This view of “The Bund” in Shanghai reveals ongoing air quality problems in China’s cities, which are mostly the result of burning fossil fuels. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile — click to enlarge)
This view of “The Bund” in Shanghai reveals ongoing air quality problems in China’s cities, which are mostly the result of burning fossil fuels. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile — click to enlarge)

The lamest of excuses for faulting the EPA’s carbon plan

Guest column by Allen Best
— August 12, 2014

Two weeks ago I listened to four hours of testimony about the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan. Speakers at the Denver hearings were young and old, wide and thin, mostly white, but also black, brown and yellow.

Allen Best

There were boilermakers — the kind who bend steel and make pipes in factories and not the beer-and-whiskey combination — as well as retired school teachers, state legislators, utility executives, a preacher from Denver and a small-business owner from Las Vegas.

The 40 or so I heard speak were all as earnest as a Sunday sermon. A few were also eloquent. Most passionately supported the EPA’s plans to reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030. A few faulted this bar as too low. Others — particularly those with paychecks invested in the status quo — said it was entirely too high.

But most puzzling was the curious logic that because the United States can’t solve all the world’s problems it shouldn’t take responsibility for its own actions. Tyler Hamman, director of government relations for the Lignite Energy Council in Bismarck, N.D., was among several who noted that the regulations would limit global carbon dioxide emissions by only 3 percent. In other words, why bother?

This is a dark view of the United States and its role in the world. Call it American Unexceptionalism.

This original notion of American Exceptionalism pointed to the democratic ideals of our founding fathers. The American Enterprise Institute says that for the first century after the adoption of the Constitution, European observers and Americans alike saw the United States as an exception, with political and civic cultures that had no counterparts anywhere else.

American Exceptionalism was perverted in our westward expansion to justify dispossession of those with different values and institutions.

Yet the United States has done many good things, too. Exerting world leadership, the United States quelled fascism in Europe and then established a measure of stability with the visionary Marshall Plan. Our good deeds continue. I am proud of our intervention in the ugly ethnic cleansing of the former Yugoslavia.

Our most important battles will likely be those resolved through peaceful means. The Pentagon itself has identified climate change as a significant threat to U.S. security. It’s in our vital self-interest to reduce this risk. Our exceptionalism can now be through leadership in forging policies that directly address the risk of environmental catastrophe that we, and other nations, are a part in creating.

Opponents of the EPA regulations in their testimony frequently cited Germany’s stumbles in its efforts to shrink its carbon emissions. The stumbles, in this reasoning, mean the goal itself should be abandoned. If these guys coached the Denver Broncos, they’d send Peyton Manning to the showers the first time he threw an interception.

In 2010, Germany emitted 9.7 metric tons per capita of carbon dioxide, while the United States emitted 18.2 metric tons, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. And China? It has increased dramatically, but emissions were still just 6.0 metric tons per capita, while Indian was at only 1.4 metric tons.

Ultimately, yes, China and India, Qatar and Bahrain, must be part of the solution. Arguably, the Chinese already are. They have a five-year goal of 17 percent reduction in carbon intensity of their economic production relative to 2010. “They are more or less on track to achieve it,” reports David Wendt, president of the Jackson Hole Center for Global Affairs, a Wyoming group that sends a delegation to China every year.

Is reducing our carbon emissions a difficult task? Absolutely. Last year, solar was responsible for just 0.23 percent of U.S. electrical generation. Maybe our solution isn’t solar, or even wind and biomass. Maybe it’s burning fossil fuels and sequestering the carbon.

But we know that pushing carbon into the atmosphere is a problem, a giant risk. This idea that we should do nothing because we can’t immediately solve the problem by ourselves is a gloomy one. Wait for the Chinese to solve the problem? That’s not American exceptionalism.

Allen Best reports on water, energy, and other issues in Colorado, the Great Plains, and the Intermountain West.  A fourth-generation Coloradan, he has worked as a journalist since the 1970s. Since 2002, he has published a newsletter, called Mountain Town News, which offers news both brief and with in-depth analysis, from ski-anchored resort valleys of the North American West.

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5 Comments

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  1. Mr. Best missed this.
    After 2010, With Greenpeace successfully forcing the shutdown of nuclear power, and keeping out fracking for gas, what’s left? A boom in coal. In fact, over the next two years Germany will build 10 new power plants for hard coal. Europe is in a coal frenzy, building power plants and opening up new mines, practically every month. It might sound odd that a boom in German coal is the result of Greenpeace’s political success. –Ezra Levant, Toronto Sun, 7 January 2014

  2. Nice article. Unlike most articles/discussions on climate change, radically left, radically right, you bring common sense to the discussion. There is no easy fix to climate change, what we need is common sense oriented realistic solution based leadership – not the left deciding to bankrupt coal or the right ignoring the issue.

    Thank you Mr. Best

  3. Thank you Mr. Best – very interesting article.

    @lousewort rodgers:
    The reason the Canadian government is backing away from our environmental responsibilities is because it is controlled by a clique of wannabe Republicans who don’t believe in science, or our own scientists. Even if global warming was junk science (it’s not), we could still have a dialog. But our Conservative government won’t allow a dialog; instead they muzzle scientists, ignore international treaties, and cancel science research. Why? Because they don’t want to know the truth, and they’re afraid to learn what scientists are telling them.

    There’s no evidence that Germany is “backing away from climate science” just because they cancelled some nuclear plants.

  4. Mr. Best is spot on. I am a ardent fan of a particular type of nuclear reactor, specifically the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor(LFTR or “lifter”). It uses thorium – safe, cheap, plentiful, no CO2. It is ideal for electricity, water purification, process heat. Development and rapid deployment will make a vast improvement in the human condition. It is the ideal follow-on to the current water cooled uranium fueled reactor. Look it up.

  5. Germany, Canada,and Australia, are all backing away from junk global warming/climate change science politics and special interest journalism. I think that is pretty exceptional, too.