Coal: do the ends justify the means?

This billboard lofts above some buildings in Chevy Chase.   It says: “our jobs, our families, our way of life depend on coal!”

I’ll confess.  I love a warm house on a cold day, and a cool house on a hot day.  I like lights on at night, and cold beer from the fridge. And remember, my grandfather and uncles were coal miners; my mom was literally born in a house where coal wages paid the rent. (Although who’s not to say that working in the mines didn’t take years off my grandfather’s life – he died at 60.) I’m not some detached observer.

What bothers me about this sign is the all or nothing quality about it – the sense that the means, however bad, justify the ends.  Thus we should support whatever it takes to get it out of the ground, whatever environmental destruction is necessary, and whatever damage it does to the our earth when we burn it is worth it because we have so much riding on it.  Right?

It just grates on me that “our way of life” has been equated to pollution, environmental damage, and the greed of corporations simply so we can have cheap energy.   Is that what our way of life has come to?

This  is ingenious because the mass of people don’t really care about the environment but they do care about their jobs, families and “way of life.”   So they get a warm fuzzy about coal.  And maybe they’ll remember it when haters like me try to take their jobs, families and way of life away from them.  Yeah, right.  At least that’s the maneuver that’s being trotted out here. 

So, if the ends justify the means, will there someday be a sign soon that says: “our jobs, our families, our way of life depends on oil!”…?

Perhaps, because oil is even more important to us than coal.  So if we are willing to damage, perhaps irretrievably, the environment because coal is so important, what would we be willing to do to protect “our” oil? I have a family.  I shudder at the thought.

I don’t know what the right answer is, except that peak oil will force all of us to use less energy produced with coal.   Remember, coal doesn’t come out of the ground without oil being used first. As the price of oil skyrockets during the shock, the cost of electricity will follow.  And stay high.  Soon, conservation will be the order of the day.  We WILL use less energy.

(And we’ll probably wish that we’d put a price on carbon globally, to reward us for our efficiency, in order that we, and not the Chinese, would have the lead in developing solar energy producers.  People will be cold one day because they can’t afford a foreign made solar panel they could have used to heat their house.  But that’s for another day.)

As we enter these new times, I feel like we will redefine “our way of life.”  Hopefully for the better.

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