- - Friday, August 8, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The United Mine Workers of America is encouraging its members to speak out against the Obama administration’s proposed regulations on carbon-dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants.

The United Mine Workers wants workers to bring up the same issues that the union complained about during its July 31 protest march in Pittsburgh: massive costs and job losses, the inadequacy of alternative-energy sources, the injustice of making reductions when other countries may not, the insignificant global climate impact of U.S. emission cuts, and the anti-coal bias in the Environmental Protection Agency’s consultation process.

The miners’ union accepts, and at times supports, the primary reason for EPA carbon-dioxide regulations; namely, fears of dangerous man-made climate change.

Practically all opponents of the EPA’s new rules are taking the same tack. They seem to think that they can thwart the so-called “war on coal” while accepting the main reason for the regulations, the highly debatable premise that we can control Earth’s climate merely by adjusting our carbon-dioxide emissions.

To appreciate why this approach will fail, consider the following analogy.

Imagine astronomers discover that a large asteroid will collide with the Earth in 2026. The only way to prevent catastrophe, they say, is to significantly deflect the asteroid well before impact.

NASA proposes to launch space-based lasers that would, over several years of operation, gradually push the asteroid into a safe trajectory. They warn, however, that radically new technologies will have to be developed at enormous effort and cost. A coordinated world effort is urgently required.

The U.S. government accepts NASA’s plan and begins negotiations to bring other nations on board for what is viewed as humanity’s most important project ever. The president immediately creates the Bureau of Asteroid Deflection to demonstrate America’s commitment to solving the problem. The massive cost will be covered by increased taxes on corporations. Public, academic and media support is overwhelming, and the bureau opens shop with aerospace companies bidding for multibillion-dollar government contracts.

Eventually, other astronomers recalculate the asteroid’s path and find serious mistakes in the original work. They conclude that the likelihood of an impact any time in the next few centuries is minuscule. By this time, however, the “stop asteroid impact” movement is highly popular among opinion leaders, and international consultations are well underway. The Bureau of Asteroid Deflection is fully funded, and money is pouring into science and engineering research establishments. Not surprisingly, the trajectory corrections are ignored.

Corporations that would not benefit from new projects forecast that tax increases will compel them to lay off workers and raise prices for consumers. “We can’t afford it,” they say. “We’ll go out of business. Besides, why should America go first? Unless the rest of the world pulls its weight, we have no chance of succeeding.”

Most people not directly affected by the layoffs consider such arguments petty in comparison with “saving the planet.” It would only be by demonstrating that the impact threat was false that anti-deflection bureau advocates have any chance of winning the debate, but they dare not bring it up. Bureau supporters would be furious if the rug was pulled out from under their pet project.

The climate change debate is unfolding in precisely the same way. Because they oppose EPA regulations while still supporting the overarching reasons for the rules — fears of dangerous anthropogenic climate change — groups such as the United Mine Workers are regarded by many as selfish and misguided. This is especially true of those who regard it as America’s responsibility to lead the world to solve important global problems.

In response to intense questioning from Rep. Mike Pompeo, Kansas Republican, during a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on Sept. 18, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy admitted that the new regulations are unlikely to have measurable impact on world climate. She then explained the real reasons for the rules: “What we are attempting to do is put together a comprehensive climate plan across the administration that positions the U.S. for leadership on this issue and that will prompt and leverage international discussions and actions.”

The only way to defeat this position in the eyes of people who regard it as a U.S. duty to set a good example to the world is to demonstrate the futility of trying to control Earth’s climate. Accusations that the president wants to ruin the economy, destroy jobs or risk the nation’s energy security have little traction, since most opinion leaders do not believe these charges. Most of those who recognize the enormous costs of the EPA’s plans regard these sacrifices as necessary in order to be responsible environmental stewards.

Groups such as the United Mine Workers must immediately dismiss the climate scare as wholly unfounded. They need to cite documents such as those of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change, which list thousands of peer-reviewed science papers that reveal the problems with Mr. Obama’s climate plans.

The consequent enviro-rage will be swift and merciless, of course. As Air Force bomber crews know, “If you’re not taking flak, you’re not over the target.” Coal proponents must have the courage to attack the real reasons for the EPA rules.

Tom Harris is executive director of the Ottawa, Canada-based International Climate Science Coalition.

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