Published on
Citizen-Times (Asheville, N.C.)

Time to End Business as Usual for Toxic Coal Industry

Richard Fireman

The most absurd oxymoron of 2008 was "Clean Coal." Coal is dirty - its mining, washing, burning and storage as ash. Some call it the original sin of industrial society. Coal mining, as surface mining on native lands, and now as mountaintop removal in Appalachia in Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee and West Virginia, has destroyed more than 470 mountains, more than 1,200 miles of streams and rivers, and communities, both human and other than human.

It makes the water unfit to drink. Schools lie downstream of toxic impoundment ponds, and profit flows abundantly to corporate coffers.

The meaning of coal is now in the number 350. Here's why.

I just returned from a road trip to Washington. A dozen like-minded concerned citizens from Asheville joined thousands of adults from around the country to support more than 12,000 students to demonstrate our support for bold visionary climate legislation that will phase out coal as a fuel for electricity.

Public awareness

There were 523 students from N.C., including a contingent from Asheville High School. They came for a weekend of workshops called Powershift, where they learned about climate change and energy policy. They came to demonstrate their commitment to help preserve and protect the integrity and beauty of life on earth. They came to tell government leaders the youth of the country would not tolerate toxic energy policy any more.

They heard Judy Bonds, whose Coal River Mountain in West Virginia is literally being destroyed daily by explosives, say: "I don't mind being poor, I don't mind being made fun of, but I do mind being blasted and poisoned."

They listened to Terry Tempest Williams say: "The eyes of the future are looking back at us and asking if we can look beyond our own time."

After a weekend of workshops, students met with senators and congressmen to demand that business as usual for coal power comes to an end now.

They know the meaning of the number 350, meaning 350 ppm of carbon dioxide. Dr. James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute, a Nobel Laureate who has been a lead scientist for the International Panel on Climate Change, told them that at today's level of carbon dioxide, 387 ppm, we are well past the point of dangerous climate change.


Never Miss a Beat.

Get our best delivered to your inbox.

Speeding climate change

Hansen and his colleagues know that our current level of carbon dioxide, the key determinate of global warming, is far beyond the level at which civilization developed and to which human culture has adapted. The level of carbon dioxide is rising faster now than ever before. If we don't reverse this trend immediately, the planetary temperature will rise to levels at which most species will not survive and the human population will certainly crash.

The only way out of this deadly scenario is to stop burning coal. Now.

The time for equivocation and procrastination is over. Hansen has clearly shown that no new coal power plants (including Cliffside in Rutherford County) should be built in this country or any developed country. Within 10 years we must begin to retire all existing coal plants so that by 2030 there will be no coal power generation whatsoever.

We must create a conservation and energy efficiency economy along with a renewable energy network that will allow us to phase out all coal generation capacity. This will be the backbone of a green economy.

Forcing change

The iconic gesture of the weekend was a rally and peaceful, nonviolent civil disobedience protest at the Capitol Coal Power plant. This 99-year-old monster is a multifuel source of heat for our nation's capitol. It uses coal for about one third of its heating fuel. Under pressure from the organizers of the event, and to demonstrate this administration's commitment to clean energy, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced the week before the rally they would make sure that no coal would be used at the Capitol Power Plant by the end of this year.

Still, about 2,500 students and other citizens showed up to block the gates of the power plant. A new political movement has been born.

The road to 350 now goes through each community in this great country. We must say no to coal. it is destroying our health, our communities and very soon Creation itself. Our future is in our hands. Join me April 20 in Charlotte as citizens unite to stop Cliffside.

Richard Fireman is a retired physician, works for NC Interfaith Power & Light, and is part of the Stop Cliffside Coalition ( He lives in Weaverville.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Please select a donation method:

Share This Article