People who feel compelled to take action and form opinions pertaining to the environment are said to be operating under the Green philosophy, and those who advocate public ownership and cooperative management as a means of production and allocation of resources are considered socialists, or Red. So, Eco-socialists, those who feel that capitalism is a driving force in environmental degradation are considered Watermelons, Green on the outside, Red on the inside. When considering the coal industry and the negative effects of the global environment, I am a Watermelon.
In the era of climate change reality, coal companies are pushing through with mining, transport, and export of the cheap, but dirty, fossil fuel for the sole purpose of profit. The Powder River Basin in Wyoming produced 375 million short tons of coal in 2012 according to the Bureau of Land Management, which is transported to any one of the over 600 coal powered plants in the United States. Over the last couple of years however, domestic coal use has seen a decline due to the development of renewable resources and a shift to other sources of energy, so coal companies are searching for new ways to turn a profit for their product.
Just over 5,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean, the developing economy in China is an alluring prospect for coal companies in the U.S., who only need to find a way to get coal to their ready and willing consumers. According to the website Climate Central, China burns “4 billion tons of coal each year in power plants,” which is four times the U.S. rate and almost eight times the amount of the European Union as a whole. That number is astronomical in itself, but is exceptionally distressing when you consider that the complete combustion of 1 short ton of coal will generate about 2.86 short tons of carbon dioxide, as stated by the US Energy Information Administration. Carbon emissions are of primary concern to climate scientists in the fight against catastrophic climate change events.
In an effort to maintain economic progress, driven by nothing more than a desperate attempt to maintain profit, coal companies are on the hunt for West Coast export locations that can facilitate coal export to Asia, without regard to environmental concerns. Two of those locations are the Gateway Pacific Terminal and Custer Spur Expansion, in Whatcom County, and the Millennium Bulk Terminals in Cowlitz County. They could export 54 million tons and 44 million tons of coal per year respectively. Doing the math, that is roughly an astounding 154 and 126 million tons of carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere each year.
Constructing these terminals would have a number of detrimental effects on the environment, including: “Diesel emissions and coal dust from mile-and-a half long rail cars [that] would reduce air quality and deposit toxic elements such as mercury into waterways; Port construction and a huge scaling up of barge traffic [that] would harm crucial fish habitat; [and] Burning more coal in Asia [which] would drive global warming, ocean acidification, mercury deposition, and other crises that affect species like salmon and steelhead that help power the economies of Washington and Oregon,” according to the National Wildlife Federation.
Local environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and 350.org Seattle are working to prevent the passing of permits that would allow construction to begin in those locations and many other proposed terminals along the West Coast. These groups encourage direct action to stand up against the expansion of coal export, including participating in Washington Department of Ecology impact statement meetings to voice questions or concerns about terminals, reaching out to local and national political representatives speaking out against coal export, and even boycotting the coal industry and limiting individual coal energy consumption.
Uber Capitalist Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged once said, “The moral justification of capitalism does not lie in the altruist claim that it represents the best way to achieve ‘the common good’…but this is merely a secondary consequence. The moral justification of capitalism lies in the fact that it is the only system consonant with man’s rational nature, that it protects man’s survival qua man, and that its ruling principle is: justice.” But, it is clear that when considering the protection of mankind and this planet that sustains us, capitalism does not serve as protection, but as the downfall of the one and only home we have. After all, what use is a booming economy if we destroy the only planet able to sustain human life?