This is a guest blog post submitted by Joelle Moses, a student of International Development and Psychology at McGill University, Canada. Joelle hopes to use her passion for justice and her understanding of people to drive meaningful change in the realm of climate action.
I distinctly remember the moment at last years United Nations Conference on Climate Change, when I heard that the United States government – under the Trump administration – was hosting an event on “clean coal power.” My initial reaction was to laugh. I simply could not believe that at a conference aimed at accelerating mobilization for climate change, the world’s dirtiest form of energy was being actively promoted. As I began to understand this issue more deeply, I realized that this was no laughing matter.
Why not? Essentially, coal is a compound made mostly of carbon, so when it mixes with air as it’s burned to produce energy, it releases massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As we know, these carbon emissions are directly related to climate change, and it’s menacing effects. Consequences include severe droughts, sea level rise, flooding, extreme weather events, and species loss, and ‘the severity of these impacts are tied directly to the amount of CO2 we release, including from coal plants.’ Notably, coal power plants create five times more greenhouses gasses than gas power, and over one hundred times more than wind, water, solar, or nuclear energy.
In addition to these momentous environmental consequences, coal production also serves as a significant risk to human health. The toxins contained within coal have been linked to breathing problems, asthma, brain damage, heart problems, neurological disorders, and premature deaths. In China, exposure to coal-polluted-air has lowered life expectancy by about 3 years. Since 1900, more than 100,000 coal miners have died in America, amounting to more American deaths than those from the Vietnam War and both Iraq wars combined.
Despite what we know about the impacts of coal, it continues to be one of the largest energy sources used today. In fact, coal use has been growing steadily over the past century, reaching over 8 billion tons in recent years. This simply cannot continue, if we want to avoid climactic catastrophe.
In 2015, the international community came together to sign the largest climate treaty of all times: The Paris Agreement. This treaty is aimed at halting global emissions, before the tipping point of Catastrophic (virtually unstoppable) Climate Change is reached. However, as a recent UNEP report highlights, in order for the goals of the Paris Agreement to be met, every single coal plant in the world must be closed by 2050. Current projections point away from this – with plans for over 1600 new coal power plants, expanding coal power production will make it virtually impossible to meet the goals outlined in the treaty.
In December of 2018, global leaders will come together for
yet another of their annual “Conference of the Parties” (COP) climate talks. COP24 will be the most important conference since Paris in 2015. Much importance is placed on its outcome, as this is where the rulebook for the actual implementation of the Paris Agreement (in 2020) will be finalized. However, the fact that this conference will be hosted by Poland, a country that gets 80% of its electricity from coal, has skeptics raising their brows. The progress made at these conferences over the past few years has been painfully slow, even under the leadership of very ambitious and climate-conscious governments. Now, with the most vital conference being guided by a coal-country, things are not looking too encouraging.
Those who are pocketing billons of dollars from the industry continue to deliberately halt progress on this issue, at the expense of the collective. These actors deny the proven feasibility and economic viability of a world run on clean energy, in order to protect their own interests. And that is where we step in.
As an individual, it’s easy to feel small and hopeless when confronting such daunting global issues, especially when we are outsiders to the international political arena. That is exactly why the power of the collective must be launched.
Our futures do not have to be locked in to the catastrophic projections seen today. The course of our futures can be changed, but they will not change on their own. It’s nonsense to believe that we are powerless within this paradigm. Some of the most fundamental change ever witnessed has been driven by mass movements, from Women’s Suffrage, to the Civil Rights Movement, to Veganism, social movements have been monumental in encouraging our leaders to listen to us. We need to create a social movement of the same magnitude and breadth as these ones, in order to create the much-needed political pressure to push our leaders to do more.
The Exit Coal Now Petition is a good starting point. When this petition gains traction, it will be shared on larger and larger online platforms, and will eventually make itself to the President of the 2018 climate talks in Poland. It is both our right and our responsibility to do everything we can to ensure that the outcomes of COP24 slant in the favor of the collective, rather than the coal companies.
The social media is an important tool for those of us marginalized by international politics, to bring attention to the issues that matter to us. Let us utilize the power of our collective voice, which screams much louder than our individual voices.
In the words of Barack Obama, “One voice can change a room, and if one voice can change a room, then it can change a city, and if it can change a city, it can change a state, and if it changes a state, it can change a nation, and if it can change a nation, it can change the world. Your voice can change the world.”
For more updates and opportunities for intervention, be sure to like and follow the Saving Our Planet Facebook page .
Photo source: World Politics Review