With climate change hovering over us like a sword of Damocles, how we produce electricity has become critical. Burning fossil fuels is the most damaging way to get our power, since that produces CO2. And the power we use in North Carolina comes chiefly from coal, most of which comes from dynamiting mountaintops in neighboring states. This is a matter of grave injustice.
Though there are promising new technologies available that will gradually close the gap, we will be burning coal for at least a generation, with nuclear and hydropower being the other chief sources. But the source of any additional capacity needs to be as close to carbon-neutral as possible. Building more coal-fired plants is simply suicidal.
A 2006 study commissioned by the state legislature showed that with conservation, efficiency and a modest growth in renewable energy, we would not need any added capacity in N.C. for 10 years. Despite this finding, Duke Energy is building a mammoth coal-fired plant at Cliffside, near Shelby. Construction was temporarily halted by federal court order, citing in particular the mercury pollution it would produce, but Duke got around this by simply reclassifying the 800-megawatt plant as a “minor” source of pollution—without changing the plant design. The N.C. Utility Commission and Gov. Perdue went along with this shameful lie. The truth is, there is no clean coal, and we must stop building new plants.
On April 20, I joined 350 folks in a well-organized march in Charlotte to protest the Cliffside plant, urging Duke CEO Jim Rogers to cancel the project. Rogers has built a reputation as a green-power executive, speaking articulately about the need to reduce CO2. Indeed, while we were reading the citizen’s injunction and Call to Conscience outside his headquarters, he was on the West Coast addressing a conference on renewable energy. On many occasions Rogers has touted the “grandchild test,” saying we must steward a world in which our grandchildren have as much chance for a healthy life as we have enjoyed. My protest sign read, “Jim Rogers, you flunked the grandchild test.”
I was one of 42 citizens who committed trespass and were arrested that day. I felt it an honor to be in the Mecklenburg County jail with grandmothers in their 80s, students from Appalachian State, environmental leaders and clergy, and most of all, victims of mountaintop removal—that most “efficient” but devastating way to mine coal.
Who is this being built for? Not for us. As the mandated study showed, we don’t need Cliffside. The additional capacity is being built to sell for profit elsewhere. But I went to Duke headquarters not simply to expose an external enemy. Our own behavior as consumers is key to reducing demand.
This is a justice issue—for the poorest among us already impacted by global climate change and for the rest of creation, which we put at risk by our arrogance and foolishness. It is a stewardship issue—not just of creation, but of our own species. If we don’t radically dampen the accelerating CO2 curve, we are virtually assuring our own extinction, along with that of countless other species.
As far as we know, we are the only beings in the universe who can look within and find the Creator staring back. This is a sacred trust indeed.
— Robert McGahey