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WHAT OTHERS SAY: Climate change is getting worse. When will nation act?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its first full report Monday since 2007 analyzing changes in global warming and man’s contribution to it.

It’s the sort of document that should be helping convince policy-makers around the world to reduce carbon emissions and to prepare for the consequences of a hotter planet: More and more severe floods, wildfires, drought and other climate disasters.

According to summaries released by the IPCC last week, the document uses the strongest language yet tying man’s actions — such as the proliferation of coal-fired power plants — to the long-term changes in atmosphere.

The scientists determined that it is “extremely likely” that man is making global warming worse.

Science-deniers in the Republican Party, along with a few Democrats in coal-producing states or in states whose economies are dependent on coal-fired electricity, will likely point to a small section of the report which finds scientists lack consensus on a warming slowdown during the past 15 years.

Those skeptics should not distract attention from the rest of the report, produced by more than 600 contributing authors from 32 countries and another 50 review editors, including most of the top climate change scientists in the world.

There was a time when Republicans and Democrats both knew that improving the nation’s environment was actually a key to creating the jobs and cities of the future.

Here’s a portion of a speech given by a Republican president decades ago that we simply can’t imagine hearing today:

“How did this come about? It came about by the president proposing. It came about by a bipartisan effort represented by the senators and congressmen, who are here today. ... And I thank the Congress, and the country owes a debt to the Congress in its closing days, for acting in this particular field.”

Those were the words of President Richard Nixon on the last day of 1970 as he signed the Clean Air Act and created the Environmental Protection Agency that many members of his party more than four decades later now want to get rid of.

That agency, the enforcement mechanism that Mr. Nixon in his remarks that day called key to the success of the Clean Air Act, recently released a rule that has been contemplated since Congress amended the act in 1990. It seeks to regulate the emission of carbon for new coal-fired power plants.

Those rules make it unlikely that any new coal plants will be built in coming years.

But that’s not really what has the coal companies upset.

They weren’t planning on building any such plants anyway. The energy market has changed with natural gas being cheaper and cleaner and likely to stay that way for years to come. Meanwhile, solar and wind energy are gaining a foothold. And if Congress and the president ever move forward with a plan to store nuclear waste in the Yucca Mountain facility in Nevada, as a federal judge has ordered them to do, there is still a chance that nuclear reactors will fill a role in the nation’s energy future. There’s exciting potential in new technology that would use today’s nuclear waste to fire a new generation of power plants.

What coal executives fear aren’t the new EPA rules, but the ones to come, the ones that will respond to Monday's IPPA report and deal with the problem that IPPA chairman Thomas Stocker has called “the greatest challenge of our time.”

There was a time in U.S. history, not long ago, but longer than the recent 15-year slowdown in warming trends, when Republicans and Democrats could respond to such challenges together. When they could realize, as President Nixon said on that important day in 1970, “that all of us, Democrats, Republicans, the House, the Senate, the executive branch, that all of us can look back upon this year as that time when we began to make a movement toward a goal that we all want.”

What we all want is a planet, a country, a city that we can pass on to the next generation. We want our children and grandchildren to have the same or better opportunities than we have had. Climate change is making that less likely.

To deny climate change is to deny them that chance.

Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.


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Comments

Ellis Smith October 1, 2013 | 7:15 a.m.

Don't know whether Frank Christian is still with us (he hasn't posted for some time), but Frank I've gone over to the other side on Global Warming. We can't keep pumping carbon dioxide, from automotive emissions and industrial processes, into the atmosphere at present rates and not expect to have problems.

But (and I recall that Mark Foecking has noted this) significant progress in reducing emissions is a global, not national, requirement. While it may be "noble" for the United States and advanced European countries to do their share, that's not going to get the job done! Nor just because countries such as Germany or the United States lead the way can we assume the so-called "developing nations" will follow suit.

Any way you slice it, things will almost certainly become worse before they ever get better.

PS: Our global atmosphere weighs 5,200 million million* tons; that's a BIG system!! A characteristic of big systems is that once they are headed in some direction it is very difficult to turn them around.

