Coal Tattoo

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If it was surprising to see the ultra pro-business State Journal newspaper editorialize that West Virginia needs to look “beyond coal,” it was even more shocking to read the promo for this past weekend’s edition of Decision Makers, Bray Cary’s television talk show:

I would implore you to watch this weekend’s Decision Makers.

I’m not exaggerating when I say this may be our most important show ever.

We’ll learn the dire truth about global warming and that a planet in peril demands action.

This is an issue that transcends political rhetoric and media talking points. Quite simply, we must act now to address climate change.

Wow. Check that out again — “our most important show ever” and “a planet in peril demands action.”

That was certainly enough for me to check out the show — though I admit I watched it online:

And indeed, there was some terribly important stuff in this show, which featured a lengthy interview by Bray Cary of Charles Bayless, a West Virginia native and former energy executive who has been giving talks about global warming.

Now, for Coal Tattoo readers from out of state, know that Bray Cary’s media empire, known as West Virginia Media, is pretty pro-business editorially, and often so in its news coverage as well.  They’ve been all over the “War on Coal,” with Bray himself comparing EPA’s veto of the Spruce Mine to something that might happen in Iran and Venezuela. The State Journal at one point employed one of Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship’s political operatives as an energy columnist, without making clear what was an obvious conflict of interest. On the other hand, the State Journal continues to publish the remarkable work of reporter Pam Kasey, who consistently does some of the best energy journalism in West Virginia. It’s also worth noting that one of the most powerful moments in the recent campaign by local activists here in the Kanawha Valley to get rid of the  methyl isocyanate stockpile at the Bayer chemical plant was when the State Journal editorialized against the company’s actions.

So it’s an important development — a remarkable one, really —  for Bray Cary to devote an entire show to Bayless, an electrical engineer, MBA and law school graduate, explaining the scientific consensus that the world is getting warming, that human activities are to blame, and that the results of those climate changes are going to be big problems for the human race. Cary himself said of the show:

Global warming — there’s no more important topic to the world, and especially to West Virginia. It’s just so important that we have that conversation.

And Bray Cary himself declared:

Is there really global warming and what causes it? There’s a lot of debate about whether global warming is occurring or not, but unfortunately for the deniers, none of that debate is in the scientific community.

And Bayless warned that there’s little time left to act:

We’ve got to do something. I’m very pessimistic about our ability to do anything … It may be too late already.

When Bayless talked about the potential release of tremendous amounts of greenhouse gases from the permafrost in the Arctic, Cary responded:

If that’s in fact true, I mean, we’re sort of doomed as a society.

Then they got into what should be done about this … Bayless started off talking about conservation, something none of us like to hear, but that is clearly an important part of the picture. But then Bayless and Bray Cary went into kind of a “defend coal” mode, 

Bayless made this perfectly understandable point:

There’s a lot of psychological stuff behind [our inaction], but it’s hard for governments to take action when the costs are here and now in West Virginia, and the benefits are 50 years out on an island 4,000 miles away. But yet what duty do we owe all of humanity?

On coal, maybe not a lot … Bayless sticks to the notion that coal is a necessity, that we can’t do much right now — and that carbon capture and storage, or CCS, is the answer. Perhaps that’s true … but if so, the prescription offered ignores the fact that there are many questions about CCS that haven’t been answered. It ignores the fact that even the world’s top experts don’t think CCS is going to come online anytime soon, certainly not soon enough to made a big dent in the near future of carbon emissions. And, of course, it ignores the fact that coal industry supporters are doing everything they can to stop passage of national limits on greenhouse emissions — a necessary thing to make industry move ahead with the technology. (See here for my recent summary of CCS issues).

And not for nothing, but the discussion on Decision Makers, billed as one about science, didn’t mention some of the more interesting papers coming out in recent years suggesting that all of our energy needs could be met without coal and other fossil fuels in the not-so-distant future (see here and here).

I almost hate to bring all of this up, because for Bray Cary to turn an entire  show over to discussing the science of global warming is such a huge step forward for the debate here in coal country, especially given the state of  local media coverage and political discourse of such issues. Let’s face it, it is a lot easier for the coal industry and its friends in the business community to try to ignore this stuff when it’s just the Gazette writing about it. When their buddy Bray Cary jumps in, it’s tough for them to dismiss.

In the end, though, I was left baffled by Bray Cary’s repeated efforts to suggest that somehow all of this troubling and frightening information about global warming was being hidden from us by our government.  At one point, Cary asked:

Are our governments not being honest with use because they don’t know what to do about it?

But Cary probably really answered his own question, when he lamented that some viewers — perhaps his friends in the coal industry or the business community in general — wouldn’t be happy with this show:

We are going to get killed with emails — ‘how can you let some communist guy on there … ‘

Remember what happened when then-presidential candidate Barack Obama dared to discuss how a cap-and-trade program would force utilities to avoid building new coal plants without greenhouse gas controls?  Recall how then-Gov. Joe Manchin got elected to the U.S. Senate using a television ad where he literally shot a poor defenseless piece of climate change legislation? Is it any wonder that the media and most political leaders pretend there’s no such thing as global warming?

Maybe Bray Cary has also opened the door, even if just a little bit, toward a more rational discussion of global warming and coal’s future.