James Hansen on Coal

James Hansen
Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies

Coal & Climate Disaster

Coal emissions must be phased out as rapidly as possible or global climate disasters will be a dead certainty… ‘Clean coal’ is an oxymoron. The clean-coal concept, at least so far, has been an illusion, a diversion that the coal industry and its government supporters employ to allow dirty coal uses to continue… Coal use must be prohibited unless and until the emissions can be captured and safely disposed of… For the sake of our children and grandchildren, we cannot allow our government to continue to connive with the coal industry in subterfuges that allow dirty-coal use to continue… If we want to solve the climate problem, we must phase out coal emissions. Period.

Coal Trains & Species Extinction

Most coal trains are long, about one hundred carloads each. A large power plant can burn that amount of coal in one day… The coal trains [I saw on] a visit to my hometown, Denison, Iowa made me wonder about the role of coal-fired power plants in the extermination of the species. If we continue business-as-usual fossil fuel use, a conservative estimate is that by the end of this century we will have committed to extinction at least 20 percent of Earth’s species, that is, about two million species. Based on the proportion of twenty-first century carbon dioxide emissions provided by one large coal-fired plant over its lifetime, I concluded that a single power plant should be assigned responsibility for exterminating about four hundred species… That day in Iowa I realized those coal trains are death trains. The railroad cars may as well be loaded with the species themselves, carrying them to their extermination.

Coal Dependence & Civil Disobedience

I have argued that it is time to ‘draw a line in the sand’ and demand ‘no new coal plants.’ I believe we must exert maximum effort to use the democratic process… We cannot give up. That’s why I am now studying Gandhi’s concepts of civil resistance… As in other struggles for justice against powerful forces, it may be necessary to take to the streets to draw attention to injustice… Civil resistance may be our best hope… [A] legal case, in which I am one of the defendants, concerns arrests made at Coal River Mountain, in West Virginia, on June 23, 2009. About thirty of us were arrested, ostensibly for ‘obstructing, impeding flow of traffic.’ A guilty verdict conceivably could result in a one-year prison sentence… The most useful outcome from our West Virginia trial would be to bring public attention to the… impacts of climate change on young people.

Excerpts from: 

Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth about the Coming 
Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity

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