Friday, April 18, 2008
Jeff Goodell Shines The Light On Big Coal
The puzzled ones, the Americans, go through their lives
Buying what they are told to buy,
Pursuing their love affairs with the automobile,
Baseball and football, romance and beauty,
Enthusiastic as trained seals, going into debt, struggling
True believers in liberty, and also security,
And of course sex cheating on each other
For the most part only a little, mostly avoiding violence
Except at a vast blue distance, as between bombsight and earth,
Or on the violent screen, which they adore.
Those who are not Americans think Americans are happy
Because they are so filthy rich, but not so.
They are mostly puzzled and at a loss
As if someone pulled the floor out from under them,
They'd like to believe in God, or something, and they do try.
You can see it in their white faces at the supermarket and the gas station
Not the immigrant faces, they know what they want,
Not the blacks, whose faces are hurt and proud
The white faces, lipsticked, shaven, we do try
To keep smiling, for when we're smiling, the whole world
Smiles with us, but we feel we've lost
That loving feeling. Clouds ride by above us,
Rivers flow, toilets work, traffic lights work, barring floods, fires
And earthquakes, houses and streets appear stable
So what is it, this moon-shaped blankness?
What the hell is it? America is perplexed.
We would fix it if we knew what was broken.
---"Fix" by Alicia Suskin Ostriker, from No Heaven. © University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005.
America is so concerned about Big Oil! The owners at Big Coal like it that way. They do their mining in the light of day now, but still they're most comfortable working in the dark. Underground movements...where no one can see. Why be concerned about coal? Isn't that some old issue from the 19th century...that just kind of went away? Like the locomotive? Like that big old pile in everybody's basement, dumped loudly through a little window from the coal truck, well into the 1940s? Gone away...like the coal companies abandoning the little towns, full of worker families, all across the hills of Appalachia? Take a look at this~~~
Yeah so? Electricity? The fossil fuel burned for electricity generation is coal. "Electricity Generation." I like that. We're the Electricity Generation, but how many of us think of coal as our plug-in connector? Jeff Goodell didn't. He grew up in Silicon Valley, he told us in Athens Wednesday night, and never saw a lump of coal until he was 30 years old. Nobody in Silicon Valley thought coal was behind the screens of these computers. He lives in New York now and tells us no one in New York thinks of West Virginia mountains when they flip a switch. The trouble is, as we've learned at Ohio University during its tremendous presentations this Earth Week, coal releases twice as much carbon into the atmosphere when it's burned than anything else. But I thought everything everybody's heard lately is about Clean Coal. What's going on here?
Jeff Goodell writes for Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Washington Post, and just about anywhere else he wants to. He's that good. In answer to a question about the media, in the lecture hall of the Scripps School of Journalism the other night, he told us he got a call from the Today Show when that gold mine in South Africa collapsed. They wanted to send a limo for him to be the talking head about it. "Gold mine? What gold mine? Why call me?" The answer: "You're in the rolodex. You're the mine guy." Are coal mines the same as gold mines? He told them he wouldn't do it. He's the "mine guy" because, as David Roberts at Grist puts it, "In 2001, around the time Dick Cheney's secret-recipe energy plan made its debut, Jeff Goodell was in West Virginia reporting on coal's rising fortunes. He'd been sent to do a story for The New York Times Magazine, but the material spilled over into a new book, Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America's Energy Future. It's a journey from the mines of Wyoming, across the plains by rail car, into the belly of the turbines in the east, and all the way to China, following the tale of the black rock that still, after all these years, afflicts and enables us."
Big Coal remains Goodell's claim to fame, even though he'd written other books earlier that had sold well. But they had been about Silicon Valley, which he knew since childhood. Coal was all new, but this man is a research and investigative journalist, something in this country, alas, that is becoming as rare as a diamond, black or otherwise. I've talked to a lot of people around here who, even though they didn't hear his talk, have heard of him and know his writing. I'm glad to hear that but if you don't, allow me to point you in the direction of a few high points you can find on the Web.
Here's a good example of his writing from last August, called What It Costs Us, from the Washington Post~~~
"Underground coal miners work in the darkness, invisible to most of us, and when they die -- also in the darkness, from methane explosions or rock falls or any of the hundreds of other hazards they face every day -- their deaths usually merit just a few paragraphs in the local newspaper."The attempted rescue of trapped coal miners, on the other hand, is often headline news. Networks love the real-time drama of the rescue efforts -- it's reality TV from the heartland, complete with anguished family members, heroic workers and dodgy mine owners. Sometimes, these stories have happy endings." http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/08/24/AR2007082401206.html
Did you know the average American uses energy each and every DAY that requires 20 pounds of coal? The readers of Big Coal learned that. Here's an excerpt~~~
"The coal industry is very good at touting new technology and less good at actually doing anything about it. There is new technology that's available now, called IGCC, integrated gasification combined cycle, a kind of gasification of coal. But the industry has resisted building these plants. They prefer to tout these plants that are ten or twenty years down the road and continue building the same old thing."The fact is that carbon dioxide from coal plants has gone up about twenty-seven percent since 1990, and they're continuing to go up. And global warming is an increasing, very urgent problem We need to cut emissions, most scientists agree, by fifty percent or more by the year 2050. And the coal industry is going in the opposite direction ... The fact is that coal can only be considered clean by the narrowest of definitions. It's true that the levels of air pollution of sulfur dioxides and nitrogen oxide that Joe [Lucas, executive director of Americans for Balanced Energy Choices] have fallen. But one of the things he doesn't mention is that the coal industry fought tooth and nail against all of those laws that required those reductions during the '70s and '80s and '90s, spent millions of dollars lobbying against them."http://www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/catalog/titledetail.cfm?titleNumber=688428
Carbon emissions. That's all we hear about these days regarding global warming or climate change or whatever it is. Legislation starting up everywhere and talk of a carbon tax. What about those people who say this warming stuff is just a natural cycle? OK maybe. But let's take a core sample from some Antarctic ice and compare the amount of carbon dioxide in the air in 1000 AD to what it is now~~~
Here's a link to that Grist article, which actually is a lead-in to a neat interview with Jeff Goodell. I like it because you can sense the very hip attitude and delivery that makes him a favorite for talks and TV and stuff like that~~~
Last October he wrote a piece for Rolling Stone about James Lovelock, the direst of predictors about climate change. Here it is~~~
Finally here's NPR's Fresh Air interview with him from last June, so you can hear what he sounds like~~~
Somebody asked him if he ever does any presentations for children. He appeared surprised at the question. He grinned and confided he has 3 kids at home. Obviously, he said, he's an expert in that too. Then he concluded he'd love to, but nobody's asked him. Someone should.