The Coal is Stupid Manifesto

Coal is Stupid
Why we seek to close Brayton Point

Ken Ward & Jay O’Hara
May 15, 2013

“I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.”

Genesis 9:15

God promised never another flood, and who would have thought we’d be stupid enough to do it to ourselves? We are breaking the first covenant — a three-part agreement, it should be remembered, between God, Noah and his descendants, and all living creatures.

Atmospheric carbon hit 400 ppm last Friday, May 13, 2013, at Manua Loa and global carbon emissions last year were nearly two-thirds above 1990. We are on track to achieve a temperature increase of 6°C / 11.8°F by 2100, at least, and on a steep upward trajectory thereafter. There is no question that without abrupt political change, a second flood of  biblical proportions will erase the conditions in which life remotely like that we know now is made possible.

The fact that we’re staring catastrophe in the face isn’t surprising. There have been plenty of warning signs that too much fruitfulness, especially in the rapacious manner which has been our practice, would prove impossible to sustain. What is surprising, is that we still aren’t talking about it publicly in any forthright and pragmatic way.

Decades of top notch PR work (bankrolled by a handful of people who value record profits above protecting their grandchildren from experiencing collapse first-hand) has a lot to do with the great silence on climate, but it isn’t the whole reason. The reality is so appalling that most everyone prefers to participate in a collective delusion that there is no problem.

And surely, who can blame anyone for that?

To lose the world on our watch is a miserable prospect. To lose the world when a solution is available is perverse. Denying outright that climate change exists is the most extreme response, but considering climate change to be anything other than the single most important matter facing humanity has the same effect.

What we need to do is relatively simple. Whether there is time to avoid the tipping point, we don’t know, but that shouldn’t prevent us from making the best possible effort.

First thing: stop burning coal.

We are doing exactly the opposite. Coal is experiencing a “renaissance,” increasing 5%, last year, to reach 30% of the global energy market. Coal emissions in the US have declined, it is true, but that isn’t because US coal is staying in the ground — exports broke previous records in 2012. Due to the natural gas bonanza brought about by fracking, existing US coal plants are being closed and few new plants are being built. Were natural gas prices to rise, coal might well experience a “renaissance” in the US, and some energy sector heavyweights, like Energy Capital Partners, the planned purchaser of Brayton Point, are betting heavily on this outcome.

As we said in our letter to Thomas F. Farrell II, President & CEO of Dominion Energy, current owners of Brayton Point, and Doug Kimmelman, Senior Partner, Energy Capital Partners, decisions which appear intelligent in a business context, such as the sale of Brayton Point, are actually quite stupid when viewed in the aggregate from a planetary perspective.

We are in uncharted territory, so far as global geo-physics goes, with new studies tumbling in almost daily delivering across-the-board dismal findings – increasing Antarctic temperatures, rising methane releases in peat bogs, rapid decline in snow cover, and so on. The only reasonable and ethical action is to call a halt to the ghastly fossil fuel experiment, starting with coal.

If Dominion Resources sells Brayton Point –– the single largest source of coal emissions in the Northeast – to Energy Capital Partners, the likelihood that this plant will continue operation is substantially strengthened. We don’t know the selling price, but market analysts, talking in terms of “fire sale” and “scrap value,” peg it around $100-200 million, peanuts compared with Dominion’s $1.5 billion investment, and so cheap that a well heeled outfit like Energy Capital Partners can afford to keeping it running for quite some time.

Nowhere in the decision-making process is there any means or mechanism by which the lunatic aspect of choosing to burn coal can even be raised, let alone factored into the decision. Not one of the measures taken (such as the Regional Green House Gas Initiative) and none of the measures contemplated (such as a carbon tax), has or would have any significant impact on the decision to keep coal plants like Brayton Point in operation. Nothing even remotely approaching the true costs of burning coal is included in the business calculus.

Yet Brayton Point should be shut down immediately – and by “immediately,” we mean today –– for more than one reason. First, every day of additional emissions is a terrible, immoral imposition on our children and, in ways we do not fully understand, on the other living things of God’s creation. Second, we do not need this power plant – efficiency measures alone can reduce demand by far more than the 6% of Massachusetts electricity generation supplied by the plant. Third, in order for the US to exert global leadership on climate, we must take decisive and difficult steps in the right direction for our own nation. The closure of all US coal plants, coupled with the sort of vigorous advancement of efficiencies and renewables that is much talked about but little acted upon, would create the political and moral basis for effective global leadership by the US, without which no global solution is possible.

We are faced with an imperative like none confronted by any previous generation; we are living in a society that is disavows responsibility for this greatest of crises, and lacks any process or means by which decisions, like that to extend the life of Brayton Point, might be affected. It is our choice to take direct, non-violent action – putting our bodies between the Brayton Point coal plant and its water-borne coal supply – in an attempt to achieve the outcome necessary for planetary survival; the immediate closure of Brayton Point Power Station.

Jay O’Hara and Ken Ward

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