Hansen stands by coal train/death train analogy

In his final testimony submitted to the Iowa Utilities Board on the proposed coal-fired power plant in Iowa, NASA’s James Hansen used a very provocative metaphor about the trains that deliver coal:

If we cannot stop the building of more coal-fired power plants, those coal trains will be death trains — no less gruesome than if they were boxcars headed to crematoria, loaded with uncountable irreplaceable species.

The President and CEO of the National Mining Association wrote Hansen a letter (posted here by Hansen with his response) complaining:

The suggestion that coal utilization for electricity generation can be equated with the systematic extermination of European Jewry is both repellent and preposterous…. I believe you owe the hard-working men and women of the coal mining and railroad industries an apology and respectfully request that you refrain from making such comments in the future.

Hansen’s reply was:

There is nothing scientifically invalid about the above paragraph. If this paragraph makes you uncomfortable, well, perhaps it should.

I have a slightly different view of the metaphor.

Hansen’s statement is scientifically valid, especially since it was clearly given in the context of a discussion on species loss. Indeed, the IPCC just said the scientific consensus is that if we don’t reverse our current emissions path quickly, “model projections suggest significant extinctions (40–70% of species assessed) around the globe.”


That said, “boxcars headed to crematoria” is a very loaded phrase, inevitably conjuring up the Nazi’s extermination of the Jews, a connection everyone, including Hansen, should be cautious about making. [I actually can’t think of a good analogy for what global warming may do to this planet — it is so far beyond anything that has happened in human history.]

Still, I don’t think an apology is necessary, especially to the NMA, which here offers no statement recognizing either the dangers of global warming or its own culpability — which is great, since it has devoted considerable effort to blocking action on global warming over the years.

Hansen’s point of elaboration is also worth repeating:

… coal-fired power plants that capture and sequester the CO2 are consistent with preserving creation, life on the planet as we know it, but the required technology is not yet ready. Until technology is ready, there should be a moratorium on construction of new coal-fired power plants in developed countries. Developing countries must phase out such construction within a decade. Realization that all coal-fired power plants without actual carbon capture will have to be “bull-dozed” in the next several decades, in all countries, should serve as an effective brake on new construction of coal-fired power plants during the next few years in all countries.

It should — but only when everyone realizes the truth of what Hansen has been saying for two decades.