News Flash: Yes, Coal Still Causes Global Warming [video]

  • Published on March 5th, 2009

Open Mouth, Insert Foot

That’s probably what the memo said on Joe Lucas’ desk this morning when he got to work.  Joe, the spokesman for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) was on a CNN yesterday, saying he didn’t know if Coal was responsible for global warming.  By now, you’ve probably seen the following short clip:


Still the industry refuses to say its plants contribute to global warming.
[Question:] Can you just answer that yes or no? If you believe that burning coal causes global warming?
[Joe Lucas:] I don’t know, I’m not a scientist.

Clearly, Joe knows.  He’s the spokesman for a Clean Coal advocacy group that admits as much, only they say that coal can clean up it’s act.  Now, there’s a lot of evidence that Coal can’t, that from cradle to grave it will always be very dirty.  Regardless, from a policy perspective, this sort of thing is just frustrating.

The Clean Coal discussion is not as simple as anyone (on either side of the propaganda machine) wants to make it out to be.  To quote Bruce Niles from the Sierra Club: “Clean Coal means different things to different people.”  If clean coal is what the coal industry wants, it’s already here.  Environmental scientists agree that Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) has some potential to make coal cleaner.  But that nuance is lost in this discussion.

We Might Still Need Some Coal

The reality of the situation (that 55% of the country runs on coal power, that the coal industry provides a lot of jobs, etc.) is that the near future will have some coal in it.  Van Jones, at Powershift ’09, reminded us to remember the coal miners (even as he mocked “clean coal”).  How much, and how clean, (and what clean means, exactly) is what is at stake in the war of words and images between groups like Reality and groups like ACCCE.

See more Red, Green, and Blue Coverage of Clean Coal spin here.

So what happens when someone like Joe Lucas says something as blatantly untrue as “I don’t know if Global Warming is Caused By Coal”?  It makes everyone on the environmentalist side see red, get riled, and want to walk away from the discussion.  It casts us back into a debate that we need to be past!

Look at the name of this article: Coal burning releases C02.  C02 causes global warming.  Meanwhile, there are real scientists trying as hard as they can to figure out Carbon Capture and Sequestration  technology — which could make the coal we do have to use cleaner.  The water gets more muddied, and everyone forgets that the reason “Clean Coal” as it is currently being discussed is a problem is because it’s cited as a reason to just let the coal industry have free reign and pump whatever they want out into the world.  If you ask the NRDC if we can (and should) make coal cleaner, they say yes.  If you ask them if clean coal exists, they say no.  No one wants to talk about the nuance here, because they are afraid of loosing ground in the public eye.


About the Author

Alan Smith is a Freelance Producer in Brooklyn New York who’s been fortunate enough in the past to work on a Peabody award winning radio show (the Brian Lehrer show, WNYC Radio) and an Emmy nominated TV program (Brian Lehrer Live on CUNY TV). Other highlights include PhilanthroMedia, a new media company which works for social change with non-profits and foundations across the globe. In my spare time, I’m interested in the science and politics of the current green movement, and write about those things in and around whatever else crosses my grill at


  • Actually Anon, I sort of agree with the necessity of Nuclear, even while I think your method of talking about it pointless and troll-y. I do believe in Science, I promise!

    I think that the point I was going for was one of nuance: that Coal is something we have on our hands right now, and that it's something that, going forward, it would be good to talk about logically. Don't think Nuclear changes that fact, just like I don't think that the fact that Clean Coal is a myth changes it. However, you are playing into my hands by claiming that whole worship name calling thing… that's the exact point that gets us nowhere except angry and re-trenched.

  • Or you could give up on the dream of uninventing gunpowder and go nuclear.

    Seriously, how can you criticize conservatives for being anti science yet be opposed to nuclear power? If you actually believed in science you would know it is the cleanest, cheapest, safest form of energy devised by mankind, and it is the perfect solution to global warming.

    But oh wait, instead of worshiping Jesus you worship Gaia, and Gaia hath spoken that nuclear technology is an abomination before Her, and that risk analysis is sinful as radiation is Unholy Energy who's dangers cannot be measured by mere scientific method…

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