We Americans are caught up in one of our periodic frenzies of enthusiasm, this one about global warming and most of the emphasis seems to be on phasing out coal-fired power plants. The only problem is that we get half of our electricity from coal and it would take a very long time to wean ourselves away from it. Wind power and alternative fuels offer promise for the future – the very distant future – but we depend on coal now and will for a long time. Today few coal-fired generating plants are being built and the supply is running low. Soon we will begin to see brownouts and then blackouts. When you flick the switch and the lights don’t come on, when you turn on the air conditioning and nothing happens, the price of this enthusiasm will become clear.
One of the more persuasive arguments against shutting down coal fired power plants is that the Chinese are opening two new ones every week and have already passed us in terms of carbon dioxide emissions. Today’s New York Times has a front page story that Europe also is revving up the coal power.
Enthusiasm and lofty environmental aspirations are just peachy but the question that remains is what good will it do us – and the global climate – if we sacrifice our economy while the rest of the world continues its merry way.
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