Coal barons are killing miners, fueling global warming
Addressing climate change is a jobs issue, since renewable energy jobs are expanding at a rate that far outstrips prospective fossil fuel industry jobs. Climate-change induced political instability is a major national security issue — one that Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis has said requires a “whole of government response” to address. Most strikingly, climate change is a moral issue, whose many faces include the epidemic of progressive fibrotic “black lung” disease blighting our region.
An NPR investigation recently showed numbers of Appalachian miners sick with progressive massive fibrosis, the most vicious form of black lung, to be more than 10 times official figures. Since 2010, roughly 2,000 miners, many young, have been diagnosed with a disease that NIOSH physician Edward Petsonk has described as “almost a diabolical torture ... like a screw being slowly tightened across your throat. Day and night towards the end, the miner struggles to get enough oxygen”.
The image of the doomed miner struggling for breath evokes retired Australian Gen. Chris Barrie’s characterization of the expected national experience of unaddressed climate change — “long, slow, lingering and horrible.”
Black lung is on the rise for two reasons. First, coal is about played out; thinner coal seams recently being exploited are interleaved with the same silica rock that caused lung disease in the infamous Hawks Nest Tunnel episode. Secondly, it is assumed that, in the recent past, coal companies systematically cheated on mine air quality testing.
Perhaps the authors of the horrendous suffering caused by black lung (or climate change for that matter) may be unable to understand that suffering because of the dulling effects great wealth and power have on moral judgment. Perhaps, contrary to lip service, coal barons are just bad capitalists. Business evolution should favor the fittest, technologies which yield the highest human benefit and least pain. Renewables are ahead on that score, but the barons have used one gimmick after another to monopolize energy income they perceive as an entitlement; fighting worker protective regulation, fiddling with mine dust measurements and, like their fellow merchant princes, welcoming collaboration with the petro-state of Russia to preserve fossil fuel hegemony.
MIT Sloan business school’s Climate Interactive think tank has hailed carbon pricing as the single best answer for reducing climate change. Pricing is expected to foster a host of technologies and social adaptations that themselves reduce climate change risks. To my mind an added fee benefit is checking the moral nihilism of “fossil fuelish” industrialists.