Shawn Garvin of the Environmental Protection Agency opened the recent hearings in Pittsburgh about the agency’s proposals to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants by stating, “Science tells us that climate change is real and that human activity is fueling that change.”
Garvin must be relieved that speakers at the pro-coal rally outside the hearings dared not question this, the EPA’s central argument for their new rules. Instead, protest leaders only brought up issues that media will pay little attention to: job losses and increased costs, real concerns to be sure but outcomes most reporters accept as necessary to “fight climate change.”
Had the rally focused instead on attacking the most important reason for the EPA’s so-called war on coal — the science that backs fears of dangerous man-made climate change — things would have been very different. Media coverage would have been intense with climate campaigners and miners squaring off on one of the most controversial issues of our time. Then, the impact of the administration’s plans on jobs and prices would have received far broader coverage as well. To counter EPA claims that “the science is settled,” presenters would have had to cite documents such as those of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change which lists thousands of peer-reviewed science papers that reveal the problems with President Obama’s climate plans.
Coal proponents have no sensible alternative but to highlight the problems with the science. Accusations that the resident 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. Obama is seen as genuinely believing that carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants are causing dangerous climate change. He does not want to be remembered as the president who “ruined the climate.”
So Obama tells the public that America must lead the world in moving away from coal to sources that emit less CO2. He understands that this will be painful for those in the coal sector. He accepts soaring electricity prices as a result of abandoning the country’s cheapest and most reliable energy source.
These costs are necessary, he tells us, in order to be responsible environmental stewards. But what the president apparently doesn’t know, or at least assumes his supporters don’t, is that moving away from coal is not required from a climate perspective. The science on which the administration bases its drive to reduce emissions is regarded by many scientists as suspect or completely wrong. We are still unable to properly forecast natural climate variability, let alone the extent to which humans contribute. And controlling climate will remain science fiction for the foreseeable future.
The reason rally spokespeople ignored the science is obvious. Organizers did not want to risk political incorrectness on such an explosive issue. The Obama administration knows that if the public and the press come to understand how uncertain the causes of climate change really are, then the primary justification for expensive plans to “save the climate” evaporates.
This is precisely why pro-coal spokespeople must focus on the science problems at future events. None of the other issues — job loss, cost, etc. — have the potential to so thoroughly derail the climate change movement as does generating widespread public doubt about the science. Spokespeople who are too frightened to defend their industry using this, their most effective weapon, must step aside. Then new leaders should be chosen who have the courage to do what needs to be done to win the war for America’s energy future.
Tom Harris is executive director of the Ottawa, Canada-based International Climate Science Coalition (climatescienceinternational.org).