Creative Commons licenseThree Strikes and You’re Hot — Time for Obama to Say No to the Fossil Fuel Wish List
By Bill McKibben

In our globalized world, old-fashioned geography is not supposed to count for much: mountain ranges, deep-water ports, railroad grades — those seem so nineteenth century. The earth is flat, or so I remember somebody saying.

But those nostalgic for an earlier day, take heart. The Obama administration is making its biggest decisions yet on our energy future and those decisions are intimately tied to this continent’s geography. Remember those old maps from your high-school textbooks that showed each state and province’s prime economic activities? A sheaf of wheat for farm country? A little steel mill for manufacturing? These days in North America what you want to look for are the pickaxes that mean mining, and the derricks that stand for oil.

There’s a pickaxe in the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming, one of the world’s richest deposits of coal. If we’re going to have any hope of slowing climate change, that coal — and so all that future carbon dioxide — needs to stay in the ground.  In precisely the way we hope Brazil guards the Amazon rainforest, that massive sponge for carbon dioxide absorption, we need to stand sentinel over all that coal.

Doing so, however, would cost someone some money.  At current prices the value of that coal may be in the trillions, and that kind of money creates immense pressure. Earlier this year, President Obama signed off on the project, opening a huge chunk of federal land to coal mining.  It holds an estimated 750 million tons worth of burnable coal. That’s the equivalent of opening 300 new coal-fired power plants. In other words, we’re talking about staggering amounts of new CO2 heading into the atmosphere to further heat the planet.

 

Bill McKibben

Bill McKibben

An American environmentalist and writer, Bill McKibben is the founder of 350.org, an international climate campaign. This October 10, 350.org is organizing the second annual 350 International Day of Climate Action, with thousands of events planned at iconic places around the world. Bill frequently writes about global warming, alternative energy, and the risks associated with human genetic engineering. Beginning in the summer of 2006, he led the organization of the largest demonstrations against global warming in American history. McKibben is active in the Methodist Church, and his writing sometimes has a spiritual bent.