Last updated: August 23. 2013 8:34AM - 868 Views
Dr. Vivian Blevins And then

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Some don’t want to comment on issues I raise, and I understand that: Their jobs may be jeopardized; they have other items that take priority, and mine might not even be on their agendas; some are shy. I won’t name names, but I’ve tried to get comments on the issue of carbon recovery from coal-fired power plants.

How can anyone, however, remain silent on the issue of communities in the U.S. that depend upon coal to sustain their economies?

When I began reading my May 2013 issue of “The Atlantic,” I was intrigued by an article entitled “Learning to Live with Fossil Fuels” by Daniel Sarewitz and Roger Pielke Jr.

A particular line was especially fascinating: “Unlike abandoning fossil energy, capturing carbon does not demand a radical alteration of national economies, global trade, or personal lifestyles.” The article suggested to me solutions for the tremendous downturn for coal and the families and communities it supports. We tend to think this problem is all about the Appalachian coalfields, but it’s also about those in Montana, Wyoming and other states.

The writers maintain that we must begin investing in furthering the technologies that allow us to capture the carbon that fossil fuels emit. This carbon can be “removed immediately at its principal emission sources: coal and gas-fired power plants.” Some already-available processes, the authors maintain, can remove up to 90% of the carbon although these processes are not widely used. Financial resources need to be allocated to the research and development aspects of carbon recovery as well as to the deployment of these technologies.

After reading the article, I emailed the authors: “My first presidency was at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College, my father was a coal miner, and I am, of course, concerned with the Appalachian coalfields and their sustainability.” I added, “I would appreciate it if you could provide me with a few lines on how readers can use their voices/power to petition legislators in Frankfort and D.C. to invest dollars in processes to capture carbon.”

Both men were prompt to respond.

On April 29, 2013, Pielke wrote, “I have a minute before I board a plane, but I’d simply say that too much effort is spent in the debates over energy and climate arguing about science. Instead, we should be looking for options that allow us to continue to provide reliable and inexpensive energy. This matters not just to us here in the U.S. but the billions of people worldwide who have no access to electricity. If we are going to meet the world’s energy needs, while trying to limit environmental impacts, then we will do so through advancing technologies- not through arguing about science.”

The following day on April 29, 2013,, Sarewitz responded: “Another point that I think is under-appreciated by those concerned about climate change is that livelihoods and ways of life organize around technologies and technological systems- like the electric grid, or more broadly the energy system. So changing those systems means that people’s livelihoods and ways of life will change, too. Winners and losers are created, and losers will resist the change. What CCS offers is one possibility of taking positive steps on climate change without expecting the social and economic arrangements that have organized around coal-based energy to just disappear.

“Encouraging government, extractive industries, and the utilities to work together to advance the prospects of CCS is thus a concrete area of public-private cooperation that ought to be pursued. It would be worth having discussions with your local representatives on the importance of CCS for helping to reorient the divisive and unproductive politics around climate change. This could also enhance the potential influence of the communities you are concerned about on future climate change discussions by bringing them a positive vision to bring to the table.”

Have you stopped reading many lines ago. Stop. Go back. What these men are saying is too important to miss. It’s so much more important than your television show or your dirty dishes or whatever distracts you from dealing with an issue that impacts the lives of so many.

Your response to their thoughtful comments might include the following:

  1. It’s going to cost money, lots of money. Where will the money come from? Of course it will cost lots of money, but we do a cost/benefit analysis when we invest resources in anything-if we’re wise.
  2. It’s going to take time. What about today? Yes, and the question is always where will we be in five years or 10 if we don’t take time now.
  3. Those factions (coal miners, owner/operators, Congress, state legislatures, environmentalists) will never work together. We can demand that they do, and make them pay the price if they don’t.
  4. We don’t have the leadership or the expertise to do what needs to be done, so we’re powerless. You can start with calls, letters, emails to the elected representatives and to local papers as well as to the Lexington Herald-Leader and the Louisville Courier-Journal.
  5. Our primary spokesperson for such issues, Gayle Lawson, is deceased, so who will take the lead? Often Professor Lawson was a single voice. She is no longer with us, and persons who step up to the plate don’t have to have college degrees. They need commitment.
  6. Why doesn’t China do it, take the lead? They’re the ones with all the toxic emissions. I was in China in 2011, and their environmental conscience and humanitarian concern is not nearly as well developed as we claim ours to be. Also, their pollution from all their coal-fired industries does not stay in China. It drifts, comes to us. And who cares if they steal our technology after we develop it? Let them steal it and use it. The world will be better for the theft.

I’m one person, writing today, and I’ve brought the issue forward. Am I missing something here? Have I oversimplified? I’m asking you the readers to TAKE ACTION. The question is always, “What should I do?”

Contact those elected to serve you. Their names, phones numbers, and addresses are in the phone book, in local newspapers, on the Internet. If you just want to clip this column and send it, do that. As soon as this column is published, it goes on the Internet. You can provide a link to it.

Approval ratings of Congress are low, really low. The NBS/Wall Street Journal survey results released the last week in July indicate that 83% of those surveyed disapproved of the way Congress is conducting the nation’s business and 57% would replace every single member.


Many are lazy or ill-informed or are feathering their own nests or are being reelected by funds from groups and individuals who benefit from the chaos or simply just don’t give a d _ _ _ as long as they can get by with it. It’s so easy for them to spend their time bickering, and we the people are the losers. Do you want to continue to be a loser where your community is concerned? I think I know the answer to that question.

*Daniel Sarewitz is Co-director of the Consortium for Science , Policy, and Outcomes at Arizona State University. Roger Pielke,Jr., is Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Colorado/Boulder.

Send comments or suggestions to: vbblevins@woh.rr.com.

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