Climate collapse

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Syd S. Peng’s March 18 commentary (“Champion Clean Coal: The EPA Is Stifling Realistic Climate-Change Policies”) faults the Obama administration for not pursuing a “realistic” policy of “clean coal” instead of renewables. Mr. Peng is a mining engineer. I am a climatologist. The reason we want to cut coal use, Mr. Peng, is not one that bears on energy policy per se, but more on a broader economic impact we expect from additional fossil fuel building — the collapse of the climate our agriculture and economy have been built on for the past several thousand years.

Make no mistake about it: Global warming is real. Global warming is man-made. And global warming is the worst threat human civilization has ever faced outside of nuclear war. Global climate models predicted years ago that warming would “move the rain” — continental interiors dry out while coastlines get soaked. Neither condition is good for crops. If you live in Texas or California, you already know what I’m talking about — drought. A natural disaster that has taken down many a sophisticated civilization, from Mohenjo-Daro in ancient India to the Mayans in the new world. If we think we’re immune we’re kidding ourselves.

My own research confirms the models. Actual measurements show that the fraction of Earth’s land in “severe drought” (Palmer Drought Severity Index -3.0 or below) was stable at about 10 percent from 1948 to 1970. Since then it has doubled. At what fraction will global agriculture completely break down? Nobody knows.

Want to take chances? I don’t. Not when we can get all the energy we need from solar, wind, geothermal and biomass. More solar power was put in place in the United States last year than in the previous 30 years combined. Wind now accounts for more than 40 percent of new electrical generating capacity. If we let that continue, we can get along very well without the coal that fills our air with greenhouse gases, our skies with soot and our fish with mercury.


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