Coal Tattoo

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I knew I’d found the right room in the Charleston Civic Center when I turned the corner and heard the familiar voice of Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association. He was saying something about how long the climate change bill was and how he didn’t think anybody in the House of Representatives had read it before they voted on it.

So, I passed by the coffee and cookies and quietly slipped into the room. Coal Association Vice President Chris Hamilton said something about it being an “exclusive” event. But they’ve got to expect the riffraff to show up if they promote these things on their Web site. The announcement I saw said the event was “in further pursuit to better understand the overwhelmingly complex issue of ‘cap & trade’ and urged Coal Association members and supporters from the state Business and Industry Council to attend. And as I grabbed a seat off to the side, I saw familiar faces: Steve Walker of Walker Machinery, Arch Coal lobbyist John Snider, coal operator Andrew Jordon, GOP political operative (and friend of Don Blankenship) Greg Thomas, and Tim Mallen and Jeri Matheny of American Electric Power.

me4.jpgBut the presentation by Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute struck me as really little more than a pep talk, urging coal industry officials to continue to deny that global warming is real and keep fighting any effort at all to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

“This is about a lot more than defending your industry and your state,” Ebell told a couple dozen coal operators, utility representatives and other industry officials. “This is about the future of the American economy. You’re fighting for every American here.”

The coal folks, of course, ate this up. It’s exactly what they want to hear. This is what they tell themselves. This is what they want the rest of us to believe.

But that’s not all that Ebell said that the coal folks loved …  he also made it clear that there’s one other key point that the forces fighting any action on climate change rely on: Their insistence that the very notion that human pollution is heating up the planet is, as he put it,  “a speculative theory that appears to have very little evidence in fact.”

So what’s Ebell got to back this up? Well, not very much, apparently. He said he has a more detailed presentation on “the science,” but didn’t bring it with him because he only wanted to spend “about two minutes” on that part of his talk.

Basically, Ebell stuck to one piece of information he said supports his view: That average global temperatures have not gone up since 1997, when the Kyoto treaty was negotiated.  Specifically, he said:

It was no warmer in 2008 than it was in 1997.

OK … can’t we be done with this kind of cherry-picking of data? I mean come on. This is all too important for that.

Yes, there have been some media reports that focused on 2008 being a fairly cool year.  But that’s totally — completely — beside the point. Climate is all about long-term trends, as Joseph Romm writes at Climate Progress. Picking two years out of space and comparing them gets the discussion absolutely nowhere.

The long-term trend? It’s clear, as I’ve tried to explain many times before on Coal Tattoo:

… The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded in its most recent assessment, published in 2007 that, “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.”

The IPCC added that the increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century “is very likely” — meaning scientists agreed they were more than 90 percent certain of it — to have been caused by increases in human-caused greenhouse emissions. These emissions increases, the IPCC said, “are due primarily” to fossil fuels, with land-use change “providing another significant but smaller contribution.”

And 2008? Well, as James Hansen points out, 2008 was indeed a cool year, with preliminary estimates putting it as the coolest since 2000. But overall:

… 2008 is the ninth warmest year in the period of instrumental measurements, which extends back to 1880 … [and] the ten warmest years all occur within the 12-year period 1997-2008.

It’s no wonder that Ebell said he hopes a West Virginia judge sends Hansen to jail for his arrest in a mountaintop removal protest. (The exact quote: I’m just hoping there is some good old judge in whatever county that is that will not take a liking to Dr. Hansen and throw the book at him).

But like Rick Wilson wrote recently in a Gazette commentary, “You can put Galileo under house arrest, but you can’t stop the earth from moving.”