Obstruction Of Climate Change Mitigation in Coal Country



Leadership on what matters most for our future will come from outside the United States. It’s not that Americans are bad people— for the most part, we aren’t. However, many of us have mistaken the advancement of bad ideas as the right ideas, and there is a difference.

The most recent example was last week’s vote on an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The NDAA is one of the few pieces of legislation that still works through the legislative process the way most of them did back when Congress did more legislative work. Rep. David McKinley (R-WV) offered an amendment which would “prevent the White House from sending funds to the U.S. Global Change Research Program National Climate Assessment, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report, the United Nation’s Agenda 21 sustainable development plan, or the May 2013 Technical Update of the Social Cost of Carbon for Regulatory Impact Analysis Under Executive Order 12866.” McKinley questions the validity of climate science research generally, but, according to his website, also argued that reducing the use of coal wasn’t worth the harm it would do to the economy. The amendment passed the House, and is expected to advance to the Senate.

I understand coal country better than most mid-westerners. My family tree has long roots in Appalachia, predating the discovery of coal in Boone County, West Virginia by John Peter Salley in 1742. My career in transportation and logistics took me to Boone County and I learned about its dependence on coal. When the Coal Valley News announced our truck driving school, it was front page news, next to a story about United Mine Worker layoffs in the county seat.

Meeting with businesses, the governor’s office, the school board, local residents and others, I got to know the issues around coal. People didn’t like the mine owners and operators, but were dependent upon them. If life has changed from company-owned coal camps for most, coal camps still exist along with poverty and an extreme dependence on coal to extract a life. The question, “what are we supposed to do without coal?” resonates there if answers don’t.

There is no greater good in McKinley’s legislative work, and there is little point in arguing with climate deniers like him. The preponderance of evidence is that climate change is real, it is happening now, and its effects are causing harm. As the business community wakes up, we are increasingly able to place a dollar figure on the social and economic costs of global warming and related climate change. Economics will drive action to mitigate the causes of climate change, as making a profit remains paramount for businesses. Like it or not, West Virginia, part of mitigation of global warming means drastic reductions in the amount of coal used across the globe.

At the same time, bad ideas like McKinley’s have enough support to advance, making the U.S. Congress less relevant in addressing the most important issue of our time. That’s why I say leadership on climate change, as well as on nuclear abolition and other threats to life as we know it, will come from outside our country. For whatever reason, too many Americans embrace bad ideas to sustain the political will for positive change.

What I don’t get about West Virginia and coal country is that while there is a church in almost every neighborhood, another argument should resonate equally with self-serving economic interests, but doesn’t.

If God is the author of creation and wants humans to do anything, high on the list would be to care for creation. We have not upheld that responsibility even though it transcends politics. Instead, people like McKinley look to mammon for their inspiration, forsaking all of us in the process.

Belief in God is not the same usage as belief in climate change, because the efficacy of the harm done to humans by climate change will out regardless of what people believe or don’t believe. Like many concerned citizens I feel we must wake up to the threat to human health posed by climate change before it’s too late. If the U.S. won’t lead, then others will, because taking action won’t wait for U.S. politicians to get on board with the obvious.

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