Without exception, politicians in this neck of the woods, regardless of party affiliation, align themselves hard and fast on the side of coal. That is the prudent place to be if election day is the concern. And, as they have shown us time and again, it is. The future can wait. Right now, there is a campaign to run and a race to win.
The cultural ties to mining are generational, here, deeply rooted in the community and the family tree. Mining is hard and dangerous, and — when there were an abundance of jobs — prosperous. Sons followed fathers into the mines, and those who went underground helped build this country. Folks take pride in all of that, as well they should.
While it is safe now for politicians to at least talk about diversifying the state’s economy while standing on the front steps of the company store, none dares to propose or support environmental regulations the likes the country saw during the second term of the Obama administration. Ask Hillary Clinton how that worked out.
In southern West Virginia, coal rules.
Until it doesn’t.
Well, a reckoning is at hand and, if you believe a community of global environmental scientists, there is no escaping it. And coal is in the crosshairs.
In a sobering and alarming report earlier this month, the United Nations’ scientific panel on climate change said that either the world’s governments respond to climate change — specifically, human activity that contributes to global warming — or we risk catastrophic consequences.
The report points to dire and immediate effects far worse than previous nightmares. Avoiding the damage, according to the report, will require turning the world’s economy on a dime at a scale and speed that has “no documented historic precedent.”
At risk? Civilization as we know it.
How soon? As early as 2040 — well within the lifetime of the majority of people who now populate the world.
If greenhouse gas emissions continue at the current rate, the report states, the atmosphere will warm by as much as 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial levels by 2040. The result? What we are already witnessing — on steroids: Inundated coastlines, intensifying droughts, growing poverty, food shortages and more frequent, widespread and powerful weather-related events.
The cost? Authors of the report estimate that the damage would come at a cost of $54 trillion worldwide.
Is there a fix? Yes.
Will the world make it right?
Well, there is a movement afoot, but there are extremely high hurdles to clear.
Basically, stopping global warming depends on urgency and action — not unlike how the U.S., in a previous generation, mobilized for World War II after seeing Pearl Harbor attacked.
But this would have to occur around the world with all countries playing a coordinated and collaborative role — and the effort would have to be sustained through the end of the century. Something like that has never happened. Ever. It is, indeed, daunting.
Making the challenge all the more difficult, the U.S. is vigorously moving in the opposite direction, rolling back environmental regulations, loosening auto emission standards and keeping coal-fired plants open.
Other countries, however, are taking a different tack, changing course and heading directly into the foreboding winds. Germany has a panel to figure out when the country can close all of its coal plants. The United Kingdom has vowed to end its coal use by 2025. France is now weighing whether to extend the operating life of some of its aging nuclear power plants.
In 2017, both China and India announced plans to end sales of gas and diesel vehicles.
Here in the U.S., California has a target of having 5 million zero-emissions vehicles by 2030 and 250,000 zero-emission vehicle chargers by 2025.
Other initiatives that would have to be joined include everything from new technologies like carbon capture to radically adjusting our diets to the exclusion of meats, halting deforestation and advancing aggressive energy efficiency policies.
Here is the good news: Fighting climate change could boost the global economy. A recent report found that a global shift toward sustainability would yield $26 trillion in economic benefits by 2030.
The question, of course, is how to convince countries and their leaders to spend billions now to save trillions later.
And, down here in the coalfields, how do we find the courage to focus less on our past to face the future? How do we capture a piece of the new energy economy so that West Virginia is not left behind — again?
If the Mountain State is to honor generations of coal miners, its people — all of us — must make provisions for the generations to come.
That will be the energy legacy we pass along to our sons and daughters.
— The Register-Herald