*- That's a lot of zeros! Scientists and engineers have a shorthand way of representing such large numbers by using exponents ("powers of ten").

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking October 1, 2013 | 9:52 a.m.

Ellis, I'm starting to see the phrase "peak coal", meaning the demand for coal will top out soon and start to decline as nations use natural gas and renewables more. Of course we on earth (mainly China) will continue to use it, climate change or no. The demands for modern energy for 2 billion Chinese and Indians won't be met with wind and solar.

It's a pickle. Hopefully the world will be able to adapt well enough to feed itself, particularly if population predictions turn out to be true.

DK

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith October 1, 2013 | 10:38 a.m.

Mark:

It is an article of faith in this country's mining and metallurgical institutes that our domestic coal reserves will eventually be used.

Why? Because in the long term WE WILL HAVE NO CHOICE!

In the meantime the gradual move away from coal, particularly for electrical generation, is a logical measure.

It is probable that when we do have to again revert to use of more coal that technology will be available to do so more efficiently and with less environmental problems than at present. That's a fairly safe bet.

Coal gasification has been around for a long time (the first patent was granted in the final years of the Eighteenth Century); before natural gas pipelines were in place it was widely used municipally and in industry, but it has historically been inefficient and "dirty." That doesn't need to always be the case.

One advantage of gasification over transmission of natural gas or liquid petroleum over pipelines is that the gas can be created close to or at where it is used.

Reminder: If we stopped using coal altogether in the United States tomorrow (which isn't feasible) we continue to EXPORT that same coal. Are we supposed to believe the customers aren't going to burn it? :)

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith October 1, 2013 | 11:02 a.m.

Quick Quiz:

1-Which of the following domestic states is currently supplying the most coal for power generation?

Illinois
Kentucky
Pennsylvania
West Virginia
Wyoming

2-Name three domesric railroads that obtain a substatial portion of their revenue from hauling coal, either for domestic or export use.

3-There is a fuel which when used to create power does not create any appreciable carbon dioxide as it is consumed. Name it. Why then isn't it more wisely used? (We're talking about an actual fuel, not wind, solar or hydro.)

This is most definitely and "open book" quiz. Let's see how well our journalists do with it.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams October 1, 2013 | 8:55 p.m.

I'm still trying to figure out the title to the article: "Climate change is getting worse."

Huh?

Well, imo, the climate hereabouts is certainly about to take a turn (i.e., change) for the worse....winter.

It's still an odd title, tho. More of an agenda-driven teaching moment for the readers than anything else, methinks.

Or an editor who does not understand scientific jargon, something quite common among journalists. It shows quite often in this place.......

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams October 1, 2013 | 9:02 p.m.

Ellis and the quiz:

(1) Hawaii
(2) Chattanooga Choo-Choo, The Little Engine that Could, and Lionel
(3) Trilithium crystals, not used because of Trouble with Tribbles. I think they ate the last one.

Now, Ellis...when do I get my $100 gift certificate to CC's. I'm achin' for sum diver scallops.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith October 2, 2013 | 7:01 a.m.

Answers to Quiz (above):

!- Wyoming (the principal railroad hauling it is Union Pacific). Here's the interesting part. Wyoming coal has lower caloric value per ton than coal from eastern states. So? More tons must be burned to obtain the same electrical energy, meaning more carbon dioxide emission.

Why is that happening? Because Wyoming coal is easier and less expensive to mine, and employing "unit" trains (all coal cars, and runs straight through to final destination) keeps transportation costs low. And if you can't get the coal out of the ground and to its point of use on time, all other arguments become secondary.

They can bulk blend Wyoming coal with lesser amounts of eastern coal, to consistently meet standards.

2- Union Pacific, Norfolk Southern, CSX Transportation (aka "Chessie System"). The latter two also haul eastern coal to ports for export.

3- Uranium (fuel for nuclear power reactors).

I appreciate Michael's imaginative answers. Michael is a very imaginative fellow - and God knows we could use more of that!

(Report Comment)

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