July 14, 2013

Coal far and away fuel that is hardest on climate

Letter to the editor

In his July 7 column, Charles Krauthammer criticizes the U.S. decision to use less coal, which harms the climate. He grudgingly concedes, at least for purposes of argument, that human activity is significantly damaging the climate, something 97 percent of the members of the National Academy of Sciences recognize.

Krauthammer, however, argues for inaction, on two grounds:

* We've done enough, he says. He notes that the U.S. has cut carbon dioxide emissions more since 2006 than any other country. He does not note that with 4 percent of the world's population we continue to produce 18 percent of the world's carbon dioxide emissions every year.

* The U.S. is impotent, Krauthammer thinks, when it comes to the environment. Whether or not we reduce our use of coal, other nations will continue to burn it. So we should give up and follow their lead. This is a bad argument. Even if other countries were not changing, a significant reduction in that 18 percent would be significantly better than the status quo.

The rest of the world, however, is, in fact, changing. Krauthammer is embarrassingly eager to keep up with the Chinese when it comes to polluting, but apparently not when it comes to green energy.

A decade or so ago, the U.S. led the world in green tech production. Now it ranks 17th. And the China Krauthammer wishes to copy now ranks No. 2 with a bullet, increasing Chinese production 77 percent each year over the last five years.

Even if competitive advantage were the only consideration, even if it weren't dwarfed by concern about the planet our kids will live on, we'd want to move fast away from reliance on coal, the fuel that's far and away the hardest on the climate.

Matthew Freytag, East Vassalboro

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