Moral Courage is Needed Here and Now:
We have been amazed and inspired by Pope Francis. Wherever he travels he speaks the truth to the serious issues that face us globally and locally. While speaking specifically about the arms trade as the “industry of death,” he could have easily been referring to the fossil fuel and the utilities industries.
Likewise, North Carolina’s own Rev. William Barber at Washington D.C.’s Moral Action on Climate Change Rally spoke the truth… “we cannot love our earthly neighbors and yet sit quietly while the Earth herself is made unfit for human habitation. We cannot love humanity and yet give way to forces that derail the very climate that gives us life…We must make a moral demand, shifting the energy supply strategy from coal, oil, natural gas and other fossil fuels to solar, wind, geothermal, and other clean renewable energy sources. We must establish policies and programs to modernize the national infrastructure for the 21st century, transitioning toward full-employment with millions of new green jobs to help build a sustainable economy.”
But where is the truth telling in City Hall? The mayor and City Council have passively accepted Duke Energy’s so called WNC Modernization Plan. The plan is to replace 364 megawatts of coal boilers with 650 MW of natural gas. How this is “modernization” boggles the mind. Implementation of this plan will commit Western North Carolina to obtaining nearly 100 percent of its electricity from natural gas for the next 30-40 years and prevent the build out of a truly 21st Century renewable energy infrastructure. And, despite the hype of the natural gas industry, burning methane would be worse for climate change than burning coal in the next 20 years, in my opinion.
If this project is allowed to proceed without a fight, the city will never be able to meet its carbon reduction goals. The city, under the inspired leadership of Mayors Charles Worley and Terry Bellamy, signed and implemented the Mayors Climate Change Agreement, committing the city to an 80 percent reduction in fossil fuel use by 2050. The city has done quite well in meeting its targets. But now with nearly 100 percent of the region’s electricity to come from natural gas, it will be impossible for the city to meet its goals.
If we allow business as usual by Duke Energy, we can expect our children and grandchildren to live in a world that is warmer beyond human experience. Jim Rogers, former CEO of Duke, called natural gas the “crack cocaine” of the fossil fuel industry. Duke’s commitment to natural gas establishes it as an “industry of death.”
What we desperately need is an energy system for life — one that relies on the sun, wind and the flow of rivers. We have that potential here in WNC. We have plenty of land for larger scale solar farms, and an abundance of roofs for solar on businesses, industrial sites and residences. We have hundreds of megawatts of hydropower that can be delivered to us from Eastern Tennessee and WNC, and we have extraordinary wind potential off the N.C. and S.C. coasts.
It would be a slam-dunk win for our health and economy if Duke would partner with the citizens of Asheville and commit to democratize our electric energy sector and help us obtain 50 percent of our electricity from renewable sources by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050. If Duke Energy is to live up to its constitutional obligation to serve the welfare of the people of North Carolina, it must reorganize its centralized approach to energy generation and delivery so that, together, we can make WNC a model for democratic renewable energy generation, storage and delivery that is consistent with a beautiful life enhancing planet and human community.
So far, however, Mayor Manheimer and City Council members (with the exception of Cecil Bothwell) have refused to aggressively lead on this life or death issue. The county commissioners are also missing in action from public debate on this fossil fuel boondoggle for Duke. And why haven’t the major candidates in City Council elections made this plan a central issue?
Does Duke Energy govern us? They have captured the language of our energy future by calling it “modern,” but there is no truth in their claim. As Jim Rogers stated, natural gas is the “crack cocaine” of the fossil fuel industry. Are we going to allow ourselves to be taken down this addictive road by Duke Energy that benefits only the drug dealer? Is there no moral compass in the political leadership in this community?
Richard Fireman is a retired medical doctor and founding member of Elders Fierce for Justice. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to help fight for an energy future that is just, democratic and life enhancing.
The Costs of Fossil Fuels
Fossil fuels – coal, oil and natural gas – are called cheap sources of energy. This is only true if we do not take hidden costs into account.
Air, Water and Land Pollution
The mining and drilling of fossil fuels contaminates water and land, often leaving behind an unrecognizable landscape. Spills during transportation by pipeline and trains cause further contamination.
Burning fossil fuels releases carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, and hydrocarbons into the air. Coal ash – the waste material left after coal is burned – contains arsenic, mercury, lead, and other toxic heavy metals; it can and has leaked into streams, rivers and underground water supplies.
Oil spills can destroy plant and animal habitats.
According to Physicians for Social Responsibility pollution caused by burning fossil fuels leads to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and is a cause of early death.
Mining, drilling and burning fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere contributing to global warming, sea-level rise and altered weather patterns, such as drought and severe storms.