The Most Important Graph in the World

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Please note, sign, and forward a link to the petition to the right

Please click on the petition to the right and consider it carefully as we approach the National Work Day on climate, 10/10/10.

Here's what the best thinking is on climate, in a nutshell: humans will use all the oil and gas we can get our hands on, and it's irrelevant to climate stability as to who uses it. And even so, we have a good chance of getting a grip on climate. What we can't survive is coal use, whether mined, or fractured to get at the coal-bed gas.

And we have zero chance of persuading others to forgo coal use unless we lead by example. Oregon is the perfect place for leadership, because we have just one coal plant (Boardman) and it's such an inefficient and dirty pig that we'll see tremendous benefits from its closure or conversion to other fuels.

But its main owner, PGE, is playing the terrorist, pointing a gun at the planet and saying "Yo, here's the offer, you leave us alone and don't make us spend any money on cleaning up this pig and we'll agree to shut it down in 2020 or else" with the "or else" being that they will fight to keep the plant open to 2040 or beyond.

Just as with so many other steps towards environmental sanity, the business fighting progress is the very one that will benefit the most from the measures that they're fighting. It has happened again and again and again, so much so that it's practically an iron law: given any proposed environmental restriction that has costs and benefits, businesses grossly overestimate the costs of environmental improvements, downplay the benefits, and ignore the followup benefits that accrue to society in general (like, you know, a livable planet).

PGE is in an interesting spot because their PR machine is all about being green, even as they operate the single biggest polluting facility of any kind in Oregon. You practically need a microscope and a Ph.D in research to find the word "coal" on the PGE website, so adverse is the utility to admitting that it's a filthy polluter that uses the atmosphere as a sewer for tons of CO2, NOx, particulates, and mercury (not to mention polonium, lead, and a host of other nasties, all of which coal plants emit in tremendous quantity relative to any other source of exposure for society).

So the petition offers a deal: Make the bastards richer for doing the right thing (getting off coal by 2014) than they are getting from doing the insane thing (continuing to burn coal). We shouldn't have to pay people to act sensibly, but that's the way it is. The other side of the bargain is that, after 2014, nobody could make a dime -- not even recover their costs -- for burning coal or selling imported electricity derived from coal.

We can't afford zero progress on coal until 2020 -- and if places like Oregon don't lead the way, that's exactly what we're going to see, zero progress globally. I'm starting into the back nine of life, so this won't affect me too terribly much, but if you have kids or grandkids you care about, then you owe it to them to understand the world PGE plans to unleash on them and why that's not a world you should want to leave them.