I considered shutting up, because what I am about to say is certainly not going to make me popular, but keeping quiet is really not my style.
Ok, ready? Primed to send me hate mail? Okay, here it is:
I support clean coal.
I know, I know, HOW COULD I!! But let me explain.
Coal is cheaper, and more abundant in many parts of the world, than oil. And as oil supplies continue to be depleted, I believe, pragmatically, that there is no way in heck that you are going to get people to take coal entirely off the table. And that is why any president of the United States HAS to support clean coal. Can you imagine what would happen at a climate change summit, if our president announced he didn't support clean coal? I'll tell you what. India (10% of the world's coal reserves) and China (12% of the world's coal reserves) would walk out. They'd call us eco-imperialists, and could you blame them? Here we go, use up a huge amount of oil reserves, WAY WAY WAY MORE than our fair share, and when oil becomes super expensive, we turn to India and China, and say, "Oh, that vast natural resource of yours? Yeah, don't use that."
You could argue that you can win an election without West Virginia, but there ain't no way you're winning climate change without India and China. And since India and China aren't giving up coal, we have to deal with coal as a pragmatic reality.
So let me explain what I mean by clean coal. When I say I support clean coal, I mean, I support carbon capture and storage. Read the Wikipedia article for more detail, but basically CCS aims to sequester and store carbon, rather than release the carbon in the atmosphere. Now CCS isn't an immediately viable solution. But just because it isn't immediately viable, does not mean that the government shouldn't invest in CCS in the hopes of making it viable within the next 25-40 years. Put it this way: If we know that India and China are going to continue to use coal indefinitely, would you rather have a government that sticks its head under the sand all, "Lalala, I can't HEAR you!" or would you rather have a government that tries to find a pragmatic solution, and thus invests in the R&D that India and China can't afford?
Now is clean coal the only solution? Or even the primary solution? Of course not. Our primary solutions need to be wind, solar, hydro, and simple energy reduction. But given that leading climate scientists believe that the carbon concentration in the atmosphere has to be brought down to 350 ppm, we simply cannot take ANYTHING off the table. Joe Romm says it more eloquently than me:
That’s why I believe it is utterly immoral not to aggressively pursue the development of any plausible low-carbon or zero-carbon technology that has the potential for large scale (several hundred gigawatt) deployment. And serious analysis, like McKinsey’s, says that coal with CCS could be economical by 2030. Moreover, a CCS power plant that runs on coal blended with cellulosic biomass is one of the most plausible carbon-negative forms of electricity you can imagine. So we must pursue the development of coal with CCS, which is what Obama and Biden and virtually every other energy/climate policymaker and analyst mean when they use the term.And that's why I support CCS or clean coal. Now, look, I am not denying that coal extraction is a terrible, awful business and Crunchy and Erin are right to call attention to it. I'm not super thrilled to be supporting coal, I have to admit. But to me, this isn't about what I like and don't like. This is about what is pragmatic, what is politically feasible, and what is perhaps physically necessary. Enviros are never going to get anywhere by bullying people (or two billion people, as the case may be) around, and imposing our moral code upon others. Moreover, if CCS ever does allow us to produce carbon-negative electricity-and I admit, that we're not close to there right now- but if CCS DOES produce carbon-negative electricity? Then perhaps the process of coal extraction would be justified.
For more information on CCS, read Joe Romm's excellent articles here and here.