We just need to use our common sense in dealing with climate change | Opinion – pennlive.com
NASA reports that global warming has done more damage to the planet in the last 75 years than in all of the previous years of human civilization. The change in our climate can be measured in an unprecedented increase in the earth’s temperature. Our oceans are heating up, our ice caps are melting, and sea levels are rising at alarming rates.
It is a fact that climate change threatens the very existence of the planet. It is also a fact that man-made emissions have accelerated climate change dramatically.
Our burgeoning industrial economies and the energy required to propel them have given us the luxuries of modern civilization. But they have also given us scorching summers, frigid winters, and dwindling water resources. Forests have become tinder boxes and high-rent coastal properties are watching their shoreline disappear. Most scientists agree that current climate realities are unsustainable. Common sense says that we should do something about it.
To that end, President Joe Biden convened a summit of industrial countries to jump-start discussions on ways to reduce emissions on a global scale. The U.S. target is now a 50% reduction in emissions by 2030. The ultimate goal – already endorsed by China and other major polluters – is net-zero carbon emissions by the year 2060.
Pennsylvania has a special stake in this effort for two reasons.
First, our heritage requires it. Article 1, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution grants every Pennsylvanian a right to clean air and clean water. The only way to protect this right is to assure that our own behaviors do not spoil the environment.
Secondly, Pennsylvania proudly participated in the industrial revolution. We were at the forefront of every innovation that provided opportunities to workers and new products to the world. There is a price to pay for mining coal, making steel, and producing the goods and services that the world needed.
In the 1950s, headlights and streetlights were necessary to see through the smoke that belched from steel plants in Pittsburgh – even at high noon. Growing up in Johnstown, I thought that the natural color for the hillsides was the rust-orange of sulfur emissions that covered them year-round.
Just as Pennsylvania built a robust economy in the last century, we have a chance to reshape it into something better – an economy that taps into our abundant energy resources and into our proven ability to innovate.
Here’s where real common sense comes in.
Coal provides 20% of our energy needs. The 2019 Coal Report of the US Energy Department notes that there are 5,400 coal jobs in Pennsylvania. We produce 7.1% of the nation’s coal supply. It is just not possible to turn that switch off immediately. Instead, we should be embarking on a phased-in migration away from coal that includes the use of existing waste coal and other clean coal technologies. We should accommodate miners with new opportunities in related industries and fund the training required.
Similarly, we can’t ignore the huge potential of Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry. The Marcellus Shale formation in Pennsylvania is thought to be the largest source of natural gas in the country. Underlying this shale is the Utica formation with another 60 years of drilling life. A recent downturn caused by oversupply has caused some belt tightening in the industry but 32,000 jobs have already been created and the upside is still enormous. Wages average about $60,000 per job, and industry sources say the total impact of natural gas on Pennsylvania is about $11 Billion per year.
Yes, we must transition to lower emissions and we have the technology and research support to do that. But common sense says that our approach to climate change has to take into account the realities of both coal and natural gas on the state’s economy.
There is one other consideration. Pennsylvania is well on its way to hosting a state-of-the-art “cracking” plant in Beaver County. This facility, funded by Shell Oil and tax breaks from the federal and state governments, will consume huge amounts of the Marcellus Shale gas to make plastic from its ethane molecules. The whole enterprise offers a “closed loop” type of manufacturing that utilizes local raw materials to manufacture products without emissions like we have seen from steel manufacturing or from coal fired boilers.
It is encouraging that the United Mine Workers of America have already engaged in the discussions about what paths are appropriate for the coal industry. The shift to natural gas is well underway in our state and, from an environmental perspective, that is a good thing. What remains for elected officials and for all of us is to deal with the reality of climate change without fear or rancor.
When we reason together, our common sense can prevail.
Mark S. Singel is a former Democratic Lieutenant Governor and Acting Governor of Pennsylvania.