Last night’s debate, for those who didn’t watch it, was an amazing thing to behold. There will be countless numbers of stories dissecting everything from Trump throwing Pence under the bus to his near constant sniffling; but one thing that stood out to me was his claim about clean coal and energy companies in general.
Now, I’m not an energy expert, but I do know two things: One, there’s no such thing as clean coal and two, there’s no way in hell that energy companies are going to magically make our national debt go away.
Trump specifically made three claims that I want to look at closely: he claimed that clean coal was a thing, he claimed that there was enough coal in the United States to last for what one assumes he intended to mean “for a long time,” and he claimed that energy companies will wipe out our national debt.
Let’s check that last one first.
Simply put, having a national debt is not a bad thing by default. Trump displayed a lot of economic ignorance over the course of the debate — claiming that imports are bad while exports are good was the most readily memorable of them. His claim that energy is going to make the debt magically vanish was just wrong on the face of it. The energy sector is large, yes, but more than 80% of it is privatized. With his incoherent tax plan, I’m not sure how the private sector is clearing out anything other than the public coffers.
His second claim was that there’s enough coal to last for a long time (I believe he said something to the effect of “millions of years,” but I’m working from memory and that can easily be taken as hyperbole for “a long time,” so that’s what I’m rolling with). I suppose this is true — if you consider little over 250 years to be a long time.
The United States has the majority of Earth’s coal resources; it’s one of five nations that, combined, control 71% of the world coal. The United States controls about 26% of that 71%, so that’s quite a bit of coal. But not a lot when you consider that it’ll barely get us through the next three centuries.
Now, I’m aware that sounds like a long time, but really, it’s not– especially when considering that we’re going to be looking at the effect of modern carbon emissions affecting climate over 1,000 years from now. Things are going to be ugly by 2100; if we don’t do something now, by 2300, about the time we’ll start running out of coal, there will be a 2-5 meter sea level rise. For those that don’t speak metric, that’s a 6-foot to 15-foot sea level rise.
If you thought Hurricane Matthew was something, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
And before any right-winger reading this starts, yes, climate change is real. NASA says so, and NASA as an agency is smarter than any one single person will ever be. NASA got us to the moon. No oil company ever did that. When it comes to their field — aerospace — I’ll trust their judgment first.
But that really brings us back to Trump’s ultimate point: the issue of clean coal.
When Trump wasn’t taking a question about Benghazi and turning it into a discussion about Twitter, he mercilessly pitched the idea of clean coal. “There’s clean coal,” he told the audience. Now, I’m familiar with this point; coal will “act as a bridge” to cleaner energy sources. Except it won’t. It’s classic self-defeating rhetoric; the “I can quit any time I want to” joke about being addicted.
But what about clean coal? Well, simply put, it doesn’t exist. It’s cleanER than the average coal, but coal is coal, folks. Capturing CO2 emissions and burying them requires energy and resources that will cause the price to jump for the end user. And that’s before we get into coal ash.
Listen, I don’t want to have to scale back on energy production more than anyone else. I’m a bright green environmentalist in addition to a technoprogressive and a democratic transhumanist. I love my technology, and I love civilization. Probably more so than Trump and right-wingers, since I don’t mind paying the taxes required to support it. But even I realize that our current energy consumption isn’t sustainable. As humanity becomes more technological, we’re going to need more and more power, and coal won’t cut it.
And yet, there’s this great big ball of plasma in the sky that’s powered the Earth, and all life on the Earth, every minute of every hour of every day, for billions of years and will continue to do so for another billion or so years. Why are we not tapping into that?
I empathize with the coal miners who lose their job. That’s why I support educating them to do a different job — or, and here’s a radical notion, just shed this backwards idea a person should have to strive their entire life in dangerous circumstances just to survive with a basic income guarantee.
I know, I’m idealistic.
But I’m more anchored to reality than Trump could ever hope to be, and tonight proved that. No, clean coal won’t erase the national debt. In fact, clean coal can’t even erase the fact that it’s not very clean.
Feature image via screen capture