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Can rural America hold the world to ransom?

Justin Rowlatt | 14:55 UK time, Thursday, 29 October 2009


West Virginia is the mountain state. Its mountains have defined the state's history, and now the mountains of Virginia look set to determine whether the world begins to tackle global warming.

That may sound a little apocalyptic, but please bear with me.

The American nation was born in Virginia where the tobacco plantations - established in the early 17th Century - gave the country its first economic boom.

Neighbouring West Virginia, by contrast, remained a rural backwater thanks to its vertiginous topography.

A life shaped by terrain

The mountains of West Virginia are not high, but boy are there a lot of them. As a result, the state had little to attract settlers.

The sea of mountains makes travel difficult and farming near impossible. West Virginia's only significant industries until the middle of the 19th Century were salt mining and charcoal burning.

And, 150 years on, West Virginia is still predominantly a rural state. Its population is less than two million, its state capital, Charleston, has just over 50,000 residents.


So how come this remote, rural state is playing a pivotal role in determining the international deal on greenhouse gas emissions that is likely to be done at the Copenhagen conference?

The reason comes back, again, to those mountains.

West Virginia remains economically isolated. There is still virtually no industry here. It is the third poorest state in the union in terms of per capita income.

But there is one thing West Virginia has mountains of - and I mean literally mountains -and that is coal.

The US Department of Energy estimates that West Virginia has 28.5bn tonnes of high quality coal left. That's right, 28,500,000,000 tonnes of energy-rich, carbon-dense, bituminous coal.

You get a sense of the true scale of that figure when you meet some of the guys who dig the stuff up.

Foundation of industrial America

The miners I met up in the hills outside Fairmont all work a single seam of coal, the famous Pittsburgh seam, one of the greatest mineral resources in the US.

The seam is up to eight feet (2.4m) thick and runs for hundreds of miles from Maryland to Ohio and from Pennsylvania deep into West Virginia.

It is so vast it has been being worked constantly for almost 200 years.

Indeed, the Pittsburgh seam can reasonably claim to have laid the foundation for the industrialisation of the US.

It is perfect for coking and therefore perfect for making steel, as industrialist Andrew Carnegie discovered. His great fortune was made using Pittsburgh seam coal to make the steel that built modern America.

One of the miners I met, DJ Weaver, is the fourth generation of his family to mine the Pittsburgh seam.

He, his father, his grandfather and his great-grandfather all spent their lives working Pittsburgh, and there is reckoned to be enough coal left for another couple of generations of the Weaver family to be employed on the seam.

And the Pittsburgh seam is just one of West Virginia's coal reserves.

Pivotal position

Not surprisingly, coal dominates the economy of this state and has also shaped its politics.

The governorship, two of the state's three House of Representatives seats and, crucially, both Senate seats are held by Democrats.

It is those two Senate seats that have put West Virginia in such a pivotal position in terms of climate legislation.

The Obama administration needs 60 Senate votes for its climate bill if it is to avoid a Republican filibuster - a roadblock to the bill.

The electoral calculation only adds up so long as every Democratic senator votes with the administration.

But both Democratic senators here in West Virginia have said they will vote against the bill.

That means Senator John Kerry, the former presidential candidate who is sponsoring the bill, is looking for compromises that might draw them back into the fold.

He is also being forced to consider inducements - like offshore drilling permits and incentives for the nuclear industry - which might attract wavering Republicans.

In short, West Virginia's opposition to the Senate climate bill will end up watering down America's position on climate.

That, in turn, will dilute any deal done at Copenhagen .

It may seem extraordinary that a sparsely populated, rural state like West Virginia could hold such sway in international politics, but the logic here on the ground is compelling.

"What would you do if the mines closed?" I asked the miners.

They shook their heads: There aren't any good jobs outside of coal here", they told me, "West Virginia is coal".


  • Comment number 1.

    As an American, I wish the U.S. behaved more like a single nation in all matters -- but issues like this highlight the fact that the country was formed as an umbrella for independent countries, and in some ways continues to act as such.

    Unfortunately, at several points in our history, we have strongly encouraged one of the states to invest overwhelmingly in a single aspect of production, only to leave them to sink or swim on their own when times change. It happened to Pennsylvania and Ohio with the steel industry. It is happening now to Michigan with the auto industry. And it threatens West Virginia with the coal industry.

    It will be an enormous, but vital, burden for us in America to do our part in addressing climate change. Our responsibility, though, must be to ensure that this burden doesn't affect any one area disproportionately. Just because my own state (Georgia) doesn't have a significant coal industry does not erase the fact that our growth was predicated on the work of the miners in West Virginia. Nationally, we must establish -- and pay for -- investments in West Virginia that will enable them to move in a different, healthier, direction.

