Friday, January 27, 2012

Coal & Climate

Floyd Mckay's Crosscut article posted today describes recent developments in Bellingham and Oregon regarding shipping US coal to China. It seems small Columbia River ports downstream of Portland want terminals to ship the coal, using huge Capesize vessels.

And, the Bellingham Herald published an article by John Stark about yesterday's launch of the Coal-Free Bellingham Initiative. Good support shown - and I am sympathetic - but is it likely to be adopted as an ordinance by the City Council? Sorry to disappoint, but I doubt it. Why? Because the City will be advised that it is illegal and will likely bring losing litigation that citizens will pay for.

Unlike the County, which willfully does stupid things that are unwise and unlawful -read Growth Management decisions- the City usually does bother to seek competent legal opinion on such matters, then follows it. I'd be surprised to see any Ordinance even dutifully considered, much less approved [by at least 5 votes], though another Resolution might be possible.

So, does coal really have a measurable effect on our climate? You bet it does! And certainly in our political climate, where divisions are already evident and solidifying into virtual abysses.
If nothing else, the coal terminal debate will serve to flush out those with opinions that are mostly ideologically -or selfishly- motivated and who see the prospect of a few local jobs and huge corporate profits as clearly outweighing any environmental or social harm that all citizens would have to accept - without their approval.

And, it will highlight the ridiculous ideas that corporations are people and money is free speech! Get serious, please, and use some common sense on these matters; I'm talking to you, Supreme Court, and all those that pay for such influence.

Capitalism is a system that does provide some real benefits, but like any other concept or system, there needs to be limits. Without those limits some very harmful and brutal things can happen for which the common citizen has no recourse.

For example, why should the people of Bellingham -and other communities along the RR route- be unilaterally saddled in dealing with the costs of mitigating the myriad safety issues, health issues and property value issues that will come with greatly increased railroad traffic through our town and waterfront?

And, why do we have to accept the idea that huge foreign registry ships will be allowed free access to our coastal waters and marine habitats for the sole reason of hauling a natural resource of our country to another to enable continued erosion of US manufacturing jobs, inevitable fouling of our waters and coastlines, increased pollution of the world's atmosphere, and enrichment of others at our expense?

I'm sorry, but I really find it hard to see what we get out of this proposal except much heartburn, additional expense and difficult new problems to solve. But, perhaps, our local Chamber of Commerce can illuminate us with its words of wisdom? Wait, that's already been attempted and it sounds like an echo reverberation from the proponents!

If this proposal was a matter of national interest or security, I might alter my opinion, but it is not. Or, maybe if there were significant clean, value-added, living wage jobs for area residents and a much more reasonable logistics plan that minimized harmful impacts, provided reliable taxes to local jurisdictions, and was managed by good corporate citizens, then the rewards would likely outweigh the penalties involved.
But, we haven't seen a proposal like that, have we?

I hate to keep bringing this up, but I will anyway; how do you think we got a safer pipeline and changes to pipeline safety rules, regulations and oversight, in response to the Olympic Pipe Line disaster?
We demanded it, that's how!

Of course, we had tangible leverage then, but only as a result of a terrible accident that could have been prevented. And, of course the pipeline crossed City right-of-way. But, most of all, because citizens united in the cause and our elected representatives heard them and actually did something about the underlying problem.

We can do the same thing, again, hopefully without experiencing a catastrophe first.
I hope we will at least try - real hard!

Getting back to climate; increased pollution of the world's atmosphere counts as our problem, too, no matter where it happens. What gets burned in China today will get blown our way tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. That is true whether one chooses to believe in climate change or not. That CO2, NOx, SO2, CH4 and particulate matter result from the combustion of fossil fuel has been known a long time; what has been more recently discovered is that these so-called Green House Gases [GHG] stay up there a long time and influence climate disruptions. Like that word better?
Since the Industrial Revolution, when the burning of fossil fuels began increasing dramatically, GHG's have been accumulating to the point that historic levels - 400,000 years - have become far surpassed, and the cause for international concern.

Of course, there are still 2% of recognized scientists who still doubt this proven fact, so its not exactly unanimous, is it? Actually, some doubt is undoubtedly attributed to the extension of this newer trend to educated guesses - speculation to some - that since humans have caused this increase in GHG's, they can also cause a decrease; that a decrease should be seriously attempted for us to avoid really bad climate change -er, disruption- in the fairly near future.
[Because, we all know Al Gore is up at the North Pole with his flame thrower!]

The point is, burning more coal -or fossil fuels- anywhere in the world contributes to the GHG problem, meaning unusual warming of our atmosphere and whatever that produces as a result.
It makes no sense for us to ban coal-fired power plants in the State of Washington, and instead ship it to China for its voracious consumption! And, in the process, deplete our own reserves, and cause the earth and water based disruptions described above.

So, if you don't think coal and climate are connected, think again!
Maybe, if we can warm our political climate enough, we can reduce warming our atmospheric climate, and save ourselves some real heartburn as a side product.