'No!' to coal

According to the latest figures, the U.S. exported more than 4 million tons of coal to China in 2010.

Overall, China imports close to 270 million tons of coal a year, and then burns most of it in furnaces without significant pollution controls.

Much of it is Cretaceous-age, high-sulfur brown coal, and, as one expert puts it, in Beijing it hides the sun.

China’s pollution is mostly invisible by the time it gets to the U.S. — it takes three days for the wind to drive it here — but the damage to the atmosphere is global.

And it makes American efforts to lower carbon emissions a bit naive.

All the low-emission cars, solar rooftops and wind turbines here pale in comparison to the role of China — and the rest of the low-tech world — in contributing to global warming.

We could start to reverse that by making a solid effort to remove coal from the list of fuels — worldwide.

Experts say coal is the worst, and we’re still using it to produce electricity ... last year, 42 percent of all power in the U.S. was produced by burning coal.

Natural gas is better, but nuclear energy, buttressed by solar, tidal and wind resources could supply the entire country with power without adding to the carbon in the atmosphere.

What keeps us from doing that? A lack of political will and a deep, profound misunderstanding of the stakes involved.

While NIMBY groups block wind turbines, anti-nukers fight nuclear plants and others overinflate the potential dangers of fracking, the carbon pours out of our coal plants and we ship millions of tons of coal that we could not burn here overseas.

Coal, gas and oil are stored solar energy, produced in an age of exuberant plant growth and a corresponding lack of fungi capable of coping with the enormous mass of cellulose produced by those early flora.

They are a finite resource, and would be foolish to continue to burn them to produce heat even if the resulting carbon dioxide wasn’t a threat to our continued survival.

It’s time to put a stop to it.

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