    Fortunately, I think we're starting to get it, and to see our role as more cooperative, both within our collection of states, and in the global community. I feel confident that the current administration will find a way to address the concerns of the delegation from West Virginia, and that his cooperation will lay the groundwork for (A) a better commitment to fight climate change and (B) a foundation for similar cooperation on issues that may arise in the future.

  • Comment number 2.

    I'm going to be the heretic: GLOBAL WARMING IS A MYTH. The dirty secret that is not being spread is that we have cooled since 2000. Even the head of American weather institute has admitted this.

    Politicians have been elected that believe in global warming, scientists that need money to earn a living and perform their research must kowtow to these idiots, so the myth is perpetuated to keep the grants coming. Al Gore's movie has been debunked ( he got an Academy Award ). Rush is right it has become a religion, and anyone who says they are wrong is shouted down in the best of Herbert Marcusa tradition

  • Comment number 3.

    I live in west virginia, To cripple our coal production would be too doom our entire state of over two million people to destitution. You would have to spend time hear to understand our problems. all jobs are connected to coal in somwe way, even if its just the insurance agent, how do you think the bills are paid. We have been neglected forever and don't have an infrastruture to suddenly change. Historically west virginins have been killed over coal, a pitch battle was fought between unionist and pro company men early in the century with thousands taking part for a week till the army stepped in. The term "Red Neck" comes from the red handkerchiefs the pro union workers wore. Do you really think they will take it laying down, when we are only hours fron DC by car and bus? I see violent riots.

  • Comment number 4.

    28,500,000,000 tonnes seems a lot but there are 7,000,000,000 people in the world so the mountains of Virginia contain only 4 tonnes per person . Lets say we have 4 people per family so that means 16 tonnes per family which equates to 20 x 16 = 320 hundredweight sacks possibly we could use it for only 10-15 years on the domestic scene alone. Its frightening .

  • Comment number 5.

    Virginia was settled by the Virginia Company, a private investment firm primarily concerned with chopping down pine trees along the shoreline to provide pitch to seal English ship planks,to make a profit. There are many entire countries and civilizations that were founded on a resource, water, or some ore that could make weapons or tools, that have disappeared completely. The coal industry is spread across many states so the politics of coal involves many. If it was just West Virginia the issue would be over. You should also note that the coal companies have a terrible history in West Virginia. Although profits have been made, little has been put into education, services, development of new industries or activities that would not place this state as a one industry dependency. At one time the coal companies printed their own money to pay their workers and collected it back at the company stores. Black lung is a killing disease that is part of coal mining and separate social security offices are in each area so that applications can be processed and the rest of society pays the bills that should be the responsbilities of the coal companies. The Senators and Representatives represent the coal companies more than the people of West Virginia and that is the problem. The steel industries left the mid-West, small fishing communties along the coasts no longer exist. As economies develop and things change areas that were reliant on a single industry suffer. When a cheaper, cleaner alternative energy is developed the State will be impacted regardless of any actions on the part of governments. They need to understand this and should have been preparing. The blame should be placed on their leadership for their unwillingness to require investments in education and technologies, but it is always easier to blame others.

  • Comment number 6.

    #2. sporedo wrote:


    Ah but, haven't you noticed that the IPCC connected people now call it 'Climate Change' so they may also agree with you!

    The little problem that the temperature peak was in 1999 and we seem to be getting cooler might have influenced the IPCC too! Cursed hockey sticks!

    When caught out - change the name! (But above all keep you bureaucracy in tact and you research grants flowing.)

  • Comment number 7.

    John_from_Hendon, and any body else ,I'm not nor did my fellow citizens in the article, blame anybody and regardless of how we got here people want our coal and some people would like to tell us we can't sell it, then we need alternatives, we want the environment to thrive and be healthy, but we need to feed our families too. Don't just tell millions of people to stop, be part of our solution too. for west virginia its not an industry spread across an area with other mixed industry, where workers can be easily absorbed into other jobs. For our state it is everything, 2 million people in one place would be catostrophic. What is the EU going to do to help us if we agree? Retraining? move? allow us to immigrate from whence we came? Any body have a reasonable solution?

  • Comment number 8.

    "It may seem extraordinary that a sparsely populated, rural state like West Virginia could hold such sway in international politics..."

    In the United States of America we call that democracy in action.

    Unlike in the EU, we are not (yet) ruled by un-elected and un-accountable
    bureaucrats and "Ministers" who's main job seems to be a redistribution of Western wealth.

    We don't feel guilty about "Climate Change" because it's a lie.

    "Climate Change", "Global warming" is a massive a fraud..

    We will kill the Copenhagen Deal.

  • Comment number 9.

    In response to cojo2004, your math is off a bit. The number is 300 million population of the US and all that coal belongs to us, if you include our incredible amounts of natural gas, tar sands, nuclear, hydro, wind and solar I would say we're just fine. It's the other parts of the world that should be scared!

  • Comment number 10.

