Pielke Jr. thinks he’s invented the coal-focused climate strategy Sierra Club’s pursued for a decade

  • Published on September 22nd, 2021

Though it may not seem like it, we really try not to talk about UC-Boulder professor Roger Pielke Jr.’s “so bad even Nate Silver had to apologize” takes, unless he’s being used by professional deniers, which is, admittedly, pretty often. And ever since his tin-foil, denier-beloved January 2020 Forbes post about how billionaires Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg “corrupted climate science” by funding research into what a coal-powered future would mean for the climate, he’s been popping up more and more in conspiratorial climate denial land.

beyond coalBy Climate Denier Roundup

But his latest substack post Monday is worth taking a look at, not because it’s in any way representative of actual climate denial, but because it reveals exactly how useless Pielke’s punditry is, even without organized denial spinning it further than he’s willing.

“Imagine,” his tweet thread from Friday that became the substack post started, “how climate policy might look” if it focused on things like coal plants instead of temperature targets, because coal is such a core driver of climate change.

In his substack post, he elaborates on how most emissions come from a small set of coal plants, and expounds on how great a “coal exit treaty” would be, because it makes temperature targets more realistic and easily manageable.

And he’s right! Coal is a dirty fossil fuel and the largest single contributor to global warming, and shutting down coal plants is a critical component of the clean energy transition. There’s no way to keep burning coal and protect the climate, so shutting down coal plants is an obvious metric for climate progress.

The problem is that Pielke’s point is woefully out of date, as shutting down coal plants has been on the Sierra Club’s agenda for, like, two decades now, and literally just imagining “that, but globally” isn’t exactly groundbreaking brain work.

And it’s not like the Beyond Coal campaign was a secret. For example, Politico’s Michael Grunwald covered the “war on coal” back in 2015, detailling the history of Sierra Club’s data-driven fight to clean up the local air and the global atmosphere by opposing new coal plants and replacing them with renewables.

At the time, the group was celebrating it’s 190th plant retirement, representing about a quarter of American coal-fired capacity at the time, saving about 5,500 estimated lives a year. It’s interesting stuff, and a testament to the grinding, un-glamourous-ly hard work and dedication of the (women) activists whose success Pielke erases to position himself as smart and wise by portraying this approach as somehow new or counterintuitive..

Per Grunwald’s 2015 story, it turns out that a real turning point for the Beyond Coal campaign was in 2011, when the group received a huge $50 million donation covering their fundraising costs to expand into every state, which was then expanded by another $100 million with help from other philanthropists.

The Sierra Club originally set a goal then of retiring

300 dirty coal plants shut down in 10 years
And that was in early January — now we’re up to 304 coal plant retirements in the past 10 years. Screenshot of Sierra Club #300 video

30 percent of the 530 US coal plants by 2020, a goal that turned out to be quite conservative, as a press release from 2020 bragged about how they’d successfully retired and replaced 60% of the fleet, totaling 318 coal plants shut down and replaced with wind and solar.

And the benefactors whose philanthropy enabled the life-saving and coal-killing campaign, the one indirectly and unintentionally praised by Roger “Tom-Steyer-and-Mike-Bloomberg-corrupted-climate-science” Pielke Jr., as he clumsily Christopher Colombus’ed the Beyond Coal approach?

None other than Michael Bloomberg, whose support then attracted… wait for it… drum roll please… Yes, you guessed it, Tom Steyer!

Which just goes to show you that when Pielke Jr. has an original thought, it’s often something bonkers, like that Bloomberg and Steyer are corrupting climate science by funding research and reports on climate risk.

And when Pielke Jr. has a correct thought, it’s often something that’s so obvious, unoriginal and well-known that it’s been funded for the last decade by billionaires like Bloomberg and Steyer, and executed brilliantly by one of the biggest legacy environmental groups on the planet, part of the “Big Green” blob that Pielke makes his brand by disparaging.

Seriously, he criticized the Sierra Club’s strategy back in 2010, so it’s pretty clear how reliable his judgement is that he’s now, 11 years later, suddenly discovering its value.

Anyway, we can’t wait to see the (additional) cognitive dissonance when Roger finds out that Bloomberg Philanthropies has taken Beyond Coal global, having closed half of Europe’s coal plants since 2016, including six of its dirtiest. Now, Australia, South Korea and Japan are also taking up the Beyond Coal mantle, too!

Is it bad and corrupted because Bloomberg funds it, or is it good because Pielke can pretend like it was his idea all along?

We can’t wait to find out!

(Originally appeared at DailyKos)

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