Of Clean Coal, Unicorns, Falsies, and 350 ppm

“We suggest an initial objective of reducing atmospheric CO2 to 350 ppm…

“Present policies, with continued construction of coal-fired power plants without CO2 capture, suggest that decision-makers do not appreciate the gravity of the situation. We must begin to move now toward the era beyond fossil fuels. Continued growth of greenhouse gas emissions, for just another decade, practically eliminates the possibility of near-term return of atmospheric composition beneath the tipping level for catastrophic effects.

“The most difficult task, phase-out over the next 20-25 years of coal use that does not capture CO2, is Herculean, yet feasible when compared with the efforts that went into World War II. The stakes, for all life on the planet, surpass those of any previous crisis. The greatest danger is continued ignorance and denial, which could make tragic consequences unavoidable.”

That’s according to James Hansen et.al., in a 2008 paper published in The Open Atmospheric Science Journal. (The 350 ppm target has spawned a new advocacy group called 350, graphic shown above.) It’s hard not to retreat into denial when presented with brutal truth such as this.

Note that to be defensibly accurate, the authors were careful to qualify their denunciation of coal use with “does not capture CO2.” The coal industry has been wildly successful at popularizing a term for coal-fired power plants that capture CO2: Clean Coal. There’s only one pesky little problem with that, as Eric De Place at Sightline is fond of reminding us:

“Clean coal is like a Unicorn. It may be a groovy fantasy, but it just doesn’t exist.”

Or more succinctly, as the title of this informative summary puts it, “clean coal is a lie.” And it has been such an ingeniously propagated lie that the coal industry has been presented with a special award by the Center for Media and Democracy: a Bronze Falsie. The fact that politicians from Obama to Palin have given lip service to the lie is a stark indication of the tenacious grip still held by the status quo.

Meanwhile, Hansen speaks the truth about those who continue to use their substantial power and influence to promote coal:

“In my opinion, these CEOs should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature.”