    The politics are a little more complicated in that if the US can persist on using coal, there is no need for expensive investment in newer technologies. Gasification of coal is nothing new, and the Pittsburgh is far from the only coal in the US. As one TV show put it a while back, the US is the "Saudi Arabia of coal."

    Taking coal off the table essentially removes one of the US's biggest natural resources, and a coal-focused economy instead of an oil-focused one would be extremely beneficial to the US, especially to isolationist types who don't want to do business with Venezuela or Saudi Arabia.

    A global ban on coal is to the US what a global ban on bananas would be to Brazil: not catastrophic, but a lot of people would end up a lot poorer, particularly in parts of the country that are already vulnerable (as the post explains).

    A massive spike in energy prices (decreased supply, same demand) would be at least as catastrophic for many developing countries since the price of food is so closely tied to the price of energy, so the reality is that drastic action on climate change is not simply a matter of "inconvenience" to the developed world, it may be a matter of life and death in the developing world, even if the treaty doesn't directly apply.

    This is not the black and white choice that Greenpeace and similar organizations paint. It may still be worth doing despite the costs, but there will be costs felt in places far more vulnerable than West Virginia.

  • Comment number 11.

    The U.S. is the Saudi Arabia of coal and it would be foolish of us to forgo using such an abundant resource because of the myth of man-made climate change. The earth's climate has changed many times before our civilization and it will surely change again in the future in spite of anything we do to prevent it. Yeeh, it would be good thing for the environment to develop cleaner ways to burn coal but to give it up entirely is just silly.

    Let is know when wind and solar are cheap enough to be competitive without subsidies or artifical price fixing in the form of "carbon trading", or when you solve the problems of how to safely dispose of nuclear waste and protect reactors from terrorists, earthquakes and human error.

  • Comment number 12.

    #7. jhombimon

    Hey, I'm sorry if you took what I wrote(in #6) as an apportionment of blame on you. Rather the focus of my 'jibe' is the IPCC and the Climate Change (aka Global Warming) machine.

    Your coal is just the loveliest carboniferous deposit for all I know, as indeed may be the tar sands of Alberta etc... etc... Perhaps a tad too much sulphur, but hey, all living things must have CO2 - indeed in the poly-tunnels that grow the salads for DC it is likely that they add extra CO2 to ensure the maximum crop. Learn to love your coal again. Hug a tree.

    There is no shame in CO2 (sulphur Yes, CO2 No) And anyway all anthropomorphic CO2 amounts to 29 Giga Tons whereas the planets total is about 7000 Giga Tons and there is no linkage to temperature Also the lifetime of CO2 in the atmosphere is about 5 years not the 250 years cited as a 'fact' by the IPCC - they really should have done their homework.

  • Comment number 13.

    I lived in Fairmont, West Virginia, for a year from 1998-1999. While my husband was working full-time, I was volunteering part-time at a local gym, teaching middle-aged widowed women to swim, as enforced by their healthcare schemes.

    These women were mostly widows, their husbands dead to black lung disease from working in the mines and inhaling coal dust. It's not a nice way to die.

    Coal mining does no-one any favours. If you think these are "good jobs", think again.

    Anyone who really claims to be in favour of coal mining should take the time to learn a thing or two about some of its real, human victims.

    As for the simpleton who claims climate change is a myth, clearly s/he doesn't know any scientists. I suggest s/he go ask one, and learn the meaning of the term "scientific consensus". Then s/he should go speak to some of the wives of the farmers in my own country, Australia, whose husbands have committed suicide (suicide numbers are averaging one every 4 days) because the earth has become dust and they've lost too much to cope with.

    Climate change - and coal - have a real, suffering, human face. It's about time we saw the reality, not the short term dollars for a privileged coal-millionaired few.

  • Comment number 14.

    I don't know which is more disheartening, the implications of this blog entry or many of the replies to it.

    2. At 6:09pm on 29 Oct 2009, sporedo wrote: "I'm going to be the heretic: GLOBAL WARMING IS A MYTH. The dirty secret that is not being spread is that we have cooled since 2000."

    Just the other day, there was an blind, independent, statistical analysis done for the Associated Press in which all the statisticians in the study concluded there was no cooling trend. [

    You have to understand too that surface temperatures are just part of the story. Global warming is result of an energy imbalance - the increased concentration of CO2 means that more energy is currently being absorbed than is radiated back into space. Satellite measurements confirm this. Furthermore, global warming implies that the entire globe is warming - atmosphere, land, and sea. You need to look at the total energy content of all three to draw a valid conclusion. Relatively small changes in heat transfer between the oceans and atmosphere can produce significant changes in surface temperature, which can easily lead some to erroneous conclusions. Make no mistake about it, the total heat content of the Earth is continuing to rise, and will do so (unless we do something about it) until it reaches a new thermal equilibrium, likely some average 6 degrees Celsius higher than now.

