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Carbon Addicts on Capitol Hill - Washington Post

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  • baypointmike
    The Carbon Addicts on Capitol Hill [The Capitol Hill Power Plant.] The Capitol Hill Power Plant. By Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post By BILL
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 29, 2009
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      The Carbon Addicts on Capitol Hill


      The Capitol Hill Power Plant.
      The Capitol Hill Power Plant.
      By Jahi Chikwendiu --
      The Washington Post
      By BILL McKIBBEN Middlebury, Vt.
      Sunday, March 1, 2009; Page C07


      Washington has seen its share of big protests over the years, and mostof them center on the White House, the Mall or the Capitol. That willchange tomorrow, when the first big protest of the Obama era -- and thefirst mass civil disobedience against global warming in this country --will take place against the not-very-scenic backdrop of the CapitolHill Power Plant, a dirty symbol of the dirtiest business on Earth, thecombustion of coal.

      In that one plant -- owned and operated by our senators and representatives -- you can see all the filth that comes with coal.There are the particulates it spews into the air and hence the lungs ofthose Washington residents who enjoy breathing. There are the profitsit hands to the coal industry, which is literally willing to level mountains across West Virginia and Kentucky to increase its fat margins. And most of all there is the invisible carbon dioxide it spewseach day into the atmosphere, drying our forests, melting our glaciers and acidifying our oceans.

      The power plant is only a symbol, of course -- a lunch counter or abus station in the fight for environmental justice. We'll sit down at its gates for a single afternoon, but the message is much larger: It'stime to start figuring out how to shut down every coal-fired plant on the planet. Success won't come right away because we're up against some of the world's richest corporations, but we have to start turning this tanker around someday, and tomorrow is that day.

      This may seem like an odd time to take to the streets -- after all,the new administration has done more in a month to fight global warmingthan all the presidents of the past 20 years. But in fact, it's theperfect moment. For one thing, our leaders may actually listen -- inthe anti-science years of the Bush administration, global warmingactivists concentrated their work on state capitols, knowing that thefederal government would never budge. Now, if we demonstrate thatthere's real public pressure, we may give the Democratic Congress andthe White House some room to act.

      More to the point, the time not to act is running out. Climate science has grown steadily darker in the past 18 months,ever since the rapid melt of Arctic sea ice in the summer of 2007showed scientists that change was coming faster than they'd reckoned.That message was underlined recently at the Washington meetings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, when Stanford researcher Christopher Field said: "We are basically looking now at afuture climate that's beyond anything we've considered seriously inclimate model simulations."

      Our foremost climatologist, NASA's James Hansen, has given that future a number -- any level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere beyond 350 parts per million, his team has demonstrated, is "incompatible with the planet on which civilization developed."

      Since we're already past that number -- the carbon dioxide level is at 387 parts per million -- the fight is on. Indeed, by Hansen's calculation, the world will need to be out of the coal-burning business by 2030, and the West much sooner than that, if we're ever going to get back to 350. It's no accident that he's announced he'll be on hand toget arrested. So will Gus Speth, who ran the United Nations DevelopmentProgramme, and the farmer and author Wendell Berry who has seen the devastation of his native Kentucky, and many more.

      Getting the planet off coal -- getting the planet back to 350 --will be the main political and economic challenge for the lifetimes of those college students. Those of us who are older won't live long enough to see the final victory, but we can help get it started, by lobbying, by writing e-mails -- and by sitting down in the street on an afternoon in March.

      The writer is a a scholar in residence at Middlebury College and is co-founder of 350.org.

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