John Oliver tried to get the real story on coal, and got about half way there. See what he said, and what he missed.
Political commentary is often in the realm of infotainment, and at least in the case of John Oliver from HBO’s Last Week Tonight, that’s very obvious. Beyond making what is normally considered dry or boring at least somewhat entertaining, this kind of commentary is usually agenda driven – one-sided.
That’s essentially what happened in the segment devoted to coal, since Oliver’s stated goal was to point out why Trump really doesn’t care about coal miners, and has no clue what they do.
If you didn’t watch that whole thing, don’t feel bad – it’s nearly half an hour long!
Oliver spends a great deal of it poking fun at Trump and various executives from the coal industry. None of them are honestly concerned about the plight of coal miners. The president has no idea what they do, and the executives have been making money while cutting corners on the workers for decades. On most of it, Oliver is absolutely right, even down to speaking against deregulation. When it comes to the coal industry, the only regulations that need scaling back a little are ones restricting mining in general. All of the safety ones need to remain, no matter how much Trump’s cronies might wish it otherwise.
Let’s be brutally honest here. Oliver’s agenda really is all about pushing the climate change agenda. He’s all in for alternative energy, and would like nothing better than to see coal mining go the way of the dinosaurs. The reality is that coal fueled power plants remain in second place, behind natural gas ones, according to the US Energy Information Administration. That means that nearly 1/3 of all Americans get energy from coal, and nearly 2/3 get their power from fossil fuels in general. While it is true that “green” energy sources are growing in popularity, they haven’t quite broken through the cost barriers, at least not when it comes to providing reliable and affordable power for our nation.
As there is a great deal of talk about the evils of carbon emissions from using coal (and natural gas), there is nearly nothing said about the fact that there is a whole sector building up out there that is finding ways to recycle carbon. That’s mostly because the environmentalist set are apparently all for recycling as long as it is inconvenient to the masses, right?
When it comes to jobs, yes the Trump administration severely overstates how many jobs are created directly by even a partial resurrection of the coal industry. But, when we take into consideration the vast numbers of people (and industries) that rely on energy from coal, there’s some veracity to those figures. It’s just harder to track.
The bottom line is that Oliver is right, coal is on the way out, but we’re not ready as a nation to bury that fuel source. When we have renewable sources that cost at least nearly the same, if not less, then we’ll make that leap. In the meantime, we shouldn’t be letting agendas drive innovation. We should be using what is affordable, finding ways to do so in a cleaner way, and failing that, take advantage of technological advances that make our waste work for us. Regulations should be used to protect workers, not enforce an economically questionable agenda on industry. The fact is that people see coal and many other things like it as a necessary evil, until we can afford something better. Trump unfortunately doesn’t see it that way, but at least his desire to play nice with his pals in the fossil fuel industries will undo some damage that was done. The true task now is to keep him from selling out the workers, so we don’t see industrial accidents from greed.