    6. At 7:13pm on 29 Oct 2009, John_from_Hendon wrote: "haven't you noticed that the IPCC connected people now call it 'Climate Change'.....When caught out - change the name!"

    The term ‘Climate Change’ simply reflects that more accompanies ‘Global Warming’ than warmer temperatures - it will affect sea level, precipitation, the distribution and range of vegetation, summer melt off glaciers, etc, and because of the way the atmosphere and oceans work, the effects will not be uniformly distributed. Really John, your too bright to waste time regurgitating this vacuous argument.

    7. At 7:35pm on 29 Oct 2009, jhombimon wrote: "we need to feed our families too. Don't just tell millions of people to stop, be part of our solution too.... For our state it is everything, 2 million people in one place would be catostrophic."

    I sympathize, but conversely your telling hundreds of millions that you don't care about their, equally valid, need to live and feed their families. The thing is, and maybe you don't know this, if you want to talk about catastrophic, 4C warmer - as the MET office forecasts as early as the 2060s - will result in sever drying across Central America, the Mediterranean, the Middle East, northern India, and Southeast Asia; 15% of the world's farmland will be rendered useless because of heat and drought, and reduced productivity over half of the rest will mean a reduction of some 30-40 percent in global food production. There will be massive waves of refugees from famines and wars all wanting to escape to the relative security of northern Europe and America. But that's just the beginning because once over 2-3C, the really big positive natural feedbacks will kick-in - the oceans will start to release their stores of CO2 and the permafrost will melt and releasing vast quantities of methane. Then we're locked-in for an inexorable rise of some 6C, at which point we'll find ourselves really in the thick of it.

    Yes, your government and society need to help those like you who'll be effected by the change to a low carbon economy, but the world (including future generations of Americans - your grandchildren and their children) should not be held hostage to the temporary benefit of a small minority. Surely you must appreciate this.

    8. At 8:02pm on 29 Oct 2009, Eastvillage wrote: " 'It may seem extraordinary that a sparsely populated, rural state like West Virginia could hold such sway in international politics...' In the United States of America we call that democracy in action."

    This again illustrates why I've come to the sobering conclusion that democracy has become dangerously dysfunctional, sabotaged by well meaning laymen who nonetheless are without the education to make an informed opinion. If you can't pass introductory university statistics, chemistry, and thermodynamics, how can you begin to have an informed opinion? It's one of the reasons we don't let children vote.

    Again, I recommend to anyone wanting a more technical discussion.

  • Comment number 15.

    I am the wife of a WV coal miner and I am proud of the contribution my husbands' work plays in our nation and the world.

    In the late 80's and early 90's we experienced the devastation of the scientific world and political world uniting in the theory of Acid Rain from coal. Our mine shut down, production was reduced throughout the state, and numerous people had to relocate to find some type of work.

    Yes, education for new employment fields were made available, especially in the world of computer software development and aeronautics, but the reality is, much of the work force in the mining industry were at an age where retraining did not prove advantageous. Regardless of what employers may say, age discrimination does exist.

    Yes, new jobs were brought to our state for those who could not or did not want to pursue higher education. Families were asked to be thankful for $6.00 - $8.00 an hour telemarketing jobs or similar employment to replace $18.00 an hour jobs. They went from an industry vital to the running of our country to jobs annoying people with phone calls, etc.

    The Acid Rain theories of coal causing the destruction of our environment were found in large part to be unfounded, but folks never heard about that.

    Now, I watch as special interest groups, politicians, eager scientists, and many well meaning people attempt to bring the industry down once more. The fight they should be taking on is ensuring clean coal technology is used, ensuring coal companies are held to environmental protection standards, employee safety standards and fair wages and benefits standards for their workers while making a profit for their companies.

    I applaud the comments of SDY225. Coal is not the villain it is painted to be by those sources who are trying to make a name for themselves. Clean coal technology does exist and can provide the answer for those sincerely interested in lowering pollution levels without altering the lifestyles and financial stability of our population.

    As stated by others, Global Warming or the new name Climate Change is nothing more than a theory - not fact. If something is said as fact long enough, many individuals believe it is true whether or not it is truth. Extremist groups for environmental causes are easily convinced to carry the banner for a cause without having all the facts. Opportunists looking to start new industries, to increase their own wealth, fund the messages of hysteria. Scientists, eager to make a name for themselves in the research world, spout their theory as truth. Politicians pick up the banner when they see that votes can be gotten and it becomes the issue at the polls. Then it becomes the bargaining chip for world politics.

    If President O'bama was truly serious about clean energy and growing jobs in the U.S. (while protecting the current jobs of hard working Americans), we would hear him talking about the importance of incorporating Clean Coal Technology into our energy industry. Instead we hear him talk of wind, solar and nuclear energy. It boils down to scratching the back of a political supporter in some way, or attempting to create a legacy of his Presidency.

