Assumptions, ideologies, Carbon County — and Princess Elsa
I am constantly amazed by assumptions which are never stated — implicit assumptions — so ingrained that they’ve become ideologies. Here are some examples from the pulpit of the recent Governor’s Energy Development Summit:
Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and energy adviser Cody Stewart spoke of "clean coal" and "clean-burning coal." There is no such thing.
Burning coal produces heat and releases large quantities of CO2. That’s how it "works." Increasing CO2 in the atmosphere is heating the planet. That’s how global warming works. And global warming drives climate change and our new climate chaos.
Even if we could successfully sequester the CO2 (which is really only feasible via feeding it to algae or plants), nearly the entire Periodic Table of the Elements is in coal and shale — and, upon combustion or other processing, those elements are released into the air, water or ash. And that includes the full range of very toxic elements. Even very good and efficient combustion and controls still release large quantities of toxic particulates. The particles and the toxic elements are key components of the air quality problem. Combusting (or liquifying or gasifying) coal can, therefore, never be "clean" — and oil shale is just as bad.
As Princess Elsa said in "Frozen," "Let it go!"
The Energy Summit’s keynote speaker was Ted Nordhaus — with the Breakthrough Institute in Oakland, Calif. The Breakthrough Institute now advocates natural gas and nuclear power and argues against using coal. I watched Gov. Herbert’s somewhat strained face as his invited speaker spoke about climate change, CO2, and the death of coal — in a forum which has almost never had these words spoken from the major podium.
Nordhaus simply expressed the new reality — the current cost-benefit analysis — already playing out in the energy markets. His institute’s recent report titled "Coal Killer" outlines that new reality.
So the governor should also "let it go." Let coal go, and oil shale, too. These fuels are not in Utah’s best interests. Ditto for Lt. Gov. Cox and energy adviser Stewart. Our new reality is becoming well understood, especially by those in the energy and resource markets. It’s not Obama or the EPA that’s killing coal. It’s natural gas and the new renewables.
The governor and his lieutenant — and their energy adviser — need to work with legislators from Carbon, Uintah, Duchesne and Emery counties to move beyond coal, shale and tar sands. The governor should be leading that transition, not denying it. We need to direct state resources, perhaps including some from a carbon fee, into initiatives and investments in an economy and jobs which go beyond coal, and well beyond coal-fueled power plants. And we need to stop developing fuels which are even worse than coal in terms of air and planetary pollution. That’s all the oil shales and tar sands.
We sometimes wonder why our youth aren’t paying attention to us, nor reading newspapers. Perhaps it’s because they are tired of hearing ideologies, obsolete assumptions and reality denial. Most of them know better. Maybe that’s why they love Princess Elsa: "Let it go!"
Joe Andrade is a retired professor of engineering at University of Utah. He ran for Congress in 2012 as an independent and was one of the people involved in the planning and development of The Leonardo.
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