Cheap solar means the coal jobs aren’t coming back

Cheap solarCheap solar? Now that’s the dream.

First, a quick round of right-wing Jeopardy. “China and India.”

“What is ‘The reasons most often cited for why limiting our fossil fuel consumption is futile,’ Alex ?”

It’s like the dreaded “But Hillary is nothing but a liar” battle cry that won an election; the reductio ad black-and-white of the statement (Has Hillary lied a lot? Yes, though in comparison with other politicians she’s about on par and her nose has grown considerably less than Donald Trump’s over a much more visible career) is backed by just enough truth to bully any debate to an incomplete end. Especially with regular repetition.

Yet thanks to the advancement of technology efficiency and the shrinking of cost, solar energy is officially the cheapest energy in 60 countries, including China and India.

China looks to the future with Cheap solar

China is the largest consumer and producer of coal, thus the reason that Trump’s going to bring back the mining jobs, to fight China’s big presence on the international coal market. The People’s Republic produces over 4 times as much coal as the US, the world’s number two. So why did the PRC invest $103B in solar last year while the US invested less than half that (and under Obama, no less)? It all comes down to long-term wealth and health.

Beijing’s smog can make the city look like a 1930s backroom gambling parlor (despite reports that it’s actually improving), and since the sun is a completely free source of atomic energy that won’t run out until long after we’ve been wiped out by a mixture of Islamic terrorism and Western populonationalism, it makes fiscal sense in THE LONG TERM to put everything you have into taking advantage of the sun. The result? Solar is now considerably cheaper than coal in China and India. Hell, in Chile last year it priced at about half the price of coal. This is an emerging trend in emerging markets. Since they’re still building their infrastructures, why build power plants based around a limited-supply extracted fuel they have to pay for (and at that often have to pay that demon empire America for) and that turns your air into some Stephen-King-death-fog black lung when they can build power plants based around free, unlimited energy with little to no environmental impact?

Cheap solar investment amounts strategic thinking for the long-term welfare of their people. America and the Western world have unfortunately embraced a near-sighted strategy of doubling down on fossil fuels extraction to fool coal constituents into thinking they can keep living their lives as they know them. Instead of continuing the Obama push towards renewable energy, Trump he’s not only setting back what gains have been made towards the future efficiency of these technologies (which could actually lead to America falling behind the rest of the world when it comes to efficient energy), he’s also just fomenting the illusion for thousands of hardworking Americans that they have a future that will require no adaptation.

American looks to the future… by saving coal?

Contrary to right-wing fearmongering, coal jobs haven’t disappeared because Obama increased regulations on big coal. That’s just another bit of moneyed conservative slight of hand, like claiming the Democrats are trying to repeal the 2nd Amendment to get your NRA membership dues and drum up sales for guns.inc. The real reason for all the lay-offs is that a global glut of coal and natural gas has driven prices down faster than Chip Kelly’s NFL freefall.  The owners of the energy companies won’t adjust their income, no sir thank you kindly. So they cut all the payroll they can and work the remainders that much harder.

U.S. coal exports declined 23% in 2015. The only positive gains in America’s top 10 coal importers occurred in India (almost 2 million short tons) and Netherlands at number 2, with an increase of a little less than half a million short tons. As we saw, India’s growth is nothing to depend on.

What growth is more dependable, though? Black lung.

That’s right, black lung is reaching levels in Appalachia not seen since the 1970s. What’s telling is that miners in coal states like Wyoming and West Virginia and Kentucky came out in droves to support Trump because of their livelihoods without thinking about their actual lives. That’s sadly a part of working in extraction jobs but it’s also an example of American shortsightedness.

Only now are miners beginning to realize what a Trump presidency may mean. That his promises to repeal Obamacare and replace it with nothing or, almost as bad, a system full of vouchers and risk pools will seriously put them at risk.

Obamacare, for all the complaints voiced by Republicans, has been very good to miners and others working such risky jobs with very expensive chronic health issues as an accepted side effect. Most plans likely to be adopted look to cut subsidies and benefits so that the only people who can afford to get adequate care for serious issues are the ones who can afford massive deductibles.