    WV is not the only state whose financial strength looks to coal to make an impact. Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia, Wyoming, and Colorado are also impacted by the production of coal.

    So let's achieve a cleaner environment for our country, as well as the world, with an abundant energy resource using clean coal technology.

  • Comment number 16.

    While I'm a little skeptical about climate science's specific predictions, I don't doubt that something is going on and that climate change denialists are about as helpful as the creationists: they've made up their minds, and no one's going to call them a flipflopper!

    When it comes to the US House of Representatives, they were supposed to be responsive to the immediate desires of voters, the short term issues, and they do so. The problem is that they have become followers rather than leaders.

    Bushouhige-murph's comment insulting the intelligence of people who don't believe in climate change is exactly why the movement has been such a failure in the US. Insults will provoke a fight-or-flight response, and the longstanding tradition in the US (and a lot of other places) is that "fight" is always the first choice.

    Insults will never cure ignorance. Patient and persistent education is one way forward, and I'm sure folks with university-level understandings of communication could come up with more. The case for climate change is strong, and someone should be able to make that case without resorting to political-campaign mudslinging.

  • Comment number 17.

    John_from_Hendon at #6

    You write: "Ah but, haven't you noticed that the IPCC connected people now call it 'Climate Change' ... When caught out - change the name!"

    Tthe IPCC has always been the IPCC. Just as the UNFCCC has always had the "CC" at the end. Nary a sight of 'GW' in either name at any time.

  • Comment number 18.

    Changes in behaviour by “households” could provide a way to rapidly reduce U.S. carbon emissions at little overall cost. At least that is what is claimed in an article by Dietz et al which appeared in PNAS earlier this week (on 26 October).

    Their assessment focused on “a short-term option with substantial potential for carbon emissions reduction: altering the adoption and use of available technologies in U.S. homes and non-business travel by means of behaviorally oriented policies and interventions”. They calculate that a combination of policy tools and marketing at national level could save an estimated 123 million metric tons of carbon per year, which is 20% of household direct emissions or 7.4% of U.S. national emissions. All this with little or no reduction in household well-being.

    The article is open access and can be found at:

  • Comment number 19.

    15. At 02:22am on 30 Oct 2009, minerswife wrote: "I am the wife of a WV coal miner and I am proud of the contribution my husbands' work plays in our nation and the world... In the late 80's and early 90's we experienced the devastation of the scientific world and political world uniting in the theory of Acid Rain from coal... The Acid Rain theories of coal causing the destruction of our environment were found in large part to be unfounded, but folks never heard about that."

    While convinced of your sincerity, I'm likewise convinced of the sincerity of those who deforested Easter Island in their efforts to raise the moai around which their religious and economic activity revolved, and of the fisherman who brought ruin upon themselves and their communities by overfishing the northern cod. Sadly, sincerity and good intentions are no guarantee against calamity.

    What I'm not convinced of, however, is the veracity of your claim that acid rain theories were found in large part to be unfounded. The link between acid rain and sulfur from burning coal is well established. It is not because the science was wrong that one seldom now hears about acid rain, rather it's because legislation was enacted that forced utilities to put scrubbers in place and auto manufactures to install catalytic converters, thereby significantly reducing SO2 and NOx emissions.

    16. At 02:40am on 30 Oct 2009, SDY225 wrote: "Bushouhige-murph's comment insulting the intelligence of people who don't believe in climate change..."

    I apologize if my comments hurt anyone's feelings. In no way do I mean to attack anyone's personal character nor their intelligence - only sometimes their reasoning. I was simply trying to articulate, what should be fairly obvious, that not everyone's opinion is of equal weight on technical and scientific issues.

    There are only a handful of climatologists actively doing research, not in the employ of oil companies, who question global warming. I welcome any arguments they might have with data collection and interpretation (eg. the discrepancy between UAH and RSS diurnal drift corrections). They, however, do not make absurd arguments of the 'a volcanic eruption produces more CO2 than all of human activity' variety that are sometimes to be found on boards like this. I was merely pointing out that in a world increasing influenced by science, that sadly too few understand, and as the gulf between specialist and layman in our modern age continues to grow, the majority of us are not necessarily in a position to make an informed decision. That's not an insult, that's a fact.

    Few cardiologist are in position to intelligently argue the feasibility of developing commercial nuclear fusion. Similarly, with few exceptions, the majority of bankers, miners, high school English teachers, ad agency execs, bus drivers, librarians, and other laymen are not in a position to intelligently argue the science of climate change with people who study this professionally, have decades of experience in both the lab and field, and whose research is scrutinized by peer review. Again that's not an insult, that's a fact.

