Energy and Doom

lignite mining texasThe future is incompatible with human thinking. That’s not to say we cannot imagine “tomorrow” but that what we imagine will always be cobbled together out of “pastness.” Further, the very same thinking that is assertively addicted to narratives of repetition (the sun rises, the sun sets, the sun rises, the sun sets)–I think we might call this “stability” in our Little-Big Brains–is what tethers us to our doom. We cannot change our ways without a catastrophic change of context, one in which the world changes first, and then we adapt. The sun didn’t rise, shit, better do something different.

This is no revelation (sneaky of me)–but what this does is make the world of today stick in our minds as the “right” world. We burn coal and it’s changing the atmosphere of the planet to a degree that I think there will be a catastrophe that will change us or kill us. We shall see. But that statement, even if I make it more doom-laden, will only be an abstraction and useless to “changing minds.”

This is rather what we struggle against as we are directed to think of our daily lives as occurring in a justified and repeatable way. We burn coal for fuel. We need fuel. We need coal. Coal creates jobs. More coal, more jobs. My life is tied to coal. If there’s no coal tomorrow, I don’t know how to exist or who I am. No, we cannot end coal production.

Here’s a little example of the “politics” of this I guess–the propaganda of it–from Texas, the nation’s 4th largest coal-producing state (low-grade lignite, mined at the surface). The Texas State government publishes Fiscal Notes: A Review of the Texas Economy from the Office of Susan Combs, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. In May of 2013 an article titled, “Texas Coal: Past, Present, and (Almost Certainly) Future,” begins this way.

The production boom in U.S. shale formations has produced vast quantities of cheap and readily available natural gas, greatly altering the nation’s energy mix – and leading some to speculate, as a recent study by the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) put it, that coal is “beginning the long goodbye.”

Due to emissions of atmospheric pollutants and greenhouse gases, this ancient fuel has never been more controversial. But given the nation’s ever-growing need for energy, it seems much too early to be writing obituaries for coal. And that’s good news for tens of thousands of Texans who depend on coal-fired power for their livelihoods.

That’s the rub, right there. Today, now, Texas coal employs Texans. If not for coal, what would they do? And guess what, it’s actually all those poor rural folks who depend on coal.

Rural Job Creator
The coal-and-power combination is hugely important to many Texans.
According to a recent report prepared by the University of North Texas’ (UNT’s) Center for Economic Development and Research, coal mining and coal-fired power generation, as well as some manufacturing of activated carbon from lignite, generate more than $6.2 billion in the Texas economy each year. Read the study (PDF, 309K). The industry supports more than 23,000 jobs in the state. Mining alone employs about 9,450 Texans, many of them in areas that sorely need the jobs.

“The counties where Texas coal is mined are rural, and in many cases those mines are the number-one driver of the local economy,” says Powers, whose organization commissioned the UNT study. “A municipality like Fairfield [in Freestone County] would be devastated if mining went away.”

Oh, crap, we have to keep burning coal! (But is that a lot of jobs?)

We all must admit that there is the real truth about the ways in which industries which make billions for a very few folks also “allow” poor wage slaves to eat food and turn on their lights and have plumbing, etc. You don’t think, normally, I’d guess, that the job you do will ruin us all…you don’t think that the job you do is “your fault.” It’s not! And I’m not saying it is.

I’m saying these are systemic institutional dilemmas. The industry must be dissolved and replaced. Simple!

Of course it’s not simple. But it has to be done, right? Not gradually. Now. And shudder to think it, but the only way it can be done is to guarantee every single one of those Texans (and West Virginians, and Kentuckians, and Pennsylvanians, etc.) jobs that are exactly equivalent (or better) to the ones they hold now–and make more of them.

In World War II the government told the auto industry–no more cars–war machines. NOW! And it was done. What was the TVA? What was the WPA? Is Oligarchical/Plutocratic Politics going to stop us from fixing our mistakes? Tradition is stasis. What can we name the tradition of continuing to do something that is clearly altering the very elements that sustain life?

So, Coal Companies, you’re fired unless you agree to be Wind or Solar companies. NO, we don’t believe your “scrubber” smokestacks make any difference–stop lying.

Hey, Automobile industry…make only a few “classes” of cars that are the safest and best designed for fuel efficiency (hint, electric powered by solar panels). No more “market choice” for “products” that kill us in accidents and via their “waste” emissions. Think of them as very large cigarettes.

Hey, Government, you created an economics of spying and imprisonment and war. You can change this. The whole world is in this fix and the poorest countries in the world don’t need our boot on their necks while we steal their resources. We need to use all that money and determination to plug the holes in our flag and its tatters of morality.

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