So will those miners who inherently risk serious death and dismemberment thanks to the use of heavy machinery and explosives, who are threatened with long-term physical degradation resultant of a lifetime spent in hard labor filled with lung-busting air still be able to pay the same amount for health insurance as the American white collar grunt who sits behind computers and rarely has to contend with out of the ordinary health issues outside the occasional skiing injury? Nope; that would be communism.

The great energy swindle

It’s ironic that the last Republican president rode to a campaign victory on the private jet of an energy company that is now synonymous with shady dealings (Enron) and now this president owes a lot to his bright-orange glowing embrace of big energy. The teeming masses of coal and gas laborers who voted for him thinks that means he’s going to take care of them but that’s looking increasingly unlikely. The fall of coal isn’t due to the “War on Coal” – it’s due to the fact that coal is obsolete, that the rest of the world is moving on because that’s how the world goes, it progresses.

The unfortunate fact is that many people who voted for Trump will now see him deprive them of their health insurance with no improved career prospects. This amounts to more than just standard broken campaign promises. This amounts to a swindle, delivered to people whose desperation has led them to drop their guard and believe the unbelievable and in turn give the barker all they have to give — namely, their support. The great energy swindle shows Trump for what he really is, a conman who doesn’t give a goddamn about the lives of those who supported him; he just loves them for how easy it is to mislead them with a couple sharp tweets at people different from them.

American Greatness Comes From Being At The Vanguard

The environmental reason to invest everything we can in the development of sustainable energies, with the most promising being solar, should be all American leaders need. But the short-sightedness of today’s republicapitalist oligarchs isn’t to be underestimated. Like all classic villains, justification to the rightness of their actions, regardless how subjective or refuted or easily-dismissed with just the slightest application of logic, is enough to convince them of the rightness of their ill-founded positions.

That’s why Wyoming, the largest coal state in the union, recently refused to allow man’s part in global warming to be a part of their updated science standards.

Moving beyond the idea of averting global environmental catastrophe, let’s look at one simple fact — that solar, as a cheap, clean energy, is the future. This turning point of a few weeks ago is the final dagger in the heart of burning the remnants of ancient organisms as the way we power our cities and homes.

To claim that coal is dying because evil forces are opposed to the well-being of those whose jobs depend on its extraction and usage is like claiming that hand metal-working died because of anti-blacksmith-interests instead of the fact that it was made obsolete by the relentless march of time and technology.

Coal will not be coming back. Why would it? For nations such as India and China, if they can drop the cost of powering their manufacturing processes by switching to an energy that won’t blacken their lungs like the remnants of a bonfire, and even more that will guarantee eternal energy independence, why would they move backwards and try to double down on such primitive technology as coal burning? Cheap solar will solve all their problems and be a big middle finger to the Western nationalistic movement to decry China as a backwards enemy of freedom.

The incoming administration already has “anti-coal” measures in its sights. Trump has specifically called out Obama’s “wasted” investments in R&D of renewable energies. Basically, the people who will be inhabiting the white house and its surrounding red cancer cells of government have committed to trying to subsidize and sustain a dying industry and in this act are committed to pushing America towards the bottom of global energy technology and innovation. Cheap energy is too politically expensive; it would mean a complete reversal on all the lies many have built their careers upholding.

In four years, when the coal jobs have continued shrinking and the miners are dying at long-unseen rates of health complications due to the yanking of their health insurance, when our air quality is worse and our weather further mirrors the stability of a former child-actor engaged to a meth kingpin, America will also be met with a further lessening of our greatness as we see our greatest rivals powering their factories, their businesses, their conveyances and infrastructures with ridiculously cheap technology.

And if that happens the only organic substance to be thrown on the proverbial burners will be our current president elect. Though even in absolute defeat, you can’t ever count out a truly great con man.

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Ryan Ariano

Born and raised in Baltimore, Ryan has been kicking around the west since the first Clinton White House. Having worked all over SoCal in the surf industry, Hollywood, marketing, journalism and finance, he now hangs his hat just outside Jackson Hole where he can fulfill an addiction to ascending and descending mountains.

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