The greatest crisis we confront in the 21st Century is not a future environmental crisis predicted by computer models, but a human crisis today that is fully within our power to solve. For too long, too many have been focused on the wrong end game.
For everyone who has voiced a 2050 greenhouse gas goal, we need 10 people and policy bodies working toward the goal of broad energy access. Only once we have a growing, vibrant, global economy providing energy access and an improved human condition for billions of the energy impoverished can we accelerate progress on environmental issues such as a reduction in greenhouse gases.
That would be Gregory H. Boyce Chairman and CEO of Peabody Energy, “the world’s largest private-sector coal company.” Last week he “outlined a multi-step plan to eliminate energy poverty and inequality by unlocking the power of coal to advance energy security, generate economic stimulus and create environmental solutions.”
Yes, the power of coal needs “unlocking.” Poor, imprisoned, climate-destroying coal — can anyone set it free from its rampant growth curve?
Boyce can relax. For everyone who has voiced a 2050 greenhouse gas goal there are 10 people funded by the corporate polluters to shout them down, spread disinformation, or lobby against serious action (see “Dirty Money“).
The rest of us, however, can’t relax because here is the “Peabody Plan”:
- Working to eliminate energy poverty and propelling global economies by ensuring that at least half of new generation is fueled by coal, the dominant global baseload source of power;
- Replacing the 1,000 gigawatts of traditional coal plants with supercritical and ultrasupercritical plants, which are more efficient and carbon capture ready;
- Developing at least 100 major projects around the world that capture, store or use carbon dioxide from coal-based plants within 20 years;
- Deploying significant coal-to-gas, coal-to-chemicals and coal-to-liquids projects around the world over the next 10 years. Such plants are in heavy development in China, and doing so elsewhere would reduce risky reliance on scarce oil and volatile natural gas; and
- Commercializing and deploying next generation clean coal technologies to achieve continued environmental improvement and ultimately near-zero emissions.
If even half of that happens, you can pretty much guarantee unending misery and poverty for billions and billions of people in the coming decades (see “An introduction to global warming impacts: Hell and High Water“ and “Congress should say NO to coal-to-diesel).
While I have argued repeatedly on CP that rich countries will be devastated by unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions, we do at least have the wealth to minimize the worst impacts on most of our citizens for many decades. The poor around the world, those Peabody claims to be interested in helping, will find that the livable climate that they had depended upon — the water from glacial melt, relatively stable sea levels, and rainfall and arable land — will slowly vanish for a long, long time (see NOAA stunner: Climate change “largely irreversible for 1000 years,” with permanent Dust Bowls in Southwest and around the globe).
The poor will inevitably suffer from the most from the hit that global agriculture takes from human-caused climate change:
- Ponzi redux: Scientific American asks “Could Food Shortages Bring Down Civilization?”
- The Coming Food Crisis: Global food security is stretched to the breaking point, and Russia’s fires and Pakistan’s floods are making a bad situation worse.
- Half of world’s population could face climate-driven food crisis by 2100
And the poor already suffer the most from climate disruption caused by global warming driven by human emissions of greenhouse gases (see Juan Cole: The media’s failure to cover “the great Pakistani deluge” is “itself a security threat” to America).
Certainly, lifting billions of people out of poverty is a top global priority certainly as important as avoiding catastrophic global warming. But pretending that greenhouse gas emissions do not have an extremely high societal cost right now is to ignore everything we know about science. That’s why aggressive deployment of energy efficiency and low carbon energy sources — coupled with a high and rising price for CO2 — remains the only rational strategy for people who care about the poor, future generations, and everyone else.