Politicians say all kinds of things to get attention, so it pays to take most political rhetoric with a lump of salt. When Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) proclaimed that President Obama has declared a “war on coal” on his website, I figured he was just doing his job as a representative of the second-leading coal producing state. But on Fox News, he went on to say that a war on coal is a “war on America.”
Is this just a figure of speech designed to attract publicity? I think so, but it’s loose talk. Plenty of people take it literally. It feeds the notion that somehow Obama in particular and those concerned with climate change in general are anti-Americans who threaten “real” Americans. That is a dangerous and self-fulfilling notion. (It also strikes me, in the case of Obama, as implicitly racist and summoning up yet again all that “birther” nonsense.)
Senator Manchin doesn’t understand (1) psychological dynamics, (2) how imminent a climate catastrophe might be, and (3) that the plain facts of physics implicate coal as a fundamental problem.
Nobody is interested in a “war on coal.” That’s just a stupid, irresponsible, and polarizing thing to say. It adds to the dynamic of creating sides and forcing people to choose. That’s the last thing we need to solve the climate crisis, which is a national (and ultimately international) problem.
As we back off coal, we should fund research, training, and employment programs to help coal-dependent states like West Virgina do their part to meet that national goal. It’s a hand-in-hand, not a hand-to-hand, proposition.
There Are Two Kinds of People in the World…
… the kind who think there are two kinds of people in the world and the kind who don’t. Manchin’s Manichean, black-and-white statement typifies a certain mindset that is inimical to reason and thrives on the idea of persecution. People of this mindset are trapped in a recursive, dualistic conundrum, with no way to break the cycle. So it falls on others to be reasonable, which does nothing but steepen the challenge.
How easy it would be to fall into the same mentality, to simply choose up sides. But that’s how real wars start. It’s childish to say these things. It forces others who see the problem—who have figuratively pulled that sword from the stone, making them responsible to solve it—to work around and compensate for the added risk of paranoiac wingnuts.
Will mitigating climate change mean phasing coal out of the energy mix as fast as possible? Yes, barring some breakthrough in carbon capture and sequestration technology. Is this a problem we all share, not just the good people of West Virgina and other coal-dependent states? Absolutely. But pitting us against each other, or crying special victimhood, isn’t going to solve the overwhelming structural problem of carbon dioxide pollution.
Time to face facts and grow up, Senator, and help figure this out like a leader instead of a panderer.