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Sunday, June 03, 2007

No need for a second opinion: Coal a major cause of climate change

There is an AP story appearing in many of today's newspapers that ranks the worst polluting states in the country. Here's the link to the Yahoo! News version: Blame coal: Texas leads carbon emissions.

Unsurprisingly, topping the list are those states with a heavy reliance on coal-burning power plants. Some states have tried to make an effort to pursue alternative energy sources and reduce their carbon footprint, but others gleefully proceed apace with their polluting ways all the while denying that they're a part of the problem (or that there is a problem at all).

The story is frustrating and infuriating on a couple levels. First, and most obviously, there are the facts themselves, which reveal the stubborn social and political realities in this country that continue to stand in the way of making any real progress in reversing the damage we've caused to the environment. Truthfully, I'm not surprised that corporate lobbyists continue to pressure politicians to enact policies beneficial to them though harmful to the rest of us. It's the nature of a capitalist system, and the failing is not with those lobbyists but with our (not-so) democratic institutions that have allowed them undue influence.

To that end, I continue to be surprised at how willingly the American people buy into the arguments used by their bought-off pols to justify the laws they pass. Too many have accepted the false choice they've been told exists between economic prosperity and sustainability. In fact, it's only through the pursuit of sustainable technologies that we will ever fend off the economic collapse that will inevitably come with the current course of global climate change. The American people, and people around the world, need to recognize this pretty soon and organize a social movement to push through the laws that serve our interests and not those of self-motivated corporations.

Beyond the facts of the story, I'm also annoyed by the way its author confuses the pursuit of journalistic objectivity with the need to "balance" out the opinions expressed. He seeks out the commentary of a coal industry lobbyist whose bias on the issue is supposed to provide a counterweight to the preponderance of facts that show carbon emissions to be the prime mover in climate change.

Here are the offending paragraphs I'm referring to:

It's unfair to pin all the blame on the coal-using states, said Washington lawyer Jeffrey Holmstead, who as an attorney at Bracewell Giuliani represents coal-intensive utilities and refineries. Holmstead is the former Bush administration air pollution regulator who ruled that carbon dioxide was not a pollutant, a decision that was overturned recently by the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Coal-fired generation is the most economical, least expensive way to produce power almost anywhere in the world," he said. He argued that outlawing such plants would have little overall impact globally; however, the U.S. has long been the leading global source of carbon emissions.
This news-writing technique, which unfortunately is pretty common, lends credibility to a voice that inherently has none. It contributes to the popular confusion on the issue that continues to be a major obstacle in the fight to save our Earth.
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