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Articles by Ted Nace

Ted Nace is the director of CoalSwarm, a collaborative information clearinghouse on U.S. and international coal mines, plants, companies, politics, impacts, and alternatives. He is the author of Climate Hope: On the Front Lines of the Fight Against Coal (CoalSwarm, 2010).

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  • Why the No New Coal Plants movement should be awarded the Virgin Earth Challenge prize

    Dear Mr. Branson:

    On Feb. 9, 2007, you and Al Gore announced the Virgin Earth Challenge at a London press conference:

    The Virgin Earth Challenge is a prize of $25 million for whoever can demonstrate to the judges' satisfaction a commercially viable design which results in the removal of anthropogenic, atmospheric greenhouse gases so as to contribute materially to the stability of Earth's climate.

    It was announced that the panel of judges would consist of Richard Branson, Al Gore, Crispin Tickell, James Hansen, James Lovelock, and Tim Flannery.

    I'm sure that when you dreamed up the prize, you were probably thinking about how to motivate the proverbial garage inventor or moonlighting chemist to come up with a new planet-rescuing technology in the narrow sense of the term -- perhaps some sort of chemical reagent, gene-tweaked algae, or super-absorbent biochar that could suck carbon dioxide molecules out of the atmosphere.

    But it's time to do some out-of-the-box thinking on climate change, starting with what sort of technological solutions we're willing to take seriously. Let's start with the idea of technology itself.

    Wikipedia's definition is as good as any:

    A strict definition is elusive; "technology" can refer to material objects of use to humanity, such as machines, hardware or utensils, but can also encompass broader themes, including systems, methods of organization, and techniques.

    Let me propose a technology that I take very seriously, even if people like Rudolph Giuliani don't: grassroots community organizing.

    The "community organizer" that Giuliani and Sarah Palin mocked at the Republican Convention in September is now about to be sworn in as the 44th President of the United States. Indeed, even seasoned politicos admitted to being fairly dazzled by the ground game displayed by Obama in winning the election against far more experienced politicians.

    That was community organizing on display. And yes, it really is a technology. In fact, in solving climate change, it may be the only technology that really matters.

    Two years ago, at about the time you were announcing your Virgin Earth Challenge, a bureaucrat named Eric Schuster at the U.S. Department of Energy was releasing the latest of his "Tracking New Coal-Fired Power Plants" spreadsheets. The document showed 151 coal plants under development [PDF] across the country.

  • Did the coal industry create its own PR nightmare?

    The press coverage of the Tennessee sludge spill has been nothing short of astonishing. Barely a week has passed since the accident and already a Google search for the phrase Tennessee spill produces 2,280,000 results!

    Compare that to 1,740,000 for Three Mile Island and 708,000 for Exxon Valdez. In little more than a week, this has become one of the biggest environmental stories in recent decades.

    Obviously, the naked fact of being the biggest coal spill in history (100 times larger than the Valdez spill) is reason itself for the intensity of the coverage. But is it also possible that the level of press interest would not be quite so massive were it not for the tens of millions of dollars spent by the coal industry on its "clean coal" advertising campaign?

    In international affairs, this is what they call "blowback." The can of "water" that you thought you were throwing on a small fire turns out to be gasoline, and you suddenly find yourselves engulfed in flames.

    I wonder what the folks at the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity are thinking about all this. Can they keep running the ads as if nothing had happened? If they do run the ads, will people just be reminded of all those icebergs of fly ash floating west of Knoxville?

    Just checked on the ACCCE website: silence. Not a word on the Tennessee spill.

    Must be in meetings. Or maybe working on the lyrics for next year's clean coal carols.

  • Climate youth activists target the Capitol Power Plant

    The U.S. coal-fired power plant fleet is filled with geezers. Out of 1,522 existing generating units, 600 were running during the Nixon-Kennedy debates. Nearly 10 percent were built in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. Still, it would be hard to find a coal plant that has seen more history than the Capitol Power Plant in […]

  • Placing coal reserves into trust status would be a nice gift to our kids’ future

    A generation before David Brower started raising hell at the Sierra Club, a similarly militant scientist named Victor Ernest Shelford organized the Ecological Society of America, becoming its first president in 1916. Shelford stepped down from that position when the Ecological Society of America shied away from taking controversial stands. With a small group of […]