Getting to the "Zero Coal" Goal

Most of us by now recognize the fact that coal is climate enemy #1. Witness the bitch-slapping Facebook suffered when it decided to use coal to power its new data center, for instance. The “We want facebook to use 100% renewable energy” group on — where else? — Facebook already has nearly 175,000 members.

Many environmentalists, including top NASA climate scientist James Hansen, have called repeatedly for a phase-out of coal-burning power plants by 2030 if we’re to have any chance of avoiding catastrophic, runaway climate change. But that won’t be easy, as Big Coal has buckets of cash and plenty of friends in high places (including several in the U.S. Congress).

Which is why many environmental organizations have already been targeting new coal plants and trying to stop them from being built. By the Sierra Club’s count, some 126 proposed new plants have been stopped in their tracks since 2001. There’s a great searchable list of coal plants that have been proposed across the U.S. here.

The Sierra Club’s success in defeating new coal plants is just one of many victories against Big Coal noted by Ted Nace in a recent post over on Grist. Nace certainly knows what he’s talking about, having written a book, Climate Hope: On the Front Lines of the Fight Against Coal, all about “the organizing methods and political tactics that enabled underdog activists in state after state to take on and defeat Big Coal, one of the most politically dominant industries in America.”

The conclusion Nace has reached is that a multifaceted movement targeting coal is the only way to phase out the use of this supremely dirty fossil fuel. What I found most interesting was his discussion of the work various groups are doing to take the movement to the next level: from stopping proposed plants to shutting down existing ones. This little fact really caught my eye: “Almost 90 percent of existing coal-fired generating capacity dates from before 1985, which means that if we simply instituted a policy of retiring coal plants at age 40, we’d be 90 percent of the way to the zero-coal goal by 2025.”

But because that would make too much sense, a coordinated phaseout of this sort is probably unlikely. Nace proposes instead that coal is more likely to succumb to a strategy of “death by a thousand cuts.” He even proposes ten different “knives” — or tactics — that could be employed to “whittle down” the coal fleet. They include lobbying for federal regulations, including a renewable portfolio standard, regulation of coal waste, and of course cap-and-trade, in addition to direct action and protests.

Want to save the climate? Get to work making some of those thousand cuts.

Image credit: Open Market

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