, Salem, MA


November 5, 2013

Column: Obama's actions on coal-fired plants heartening

Not too long ago, the world watched in disbelief as hundreds of thousands of Chinese were enveloped in dense smog that stopped traffic, forced pedestrians to don masks and left a layer of black gunk over everything outdoors.

The Chinese government told its people not to worry; this was an anomaly caused by weather patterns on the day that the government said to turn on winter heat sources. Yes, China tells you when you need heat and when you don’t.

But it has happened before, and it will happen again. And if the world isn’t careful, many more millions will be subjected to dangerous pollution, which causes cancer, respiratory distress and death. And, as usual, it will be the poor who suffer the most, those unable to buy expensive air-filtration equipment that the rich and powerful take for granted.

That is why an action the beleaguered Obama administration took a few days ago is heartening. The Treasury Department announced that the U.S. will no longer support new coal-fired power plants financed by the World Bank and other international organizations.

Not surprisingly, the energy industry erupted in anger, calling the president hypocritical. In Africa, Obama promised to help developing nations on the continent double their access to electricity. Coal is a big part of that.

Despite the stubbornness of some politicians who refuse to concede that science is right, the burning of fossil fuels is causing climate change, which eventually, unless thwarted, will dramatically change weather patterns and already is causing extreme weather to become more extreme: more devastating droughts, more hurricanes, hotter weather in some places and much colder weather elsewhere. Agriculture in many global breadbaskets will cease.

Nine out of 10 scientists agree this is one of the worst potential calamities humans have ever faced. People who scoff that the world has survived carbon burning for millennia without destroying the environment don’t realize how much more carbon we are putting into the atmosphere.

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