, nationally syndicated radio programs and its issues oriented publications, the ERLC provides millions of Americans with information vital to preserving the soul and spirit that makes the United States the greatest nation in history.

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The group is headed by Richard Land, left, who hosts two nationally syndicated radio shows  and is prominent in pushing the views of the conservative right. This is a blog about mining, so I won’t get into Land’s other views. But if you’re interested, the PBS show Frontline did a long interview with him that’s available here.

It wasn’t clear from the e-mail distributed by Friends of Coal, or by the commission’s Web site exactly what legislation they were opposing. So, as if I don’t have enough to do, I tried to find out. According to a favorable story in the Baptist Press, it appears the commission is urging God-fearing people everywhere to oppose just about any sort of federal legislation to try to deal with climate change and global warming.

Why do they oppose such legislation? Well, the letter they want me to send to Byrd and Rockefeller says:

Such a bill would put the brakes on our already slowed economy, forcing industries and businesses to slash jobs and to pass their taxes onto individuals and families in the form of price increases on commodities and energy. This would make it even more difficult for America to climb out of its current economic troubles. Making this worse, the whole basis for the policy – catastrophic human-induced global warming — is not even settled among scientists, who are growing increasingly skeptical, especially since we have been experiencing a decade-long cooling trend.

It’s that last sentence I really want to focus on here. It’s one thing for the coal industry  to say (as Sen. Byrd did last week) that Congress shouldn’t push a cap-and-trade bill through as part of the budget process. And sure, the coal industry is going to urge lawmakers to weigh economic impacts as they put together a climate policy. And sure, it’s perfectly understandable that the coal industry wants Congress to make sure the federal government does all it can to make carbon capture and storage a reality for coal-fired power plants.

But this e-mail from Friends of Coal reminds us that what the coal industry really wants is for the public to believe there’s no such thing as global warming, that man-made emissions aren’t altering our planet’s climate in very dangerous ways.

So, let’s get a couple things straight:

1. The world is getting warmer. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (a group whose views represent the scientific consensus – for a description of who they are and how they work, go here)  reported in 2007:

Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising global average sea level.

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Source from Earth Policy Institute.

Further, as the World Meteorological Association reported in December:

The ten warmest years on record have occurred since 1997. Global temperatures for 2000-2008 now stand almost 0.2 °C warmer than the average for the decade 1990-1999.

2. We are almost certainly causing this warming, according to the IPCC:

Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic GHG concentrations. It is likely that there has been significant anthropogenic warming over the past 50 years averaged over each continent.

(For those who don’t know, that term “very likely” is defined here, and it means scientists are more than 90 percent sure that the statement is accurate).

3. The impacts of this warming, and the resulting changes to the planet’s climate  are not going to be good (that’s kind of an understatement).  But, according to the IPCC, sea levels are going to rise dangerously high, all sorts of storms are going to become more severe and more frequent … I could go on and on. But here’s how my buddy at The Associated Press, Seth Borenstein, one of the best science writers in the business, described the IPCC findings:

The harmful effects of global warming on daily life are already showing up, and within a couple of decades hundreds of millions of people won’t have enough water, top scientists will say next month at a meeting in Belgium.

At the same time, tens of millions of others will be flooded out of their homes each year as the Earth reels from rising temperatures and sea levels.

Tropical diseases like malaria will spread. By 2050, polar bears will mostly be found in zoos, their habitats gone. Pests like fire ants will thrive. For a time, food will be plentiful because of the longer growing season in northern regions. By 2080, however, hundreds of millions of people could face starvation.

Yes, there are skeptics. Some folks think, based on newer science since the IPCC reports, that the projects don’t go far enough — that we need to do more faster. Joseph Romm, who writes the great Climate Progress blog, is one of them.  And, yes, there still skeptics who don’t buy into the whole idea that humans are making the world warmer, messing with planetary climate in a way that will harm us and the world we live in. But this is hardly a growing group. As Andrew Revkin pointed out in The New York Times, support for such views is decreasing so much that even Exxon would not help finance a major skeptics’ conference in New York earlier this month.

billboard.jpgAnd yet here we have the coal industry … Friends of Coal, at least, pushing a view that most reasonable people have decided is wrong and not worth wasting time on.

The whole thing reminds me of Joe Lucas and his American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.  Lucas and his group act is if they are simply promoting “clean coal,” urging the public and policymakers to spend government money to find ways to reduce greenhouse emissions.  A reasonable person would wonder if such proclamations are nothing more than a public relations ploy, of the sort that House Democrats now say the FutureGen project was — aimed at making the public think we’re doing something about global warming and climate change.But when these coal industry folks are confronted, and forced to answer a simple question, like, oh, I don’t know, “do you believe that coal burning causes global warming,” they do like Lucas did, and spin away about scientific uncertainty. Or worse, they just outright deny it.

And finally, so folks are aware. There are religious groups that are working to promote a wider understanding of climate change, what it means for our planet and what can be done about it.

For example, a campaign run by the National Council of Churches says, “God calls us to care for the climate system that sustains the Earth’s varied landscapes, seascapes and all of God’s people.” Further, the group says:

Scientists tell us “global warming is real; the science is sound; and the effects are likely to be severe.” As people of faith, we are called to care for all of God’s children, especially the most vulnerable, and to protect and restore God’s creation. Climate change is a threat to all people and all of creation.