Reader’s view: Coal mine bad investment for future

Recent issues of The New Mexican have run front-page stories critical to everyone’s future. The choices they pose are mutually exclusive, however.

On Sunday, Dec. 7, it was (“Coal country ponders future without mines,” Dec. 7.) On Nov. 30 the headlines were (“PNM coal mine talks worry activists,” Nov. 30) and (“Grave climate realities test optimism,” Nov. 30).

The worry generated by Public Service Company of New Mexico turns on the prospect of buying a coal mine. To buy a coal mine translates as our power company’s long-term commitment to dirty fuel — more greenhouses gases and the public health consequences of coal ash.

Why undertake this multi-generational commitment when the regulatory environment and numerous investors are moving away from coal-generated electricity? That seems reason enough for caution, given accounts like (“Coal country ponders future without mines,” Dec. 7) the story from The Associated Press.

Yet something far more important is the true bottom line, the bottom line below the (profit) bottom line: Stop wrecking the planet and profiting from it. It’s the first rule of holes: to get out of one, stop digging. Don’t make matters worse. For coal mines that means what it means for the Keystone XL pipeline: Cease making large, long-term capital investments in new fossil fuel infrastructure. Don’t go there. It harms the planet and dooms the kids.

Catastrophic harm is the concern of “Grave climate realities test optimism.” While it’s only one generation since the historic 1992 Rio Earth Summit, in that one generation CO2 emissions have increased 57 percent, 1.7 billion consumers have joined the population, sea levels have risen 3 inches, extreme weather events are up 30 percent, the oceans are acidifying faster than they have in millions of years, glaciers and ice sheets are melting at alarming speed, and the global mean temperature is on track to make 2014 the hottest year on record.

“Global warming” and “climate change” don’t begin to name what is happening: The planet’s changing, not simply the weather or climate. Nature itself is altering course in such a way that Earth can no longer be counted on in the ways we have known. Not for steady seasons of seedtime and harvest. Not for glacial waters to feed great rivers. Not for sea levels trustworthy enough to safely host coastal cities. Not for flora and fauna to adjust to new insect diseases and predators, or drought. Not for rainfall and snowpack to quench our thirst and the land’s. And not for enough healthy habitat to stave off the mass extinction of countless species, that creation holocaust no one dares to name as such.

“The Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stones” (Ahmed Yamani). For us the update is, “Will the Fossil Fuel Age end because we’ve left coal, oil and gas in the ground?” Or do we burn them? On the very March day that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its fifth Assessment Report, strengthening yet again scientific consensus about human-induced warming, ExxonMobil issued a statement saying that it sees no end to the burning of oil and gas. Is this PNM, too? And is it our choice for our power company?

In the end, the choice posed by the front page stories is essentially moral. Do we disassemble, in every just way possible, a human economy at odds with the planet’s economy, or not? Not if we keep digging and not if we bind coming generations to new fossil fuel infrastructure.

Larry Rasmussen, author of the prize-winning volume Earth-Honoring Faith (Oxford University Press, 2013), lives in Santa Fe.

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