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The essay below was written by Steve Fleischli and Scott Edwards of Waterkeeper Alliance.

Right now the coal industry is engaged in a multi-million-dollar campaign propagating the lie that coal and so-called clean-coal technology are the answer to America’s future energy needs. Nothing could be farther from the truth. There is no such thing as clean coal.

Waterkeeper programs in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Utah, and West Virginia have been fighting the coal industry for years. Now, they have joined together with the nearly 200 programs of Waterkeeper Alliance in a grassroots campaign called “The Dirty Lie” — because none of us can afford to wait another minute to start creating a new national energy policy that frees us from a reliance on fossil fuels.

You don’t have to live in the coal fields or in the shadow of a coal-fired power plant to be affected by this filthy industry — coal causes acid rain, pollutes our water and food chain with mercury, and is grossly accelerating climate change. From mining it to the disposal of ash after it’s burned, there is no part of the coal ind... Read more

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  • Memo to tax sirens: Both a carbon cap and a tax can be implemented well

    This is a guest post from David Hawkins, director of the climate program at NRDC.

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    In the Odyssey, Odysseus had to be tied to the mast to resist the call of the Sirens, who tried to lure his ship onto the rocks.  These days the siren song of a carbon tax fills the ear of many commentators who urge us to recognize its beauty and steer our ship in its direction.  A Washington Post editorial is a recent example.

    The premise of the Post editorial is that cap-and-trade regimes are complex and vulnerable to special pleading, and they do not guarantee success in reducing emissions, while a tax is simple and sure in its effects. But this is grass-is-greener thinking. The Post compares a flawed version of one approach (cap-and-trade) to an idealized version of the other (tax) and not surprisingly, the idealized approach wins.

    The fallacy in this argument is that the same political body (our Congress) that, we are assured, will insist on putting special interest features into a cap-and-trade bill, but when presented with a tax approach, will vote only for the purest proposal, firmly rejecting all lobbyists' pleas. Those who argue that a tax approach is less likely to be designed for special interests than a cap approach simply are ignoring the tax code. We have decades of empirical evidence in the U.S. that when Congress designs tax policies it rarely resists the entreaties of special interests.

    It is worth reading the history of recent (Nixon onward) energy tax proposals done by the group Tax Analysts. It is hard to see anything in that history that suggests a carbon tax would be successful (or if something called a carbon tax were enacted that it would actually accomplish anything).

    The fate of the 1993 BTU tax proposal by Bill Clinton is instructive.

  • Investors will figure out that coal is growing scarce and too expensive

    The following is a guest essay by Tom Konrad, a financial analyst specializing in renewable energy and energy efficiency companies, a freelance writer, and a contributor to AltEnergyStocks.com.

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    A couple years ago, I began to see reports that coal supplies might not last the 200-plus years we've all been lead to believe, so I wrote an article about what you could do to prepare your portfolio for Peak Coal.

    Now two years have passed, and peak coal is undeniably two years closer. (Ever wonder why people who have been saying that we have 200 years of coal for 20 years aren't now talking about 180 years of coal?) But more than being two years closer, the evidence continues to mount. Caltech Professor David Rutledge has been spreading the peak coal word for most of the time since. I recommend the video of his 2007 lecture on the subject.

    It's great that the New York Times is asking "Is America Ready to Quit Coal?" but the real question may be "Will we have any choice?"

    On February 12, Clean Energy Action released a report on Powder River Basin coal supplies, based in part on a 2008 U.S. Geological Survey report. The Powder River Basin matters because Western coal has been the only source of new coal production in the U.S. for the last two decades. Appalachian and interior coal production has been declining, despite mostly increasing prices and uniformly increasing prices since 2003. Northern Appalachian coal production peaked in the middle of the last century, while interior coal production peaked at the start of this decade. When production declines in the face of rising prices, constraints other than economics must be coming into play. Future increases in production in these regions seems unlikely.

  • Will U.K.'s prime minister act to address the biggest threat to Britain's youth?

    This is a guest post by noted NASA climate scientist James Hansen. It has also been submitted to the Observer.

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    Over a year ago I wrote to Prime Minister Brown asking him to place a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants in Britain. I have asked the same of Angela Merkel, Barack Obama, Kevin Rudd, and other world leaders. The reason is this -- coal is the single greatest threat to civilization and all life on our planet.

    Our global climate is nearing tipping points. Changes are beginning to appear, and there is potential for explosive changes with effects that would be irreversible -- if we do not rapidly slow fossil fuel emissions over the next few decades.

    Tipping points are fed by amplifying feedbacks. As Arctic sea ice melts, the darker ocean absorbs more sunlight and speeds melting. As tundra melts, methane -- a strong greenhouse gas -- is released, causing more warming. As species are pressured and exterminated by shifting climate zones, ecosystems can collapse, destroying more species.

    The public, buffeted by day-to-day weather fluctuations and economic turmoil, has little time or training to analyze decadal changes. How can they be expected to evaluate and filter out advice emanating from special economic interests? How can they distinguish top-notch science and pseudoscience -- the words sound the same?

    Leaders have no excuse -- they are elected to lead and to protect the public and its best interests. Leaders have at their disposal the best scientific organizations in the world, such as the United Kingdom's Royal Society and the United States National Academy of Sciences. Only in the past few years did the science crystallize, revealing the urgency.

  • Expanding on Barbara Boxer's principles for climate legislation

    This post is by Bill Becker, Executive Director of the Presidential Climate Action Project.

    Sen. Barbara Boxer, chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, announced earlier this month that she hopes to have a cap-and-trade bill blessed by her committee by the end of the year. Her announcement left room for criticism.

    Action advocates wished Boxer had been more specific about goals for reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. The Wall Street Journal posted a piece suggesting the Senator's new principles were vague and stale.

    Moreover, if we want Uncle Sam to wow the world with new-found religion on climate action and to do so in time for the U.S. to take its seat at Copenhagen in a morally upright position, then a committee vote by year's end will be too little too late. A better goal would be affirmative votes by the House and Senate well before Copenhagen, along with aggressive, progressive energy legislation and continuing bold action by the Obama Administration this spring and summer.

    Still, if we want principled action, then principles are a good place to start. Boxer's are as follows: