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My question for Obama: When should coal plants be phased out?

Lots of trivial questions at the press conference: abortion, flu, Specter, Chrysler. Here is what I would ask:

"Leading climate scientist James Hansen described coal as the "single greatest threat to civilization and all life on our planet." Do you agree with this statement? Does this mean existing coal plants should be phased out? When should the target date for doing this be ?

John Broder writes about how global warming groups are trying to change their language to build consensus for action against greenhouse gas emissions:

Instead of grim warnings about global warming, the firm advises, talk about “our deteriorating atmosphere.” Drop discussions of carbon dioxide and bring up “moving away from the dirty fuels of the past.” Don’t confuse people with cap and trade; use terms like “cap and cash back” or “pollution reduction refund.”

A dying man writes about why campaigns about global warming:

The changes required of us are enormous. A little biofuel and a few CFLs aren’t going to do it. We can no longer live as we have and we have only been able to live as we have because we have  borrowed so much from the future. We are way over the limit on our Gaia Visa card and the penalties and fees are going to be enormous. We can’t declare bankruptcy either, because in this case bankruptcy equals death.

Here’s an amazing (and horrifying) summary of the effects of global warming on Climate Progress.  It takes a while to read through this article and links, but a lot is there.

Predictions include: desertification in the midWest, species loss, other amplifying feedbacks which (if triggered) would accelerate the release of GHG emissions. The article summarizes:

  • Staggeringly high temperature rise, especially over land — some 15°F over much of the United States
  • Sea level rise of 5 feet, rising some 6 to 12 inches (or more) each decade thereafter
  • Dust Bowls over the U.S. SW and many other heavily populated regions around the globe
  • Massive species loss on land and sea — 50% or more of all life
  • Unexpected impacts — the fearsome “unknown unknowns”
  • More severe hurricanes — especially in the Gulf

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The most worrying thing is some of the predictions about harm make relatively rosy assumptions about ppm levels. Some of the harms described assume 700 or 800 ppm (when there clearly is a worry that levels could go up to 1000 ppm).

There is always going to be an environmental paranoia that maintains that all problems are intractable and that science and business is incapable of evolving towards more sustainable models. A similar thing happened in the 1960s and 1970s when people were predicting “overpopulation bombs” and “nuclear winters.”

But the global warming movement has more substance behind it and more visible effects to study. We can study ocean levels and C02 levels, and we can establish a chain of causality between certain  manmade actions and atmospheric effects. The harms are less hypothetical and more incremental.

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