In January, we learned that 2016 was the hottest year on record, the 40th in a row above average. If years were coins, the chance of flipping 40 straight heads would be one in a trillion. Yawn. In February, the Arctic was 50 degrees warmer than average. And in March, an African drought threatened 20 million people, a humanitarian crisis that has been called the worst since World War II. March Madness, anyone? If I said coal use in the United States dropped 20 percent in the last two years, slashing carbon dioxide emissions and future climate change, some people would roll their eyes. If I said the same drop in coal use and air pollution will save 3,000 lives this year—and every year after if we stick with it—people might notice. Both statements are true. After two centuries of data and all these years, we’re still arguing over the reality of climate change and what’s making our seas rise. We’re missing the boat. We live in a society that embraces progress and the energy landscape is changing under our feet. We should embrace it. When DC politicians talk about restoring coal jobs, they forget that energy employment is up, not down. About 175,000 full time workers mine, move, and burn coal across the United States. In comparison there are 475,000 jobs now in solar and wind power. We created an astonishing 100,000 new solar and wind jobs last year alone. Wherever the coal mines are closing, families and communities need help. Economy-wide, though, the low-carbon economy is a winner. We’re winning in other ways, too. Cooling water for power plants is responsible for almost half of all fresh water withdrawn in the United States. New combined-cycle natural gas plants use half or less the water that a coal plant does. Renewable wind and rooftop solar use no water at all; they’re zero carbon, zero water, and low pollutant technologies. In contrast, coal-fired power is responsible for about half of all U.S. emissions of mercury, a hazardous air pollutant, and sulfur dioxide, another “big-six” criteria pollutant that causes acid rain.
Read More: Scientific American Blog Network