My institution, Oberlin College, has been burning coal to heat its buildings for probably over 100 years. The practice continues today. The College is concerned about the pollution associated with this and has developed a plan to phase out coal and phase in natural gas. But Oberlin College Environmental Studies students want more — they oppose this plan and insist on a much more aggressive plan to reduce carbon. They push plans that call for heating all buildings with ground-source heat pumps, powered by green electricity. They naively believe that using electricity produced by landfill gas will provide our green future! (Hello! Utilizing someone’s waste stream is a smart opportunity but it does not scale to the nation unless we grow the waste stream.) The problem, of course, is that greening the grid will take decades (at best). Replacing coal with natural gas will significantly reduce carbon emission NOW, buying time for more aggressive changes in the future.
Brett Stephens addresses this very thinking today in his opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal where he discusses the Keystone Pipeline in the context of the recent runaway train explosion in a small Quebec town just north of the Maine border. He is bang on when he asks the question, “Can Environmentalists Think?”
This is exactly what pragmatic stewardship is all about.