Forget Market Mechanisms, Why Don't We Just Ban Coal?

coal photo


Bear with me on this one: Greentech Media has a new piece on cap and trade where economist Dr Severin Borenstein says "You have to drive coal out of the market. You have to drive the price of coal down until it isn't worth mining anymore." Which brought up something to me which I've long thought, why don't we just ban coal? It would have to be a controlled phase out, with support for people negatively affected in the transition, but since it is becoming more and more clear that we're not going to get a handle on climate change or pollution without stopping using coal, why don't we just say no? Is Effort Being Placed in the Wrong Places?
OK, I realize it's not just as simple as that in implementation, but if we're willing to put so much mental and physical effort debating, drawing up, and selling the idea of cap and trade, cap and dividend, carbon taxes, etc. why not just put that effort into banning coal outright?

It just seems strangely disconnected to me if an increasing number of people are getting on the get rid of coal train, why we insist on finding some economic way of doing it when an ethical one would get us to the same end.

Is there anything really stopping us from saying no to coal, other than habit, historicity and political opposition?

Leave the Coal in the Hole
If we agree that coal and the pollution associated with burning and mining it is something we don't want in our society, and the impacts are spread so widely, what's wrong with saying that by, for example, 2025 we will simple not use any more coal and remaining reserves will stay in the ground, commercially unexploited? As Nnimmo Bassey of Friends of the Earth is fond of saying, just "leave the coal in the hole."

We may not be able to control what takes place in other nations, and what they do with their coal, or with their other resources, but domestically there is nothing stopping us but will. It's not like banning coal would even go so far as a declaration of planetary rights, where issues of international enforcement come into play.

We Need Ethical Shift Even More Than Technological, Market Shifts
And being stuck in the same way of thinking that got us into the problem in the first place: Assuming that the marketplace is the best way to solve every problem, when it's becoming increasingly clear (at least to me) that what we're now facing on an every expanding scale is as much a crisis of conscience and consciousness as it is a crisis of chemistry, physics and biology.

We did it with slavery. We abolished the practice as immoral, and while the repercussions of it still may not be entirely worked out, slavery is illegal in the United States. You don't find even the most hardened racist saying we ought to legalized slavery again. It's just unacceptable to people to even consider it.

So why not with coal?

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