    While not everyone is educationally equipped to argue the science of global warming, what everyone can do is make a decision based on simple risk assessment. A few years ago, Greg Craven posted a video on Youtube called ‘How It All Ends’. The guy does clown around a bit in the presentation, but after all the poor fellow is a high school science teacher in this age of edutainment, and his reasoning is solid. I recommend people check it out.

    As for patience, education, and persuasive discourse - I'm all for those things. However, unlike the obstinate refusal of some to recognize evolution, delayed consensus on global warming endangers thousands of years of collective cultural heritage and the lives of hundreds of millions. We don't have the luxury of endless debate. Procrastination only narrows our options, and will later encourage governments to try more radical geo-engineering interventions.

  • Comment number 20.

    I recently ran across some interesting articles on coal gasification which have led me to believe that coal can be burned a lot cleaner than it has in the past. Basically the process is similar to syn-gas or wood gas- only produced from coal. It appears to eliminate a lot of the drawbacks asscoiated with coal as a fuel. If the climate change bill were to include some provisions that are realistic - it may be that a coal based hydrogen economy is in our future. Food for Thought.

  • Comment number 21.

    While such communities in Appalachia, go ignored, by the rest of the US, billions are being sent to other countries, to help "the poor". It is pretty astounding to me, that all that money is sent out of the country, when it could be being used to help the needy here.

    That can only be called the "blindness of America" to its own.

  • Comment number 22.

    #17. simon-swede wrote:

    "The IPCC has always been the IPCC. Just as the UNFCCC has always had the "CC" at the end. Nary a sight of 'GW' in either name at any time.

    True, but the way that the public has been sold the climate change industry was for many years as 'Global Warming' - the 'fear' was created in degrees centigrade of warmth and the hockey stick graph was shown indicating that there would certainly be an exponential rise in temperature. Now the temperature seems to be falling theses organisations (and their industry) are calling it climate change! Rather than reassessing the science behind their erroneous predictions.

  • Comment number 23.

    Get it burnt!

  • Comment number 24.

    Based on time spent at a construction job in Charlestown, and camping or visiting Morgantown, Seneca Rocks, Blackwater Falls, Canaan Valley and some points near the Appalachian Trail along the VA border, I'd have to say WV is a diverse and beautiful state with a lot more human and natural potential than trading away your ridgetops and streams for Big Coal.

    Big Coal lobbied and mine safety standards were relaxed, we read of how dusty conveyors could be placed in ventilation shafts (a blowtorch ready to light up a mine fire). At least mountain-topping keeps workers safer above ground, but it lowers the skyline, removes the stabilizing forest, and fills headwater creeks with mine tailings. That puts fishing, hunitng and WV wild & scenic rivers at risk. Big Coal never lobbied for safe coal, just for cheap coal, and lower safety costs keep coal cheap and more widely used, and mountain-topping is a cheap production method. Since mile-long trains carry Wyoming coal all across the USA even as far as the east coast, there must be a need to lower WV coal prices to compete.

    Big Coal created the "clean coal" ads, and the phrase is much more mature as a marketing term than as a proven set of technologies, even though there are several Federally-funded coal research centers (yes, our evil national government is sepnding a lot of tax dollars to help the coal industry). Acid rain is no myth, even natural gas fired turbines need scrubbers to remove the NOX created from the high combustion temperatures. Coal fired plants need the scrubbers for the NOX and also for the sulfur that can be naturally present in the coal. Other filters can catch the fly ash particulates. Non-particulate emissions that are not caught can include natural radioactive materials and mercury or other harmful metals. All those things are in coal because the ancient, oxygen-poor swamps in which coal formed worked just like modern wetlands: they helped clean almost all the "pollutants" out of the water that flowed through them. So coal contains metal sulfides, and other elements that can pollute, aside from any carbon issues.

    There are more ways being developed to burn coal more cleanly, fludized beds, scrubbers, etc. and there may be ways to catch the CO2 as well in the future. Maybe gasifying coal will become the best use. But these all tack on cost to using coal. At some point, solar wind natural gas and so on are simply cheaper genreating methods when all costs are added up. At some point maybe even nuclear power looks better.

    I hope that farsighted leaders give West Virginians new opportunities that honor a hard working and independent heritage. I also hope that the short term payoff of mountain top mining doesn't hurt the long term opportunities for the state.

  • Comment number 25.

  • Comment number 26.

    How about building wind turbines on the ridges and mountains instead of blowing them away? How about a few Nuclear reactors ?

    In the first case the owners of the land and the county/state would get rents and other benefits. Maintaining them and security would provide clean(er) jobs. Nature would be spared as would the fishing and hunting.

  • Comment number 27.


