We often refer to the global economy as one in which we are all connected by information and commerce of all types, but the reference is much more literal. We are all connected by a shared atmosphere, analogous to swimming in the same pool, from which we all inhale several thousand times per day and into which the 7 billion or so of us also exhale.
In addition to the carbon dioxide that we all express with every breath, we also add massive amounts of effluent from volcanic eruptions, smoke from wildfires, output of various smokestacks and, even, flatus from the planet's combined population of about 14 billion human beings and ruminant animals. All these things and more are incorporated into the atmosphere and passed from country to country in an unstoppable circulatory circumnavigation of the planet.
In a unilaterally ideological war, our central government and its regulatory apparatus has declared a war on American coal to stop its production, distribution, export and use in the United States in the mistaken assertion that we can "clean up" our air, somehow divorcing ourselves from the world's weather. In addition to the direct impact of reducing coal production, this action has closed dozens of coal-fired generating plants that supply industrial and home electricity supplies. This does not portend well for our economic recovery, as current electrical generation capacity has fallen below 2006 levels and may not be able to support significant industrial growth.
Reductions in generating capacity will have the result of another tax increase on everyone, placing a further drag on our already weak economy and increasing families' utility bills as it reduces their available budgets for food and other necessities.
For businesses, it means reducing or eliminating the profit margin and being forced to relocate offshore or across the border in search of a more stable, predictable and favorable business climate.
All this is part of a partisan political gesture to appease those who want to stop coal use on their way to eventually eliminating natural gas and petroleum in the coming years.
In emerging nations where government and business work hand-in-hand to promote economic activity and increase the standard of living for their citizens, new coal-fired power plants are opening at the rate of virtually one per week. Coal remains the cheapest, most abundant, and well understood energy source that is easily stored and transported almost anywhere on the planet. Even developed nations are turning or returning to coal use because of its benefits.
Strong advances in reducing unwanted emissions have made coal use in America cleaner than ever, but those advances will grind to a halt if utilization continues to diminish. Other nations, though, care little for the environmental impact of unfettered atmospheric pollutants and show few signs of taking the clean-up steps that we have in this country.
The more rational action should be to continue to develop cleaner coal solutions, much as we have with automobiles during the last 30 years. Those technologies can then be exported to other nations for a more concerted effort to deal with the unrestricted air entering our country and that we all share.
It is unfortunate for us that our central government had fallen prey to the tyranny of partisan expediency at tremendous expense to taxpayers and the economy for little or no benefit.
Even though 40 percent of the electricity that powers our central government in Washington and much of the rest of the country comes from coal-fired plants, they still ignore the bigger picture. It is of little concern to the government elites if they drive thousands or millions onto the debt-financed dole, as long as they can continue to borrow trillions from the same coal-burning countries whose stated intent is to defeat us in an all-out global economic war.
The ruling elites in our central government don't care about any of this since they suffer no consequences, nor do they have to carry any of the burdens. Unlike the dwindling number of taxpayers who cover the cost for their blunders and ideological water-carrying, they already have it made as they go about their royal lifestyles.
The climate change we should be worrying about is the one in our central government in Washington.
(Wallace is a senior fellow at the Public Policy Foundation of West Virginia and teaches in the graduate school at Muskingum University.)