The estimable environmental writer David Roberts, of Grist, has posted an item that is gracious about many aspects of my current cover story on the inevitability of coal -- but that challenges its basic premise, or framing. Read it for yourself, but essentially he's saying that the piece is positioned as takedown of the DFHs who are working for a clean-energy, renewable-sources future, rather than of the establishment Powers That Be who are complacent about climate issues and profitably happy with the coal-based status quo:
>>Which is worse? Sounds to me like the PTBs are in a position to do serious damage to America's energy future. The DFHs, not so much. So why does Fallows frame his piece as a rebuke to the latter?<<
With respect, and with solidarity and amity toward Roberts on the larger points, I think he is responding to something I didn't write. In particular:
1) To the extent there is explicit framing in the article, it's America-v-China, not DFHs-v-PTBs. That's how the article starts; that's how it ends. You can look it up.
2) It is framed that way because that is how I learned about the topic and decided to write the article in the first place. At no point did I think, "Gee, it's time to set those DFHs straight." Instead, starting nearly four years ago in China, I started down the following path of logic and observation:
China is growing like crazy (as everyone knows); it has unbelievable pollution problems (ditto); and it is even more reliant on coal than you can imagine if you're not there. Then I started to meet, interview, and learn about people on both the Chinese and the US side who were working hard to "decarbonize" China's energy system. Their activities are not at all something "everyone knows." My usual impulse for writing a big story is to explain a development I've learned about that is not yet part of common knowledge. That's exactly how this piece came about. One of its argumentative cores -- that, barring some huge disruption to modern economic/ industrial life, you simply can't imagine a lower-carbon future without serious attention to cleaner use of coal -- emerged from meetings with and observations of the Chinese, American, Canadian, etc officials in this field.
3) Nothing in the article is hostile to or dismissive of the need to pursue all clean-energy technologies simultaneously. Instead it's full of statements like this:
>>This is not an argument against all-out effort on all other fronts, from conservation and efficiency to improved battery technology to wind- and solar-power systems to improved nuclear facilities. Amory Lovins, of the Rocky Mountain Institute, has argued for years that designing buildings and transportation systems to waste less energy from the start is by far the cheapest way to reduce damaging emissions (a position reinforced by influential studies from McKinsey & Company). "Good ideas about climate change are not in competition with one another," Roger Aines, a climate scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, told me when I visited this summer. "We need every possible solution, and then we need more."<<
You can find many more on that theme.
4) I do quote some people on the inescapability of coal, for instance the Chinese-American geologist Ming Sung in this passage:
>>"People without a technical background think, 'Coal is dirty! It's bad,'" I was told in Beijing by Ming Sung, a geologist and energy expert who was born in Shanghai, worked for decades in America and became a citizen, and has now returned to China. "But will you turn off your refrigerator for 30 years while we work on renewables? Turn off the computer? Or ask people in China to do that? Unless you will, you can't get rid of coal for decades. As [U.S. Energy Secretary] Steven Chu has said, we have to face the nightmare of coal for a while."<<
But that is not an out-of-nowhere challenge to the renewable-energy industry. It rounds off a section about the rising demand for energy in China and elsewhere, the factors making it difficult to shift from coal, and the international-equity point about the awkwardness of profligate Westerners telling poor Chinese and Indians to cut back. It's a step in the argument, not a "framing" step against DFHs.