  • Comment number 28.

    bluejay 60 wrote: "There are more ways being developed to burn coal more cleanly, fludized beds, scrubbers, etc. and there may be ways to catch the CO2 as well in the future. Maybe gasifying coal will become the best use. But these all tack on cost to using coal. At some point, solar wind natural gas and so on are simply cheaper genreating methods when all costs are added up. At some point maybe even nuclear power looks better"

    That's fine, let the market decide the most efficient source of energy. Instead we get government intervention to subsidize or penalize energy producers in the name of political correctness and if people get hurt, so what? Does anyone think the coal miners of West Virginia are going to get any of the "green jobs" Obama talks about? I seriously doubt it.

    Obama needs to remember he was elected president of the Unites States, not president of the world. The greenies in Europe won't be voting when he's up for re-election, coal miners in West Virginia will.

  • Comment number 29.

    For John_from_Hendon: You might be interested in this -

    Question for Scott0962, and other laissez-faire market fundamentalists: Should the market alone determine safe levels of lead in children's toys, what pesticides are used, or whether melamine is a suitable additive for milk? Are CPSC and EPA regulations just more political correctness that hurt business and hardworking honest folk who can decide for themselves how much chloromethoxypropylmercuric acetate residue they want on their fruit? Should the Clean Air Act be repealed? Do you support any mechanism for minimizing or internalizing negative externalities, or is that just more government interference?

    Finally, SERVINC: WHY ARE YOU ALWAYS SHOUTING (metaphorically)? Seriously dude, VOLUME does not compensate for lack of persuasiveness. It just comes across as boorish, making it easier for people to dismiss you and your opinion out of hand.

  • Comment number 30.

    I find it strange that if you want to jump into this global warming thing with both feet you must first forget every bit of science and natural history that you have learned up to this point. First off coal is a fossil fuel. This means that the carbon released into the air when burning coal was previously in the air. So for those of you that are having panic attacks every time you turn on the light in your kitchen or use hot water, don't worry, that CO2 has been out and about before. Every kid in 3rd grade learns that the earth was once a warm lush place with lots of plants. So many plants that they supported giant animals called dinosaurs. Life was good. Then the earth became very cold, plants and animals died. Think woolly mammoths frozen in the ice. That was bad. Then the Earth started to warm up again and man started burning coal (old plants and animals) to stay warm on the cold nights. That was good. Now somehow a few people have decided the prehistoric co2 is the worst thing that has ever happened to man. There are a lot of problems with this world that need fixing and for sure cleaner air and water are very important. Al Gore's movie is a sensationalized science fiction as was proved in a British court of law. We need to be sensible, not scared of the climate boggy man. Everything changes, this planet is going to change with or without our input. The greatest thing about all life, but especially humans, is our ability to adapt to changes. Let's be smart.

  • Comment number 31.

    "[Kerry] is also being forced to consider inducements - like offshore drilling permits and incentives for the nuclear industry - which might attract wavering Republicans.

    "In short, West Virginia's opposition to the Senate climate bill will end up watering down America's position on climate."

    Supporting nuclear energy is not really watering down the United States' position on climate change. More Americans, especially fiscally conservative ones, would support nuclear energy over more costly solar or wind energy. If the latter two drop drastically in price, great, then they can replace coal and nuclear. Until then, nuclear energy is as zero-carbon-emitting as wind turbines and solar panels (all of which 'cost' a lot in greenhouse gases and pollution in their production).

    And we (Americans and the world) are going to need oil and natural gas for years to come. Drilling for hydrocarbons offshore of the United States just means that it won't have to be sourced from unstable, human-rights-abusing countries (worse than 'evil America') and will be less polluting to the world in that the stuff won't have to be shipped thousands of miles on tankers from Venezuela or the Old World. Or we could just pay more for Canadian and Mexican oil, and outsource some of our fossil fuel pollution to them (and Mexico has a lot of threatened biodiversity)

  • Comment number 32.

    Fossil fuels formed over a span of several hundred million years, but we are burning through a good portion of them in several hundred years. That's a big difference in rate that is missed by the 'the earth was hotter in the past, the fossil carbon came out of the air' arguements.

    I'm not up in arms about carbon! I think the present focus on carbon is becoming a distraction from the approach of looking at complete life cycle costs, all life cycle pollution/environmental impacts, even water use like wet or dry cooling, when comparing energy strategies.

    As for market forces, it appears that Wyoming coal might have been cheaper than WV coal until some environmental considerations seemed to have been pushed aside to expand the mountaintop mining approach (I suppose the huge Powder River mines have economies of scale and getting coal hauled from WV ridgetops presents some added transportation costs).

    Clean coal technology holds future promise but it's not established yet, so isn't it jumping the gun to argue that 'clean coal' is the reason to mine more right now? Have the current crop of mountaintop mines proven they can restore woodlands and protect rivers from all the mine tailings?

  • Comment number 33.

    #29. bushouhige-murph

    I am not disagreeing with the idea/data that the planet is warming - just that the CAUSE of warming is an increase in CO2. (This has profound economic consequences.)

    (Have you looked at the Earth Watch: Richard Black BBC blog?)

