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Black people get asthma so everybody else can get cheap power

[See update at bottom.]

Dominique Browning gets right to the point in "The Racial Politics of Asthma." I'm tempted to excerpt the whole thing, but this is the important bit:

In 2008, African Americans had a 35 percent higher [PDF] rate of asthma than Caucasians. A study revealed that one-quarter of the children in New York City’s Harlem have asthma. The following national statistics are even more jarring:

African American children have a:

• 260% higher emergency room visit rate.
• 250% higher hospitalization rate.
• 500% higher death rate from asthma, as compared with white children.

Why? One likely reason is that 68% of African-Americans (compared to 56% of whites) live within [PDF] 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant—the distance within which the maximum ill effects of the emissions from smokestacks occur.

It has long been the case that victims of air pollution are disproportionately poor urban minorities, especially children. A study last year out of Duke confirmed that "non-Hispanic blacks are consistently overrepresented in communities with the poorest air quality." For the most part, this is just another way of saying that blacks are overrepresented in communities with high levels of poverty. That's where the coal plants get put.

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Meet Mr. Coal Guy: He’ll say anything to make you think coal is safe

Cross-posted from ThinkProgress Green.

As long-delayed rules to enforce the Clean Air Act against coal pollution go into force, the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign has launched Mr. Coal Guy, a new social-media campaign with satirical videos that parody the coal industry’s multi-million-dollar advertising campaigns. These videos feature Mr. Coal Guy, played by Mr. Show’s John Ennis, using iconic TV shows from the 1980s to portray coal as fun, hip, and totally safe. In one video, Mr. Coal Guy provides the voice-over to a clip of Bob Ross’ timeless landscape painting to promote mountaintop removal coal mining (“scrapey scrapey good-bye lakey!”):

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Why less arctic ice means more mercury in your babies

Here is a thing I definitely would not have understood without this animation.

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Myhrvold: 50 simple things won’t fix the climate — but a few complex things might

Nathan Myhrvold. (Photo by Red Maxwell.)

Yesterday, I wrote about a new peer-reviewed paper from inventor Nathan Myhrvold and climate scientist Ken Caldeira. It found that, if there is to be any hope of staying in the zone of climate safety (or at least semi-safety), the transition to carbon-free energy must begin immediately and cannot include any merely "low carbon" sources like natural gas.

I sent Myhrvold a few follow-up questions. Here are his responses, lightly edited.

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Chicago goes coal-free

Activists have succeeded in getting Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to shut down the city's two coal plants -- one of them by the end of the year. That doesn't mean the city is off coal power entirely, of course, but banishing coal plants from within the city limits will have a massive effect on urban health.

As Philip Radford wrote here on Grist last year, pollution from the Windy City's coal plants costs tens of thousands of lives:

Every year, the toxic pollution that spews from the smokestacks of America’s coal-fired power plants kills between 13,000 and 34,000 people, according to studies by the Clean Air Task Force and Harvard University. That staggering figure doesn’t include the carbon pollution -- one third of all U.S. emissions -- that is driving the planet into runaway climate change.

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Time for an oil change: Americans strongly oppose fossil fuel subsidies

Cross-posted from Climate Progress.

As part of the fiscal year 2013 budget [PDF] released on Feb. 13, President Obama proposed to eliminate $40 billion in tax breaks for oil and gas producers over the next 10 years. Yesterday, the Yale Project on Climate Change reiterated its recent finding that Americans of all political stripes oppose subsidies for “coal, oil, and natural gas companies.” They oppose these subsidies by 70 percent to 30 percent -- better than two to one. Republicans oppose these subsidies by 67 percent to 34 percent (reflects rounding of percentages).

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Crazy talk: Rick Santorum out-denies the climate deniers and spins eco-conspiracy theories

Rick SantorumRick Santorum, even nuttier than you think. (Photo by Dave Maass.)

Rick Santorum is way crazy when it comes to environmental issues. How crazy? He makes Newt Gingrich's moon-colony plans sound plausible and Mitt Romney's climate flip-floppery look presidential.

On climate change

While Mitt and Newt have both felt compelled to repudiate their former concern for climate change, Santorum can boast that he's a denier of long standing.

“There is no such thing as global warming,” he told Glenn Beck on Fox News in June 2011.

“It’s just an excuse for more government control of your life and I’ve never been for any scheme or even accepted the junk science behind the whole narrative,” he told Rush Limbaugh that some month.

He went further at an event in Colorado on Feb. 6:

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Say it ain’t Kosovo: U.S. State Dept. pushes coal in Eastern Europe

An existing coal plant in Kadikej, Kosovo. (Photo by Andreas Welch.)

The U.S. State Department is one of those places where, for better or for worse, a long-term outlook has prevailed in the past. Faced with the overwhelming problem of totalitarianism, secretaries of state developed policies of containment and Cold War that dominated the planet’s public life for decades; historians debate their soundness still, but there was an unbroken resolve behind them that lasted across generations.

That’s why it’s odd to see State so feeble in coming to grips with by far the biggest international problem we face at the moment: the spectre of climate change that now haunts an entire planet. Clearly it puts at risk security, cooperation, development: everything State is charged with monitoring and protecting.

But when it came time to judge the proposed Keystone pipeline, the State Department pronounced itself uninterested in the climate impacts of helping open up Canada’s tar sands, the second-biggest pool of carbon on earth. And now, apparently, the department is leaning on the World Bank to approve the necessary loans for a giant coal-fired power plant in Kosovo despite a barrage of studies showing that the plant will hemorrhage money and carbon.

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Why is the State Dept. pushing coal on a tiny Eastern European country?

Co-written by Justin Guay of the Sierra Club International Program.

That’s the question we have been asking the U.S. government over and over, after discovering their steadfast support for plans to build an extremely expensive, extremely dirty coal plant in Kosovo. We first sounded the alarm over this project months ago, and despite essentially admitting that our concerns are valid, the State Dept. and the World Bank are recklessly pushing forward a plan to leave the tiny country saddled with a heavily polluting new coal plant, along with unsustainable levels of debt, at a time when the EU’s debt crisis threatens the global economy.

So how do we know the project is so bad? We commissioned expert analysis from a former chief Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enforcement officer who found glaring flaws (check out our initial analysis here [PDF]) in the project design.

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U.S. government downgrades projections for coal. Again.

Cross-posted from Climate Progress.

In 2010, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) projected that coal would drop to 44 percent of America’s electrical generation by 2035. Actual generation dropped to that level in 2011.

This week, the agency again adjusted its long-term figures for coal in the U.S., projecting that generation will fall to 39 percent by 2035. But groups on the front lines of fighting coal plants say those figures are still far too conservative.