Bill McKibben: The End of King Coal

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Bill McKibben, one of the most prolific writers and journalists on climate change and author of the recent book on energy, “Deep Economy,” opined on the state of king coal, and his frustration over a lack of a political movement to fight climate change, this week in a talk in San Francisco.

Chatting with journalist Mark Hertsgaard, McKibben lauded the recent regulatory and loan lockdowns causing a “de facto moratorium on new coal power plants.”

Hertsgaard echoed the sentiment saying matter-of-factly that “coal is dead in the water in this country.” We wouldn’t necessarily be that optimistic. With trillions of dollars of coal business still underground and new applications taking to the skies we’re not sure coal is entirely through.

McKibben was one of the first to report on scientist Jim Hansen’s 1981 conclusion that CO2 in the atmosphere would lead to global warming sooner than expected. He was there at the beginning, before there was even a debate, and said “In 1980 the data on climate change fit on my desk,” McKibben said.

But despite the fact that the research on climate change would now fill the entire theater he was speaking in, McKibben was frustrated that a sufficient movement has not yet formed around the issue. McKibben said that in the wake of “hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Gore” he expected to see more action in Washington. His latest endeavor is, a social network campaign to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide to 350 parts per million.

A powerful environmental activist, McKibben says we need “a carbon version of the Marshall Plan” that will be fueled by a little altruism and lots of pragmatism. McKibben hopes the world’s rich countries, namely the U.S., will be able to think big at the UN Climate Conference in 2009 in Copenhagen. He foresees the developed world subsidizing the developing world’s switch to clean economies “mostly through the transfer of technology.”

While not a proponent of limitless capitalist growth, like many in the Valley, McKibben isn’t against the use of markets to help mitigate climate change. He does, however, take issue with the backwards logic of climate change skeptics who use market economics to promote climatological fallacies. “Their syllogistic logic seems to go: Markets solve all problems. Markets aren’t solving global warming. Therefore global warming is not a problem,” McKibben quipped.

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People are working so hard at cutting off coal-based power at the knees, they’re unwilling to support the research going on in alternative methods of utilizing coal.

We’ve got the stuff, folks. Marketplace economics are making half-century-old technology [gassification] feasible – with more to come.

The blinders approach which says nuclear should never happen, coal should never happen – and there are a significant number of my fellow enviros who think exactly this way – turns ecological activism into a religion rather than a science-based political movement. Destined to further bludgeon the US economy into a cul-de-sac.

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