  • Comment number 34.

    I find it sad that so many american's are posting to the BBC news. Myself I have found that the many many news groups in the US are not reporting on important issues. I've changed my homepage to the BBC to read what is going on in the world. This is just part of the story and what cover-up is being conducted on the People of America. Personally I am in fear of what we are to become. I find the seperation of class's growing more and more quickly then expected and find the Carbon Tax's another tool to ensure this occurs. What point do we the good people of the United States of America realize what is happening to us and make a stand for what we've had. We as people want to believe, but as in the Matrix once you've taken the blue pill you cannot go back. It's not about engery it's about control. It's not about health care its about control. You get told who you get to vote for, it's not about choice, it the illuion that you have a choice. I cannot describe the despair I feel about what I see coming.

  • Comment number 35.

    America cannot expect to burn this coal when they call for Ecuador to leave oil below the Amazon rain-forest to help prevent deforestation and climate change. Action has to be unanimous or its pointless.

    @2 "The dirty secret that is not being spread is that we have cooled since 2000."

    It's not a secret. 1998 was the hottest year on record, so you have jumped to the assumption that because temperatures have not further increased year on year that the atmosphere must be cooling. What you didn't take the time to read was that the 10 hottest years on record have all occurred in the last 12 years. Temperatures have stabilized (short term not long term) but at very high levels. This is perfectly normal for a long term trend of warmth. Average Temperatures have increased 0.75C over the last 100 years, and a further 0.6C the century before that. They are the little known facts.

  • Comment number 36.

    33. At 12:41pm on 01 Nov 2009, John_from_Hendon wrote: "I am not disagreeing with the idea/data that the planet is warming - just that the CAUSE of warming is an increase in CO2. (This has profound economic consequences.)"

    Forgive me if I have found your position somewhat ambiguous given some of your posts (see no.6 above). However, if we accept that the data indicates the Earth is warming, it must by definition be result of an energy imbalance in which (a.) more energy is coming in (the only plausible source being the sun), (b.) more energy is being absorbed (because of changes in the Earth's albedo, or reflectivity), (c.) less energy is being radiated back into space (as a result of increased concentration of greenhouse gases like CO2, CH4, CFCs, etc), or (d.) some combination thereof.

    A cursory look at the possibilities:

    (a.) Through most of there Earth's history, solar variation has been the primary driver of climate change, so it's only natural to turn first to this as the most plausible explanation. However, according to satellite data, strong correlation between solar activity and temperature ended around 1975, since which time solar activity has stayed level while temperatures have continued to increase. Even allowing for a decade lag between increased solar irradiance and temperature changes due to ocean thermal inertia, we must conclude that something else is at work.

    (b.) Recent reduction in atmospheric aerosols - specifically sulphates - means the Earth's albedo has decreased, allowing more energy in and creating a positive feedback as snow and ice cover retreat. This is part of the equation to be sure. Aerosol emissions from industry unintentionally helped counter global warming up until the 1990s. However, given the negative impacts of those pollutants, I wouldn't recommend repealing clean-air legislation to counter global warming. Governments should be working to both reduce aerosol pollution and counter global warming.

    (c.) Of course, while there are many competing natural and anthropogenic climate forcings, the only forcing that causes warming and also correlates with current temperature rises is atmospheric CO2. It has conspicuously risen some 100 ppm over the past 120 years - the kind of change which in the past has taken thousands of years. In addition, satellite measurements of outgoing radiation from the Earth, since the 1970s to the present, have recorded a decrease in longwave radiation at the specific absorption bands of greenhouse gases such as CO2 and methane. Complementing these studies, and as one would expect, surface measurements have recorded an increas in longwave radiation returning back to Earth at wavelengths matching increased CO2. In other words, these studies provide direct observational evidence for the greenhouse effect.

    It seems to me then that CO2 is the principle culprit. And while, yes, CO2 is good for both plants and helping to keep the Earth comfortably warm, dramatically increasing the concentration of atmospheric CO2, and the attendant rise in temperature (assuming solar irradiance remains constant), poses a problem for humans and plants alike, which evolved under certain climatic parameters, and which likely won't have time to adapt to rapid changes. Considering our societies' dependance on but a handful of commercially cultivated crops (eg. rice - a staple for much of the world, but which shows declining yields with increased temperature towards complete failure to pollinate at around 40C) it would behoove us, in our own self-interest, to attempt to preserve the climatic conditions under which these crops evolved, or at least not effect changes that may outpace their natural ability to evolve.

    As for Richard Black's blog - I took a quick skim through his article on the conference but haven't had time to go through the linked presentation yet. Was disappointed that most of the replies seem to be much the same nonsense as usual. I would be interested to hear more qualified persons' thoughts on the possible influence on the climate of the sun's magnetic pole reversal and of lunar nodes, but I am rather skeptical at present.


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