Taking On King Coal

Activists turn to civil disobedience to thwart new power plants

  • Share
  • Read Later
Robert Nickelsberg / Getty for TIME

Activists donít want more coal plants, like this one near a Pennsylvania playground.

(2 of 2)

The coal industry counters that the sheer rise in demand for electricity--projected to increase 30% by 2030, according to the federal Energy Information Agency--means a new generation of coal plants is inevitable. Dominion executives point out that Virginia has a projected shortfall in electricity supply and that the Wise County plant is needed to close that gap.

Coal remains cheap and plentiful in the U.S. (as long as no price is put on carbon emissions), and its supporters argue that "clean coal" will solve the pollution problem. But it's not clear what they mean. "Clean coal" can refer to new technologies that remove pollutants like soot and sulfur dioxide from the waste process, or it can mean capturing and sequestering the carbon burned in coal. The former exists--the Dominion plant is a good example--but the latter does not. And a new report by the International Energy Agency noted that research for sequestration projects remains badly underfunded. "Clean coal is like healthy cigarettes," Gore said. "It does not exist."

For many green activists, climate change is fundamentally a moral issue. To accept a new generation of polluting coal plants is to doom future generations to an impoverished planet. So the response should be fundamentally moral as well, using the same tactics--civil disobedience, nonviolent protest--as those of the civil rights movement.

Technology and economics alone won't solve the climate crisis. Moral suasion of the sort exemplified by frontline activism is needed too, as Gore noted. "It'd be more powerful if he put his body where his mouth is," says Abigail Singer, a Rising Tide activist. In other words, there will always be room on the human chain for you, Al.

Read more "Going Green."

See TIME's special report on the environment.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. Next Page