Disappointing the Luddites: Chu Says Yes to Clean Coal

By January 14, 2009Energy, Global Warming

From The Calgary Herald, “Pick for U. S. energy secretary eyes opportunity in clean coal“:

Emissions – Steven Chu, president-elect Barack Obama’s choice for energy secretary, said the United States has an “opportunity” to develop technologies that would burn coal with fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

“I feel very strongly that this is not only an opportunity, it’s something the U.S., with its great technological leadership, should rise to the occasion to develop,” Chu, 60, said Tuesday at a hearing of the senate energy and natural resources committee, which is considering his nomination.

How disappointing for all the anti-energy activists to whom coal is the environment’s bete noire. Chu has told them to go to hoille.

Chu and by extension the Obama Administration’s endorsement of clean-coal comes just as big-money environmentalists are spending millions on an advertising campaign attacking the technology. The Sunday news-chat shows are full of the TV spots, which are clever enough — a fellow standing on an empty, windswept plain, saying triumphantly, “This is today’s clean-coal technology.” (Watch it here.)

At the Metro Center subway stations here in D.C., the coalition that promotes itself at This is Reality.org, has bought most of the wall display space and hung banners to sell the message that there’s no such thing as clean coal. Like the TV spots, it’s another effort at hip advertising — see, this Sasquatch (mermaid, space alien) is holding a piece of coal claiming it’s clean, and since Sasquatches don’t exist, clean-coal doesn’t exist.

The message strikes us as too complicated and ironic for an effective ad campaign on public policy. Worse: It’s stupid and anti-science. The argument is that because some technology does not currently exist, it will never exist, and therefore we should not use that source of energy now or embark on any R&D.

If you applied that attitude consistently, then we’d never have wind, solar, biofuels, nuclear power — or certaintly not competitively price power generation from those sources. We’d never make any progress, period. This Is Reality is selling Luddism as an answer to today’s energy and environmental challenges.

The editorial page editor of The D.C. Examiner, Mark Tapscott, wrote a column on the campaign by the groups — Alliance for Climate Protection, Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the League of Conservation Voters. Tapscott reminds us that coal represents the No. 1 source of power generation in the United States, identifies the amazing progress made in reducing coal emissions, and the prosperity and life-saving technology made possible by affordable production of electricity. From “Coal Lies From A Progressive Fable Factory“:

New technologies are on the horizon such as gasification and carbon-capture that promise to make coal burning even more environmentally friendly.

So strictly speaking, the “clean coal” technologies aren’t here yet. But then neither are the alternative energy supplies the environmentalists regularly cite as ready replacements for coal and other carbon-based fuels. And there are serious trade-offs with the alternatives that environmentalists don’t like to talk about.

In the end, whom are we to believe, a Nobel prize-winning scientist or an ironic Sasquatch?

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • The search for ways to reduce carbon emissions has led to government grant money for schemes ranging from promising to wacky. Recognizing that there is no currently viable replacement for fossil fuels, with the possible exception of nuclear power, the US and other countries with large coal deposits are desperately looking for ways to continue burning coal without incurring the wrath of nature or the IPCC. Clear evidence of the seriousness of this effort is evident in this week’s special edition of Science, dedicated to carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology. For more on the state of clean coal technology see “Serious Black: The Quest for Clean Coal.”

  • […] of the ads in the D.C. Metro by the big-money coalition of green activists attacking clean coal. See below. We think it’s a mermaid, but it’s not too terribly clear. Maybe it’s just a […]

Leave a Reply