To the Editor:
“Coal, an Outlaw Enterprise” is the title of a recent New York Times op-ed. The column may not be totally objective since the author, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., is president of the Waterkeeper Alliance, which advocates for clean water. For instance, Kennedy does not mention that we depend on coal for the generation of 40% of the electricity we use in the USA. But he does list a long record of infractions that should concern even the least environmentally aware person.
An explosion at the Big Branch Mine in 2010 killed 29 miners. Investigators found that Massey Energy had breached many safety regulations, resulting in these deaths. Kennedy also mentions the Frasure Creek Mining Company, which falsified information on reports to hide over a thousand Clean Water Act infractions.
The sad truth seems to be that coal companies are willing to despoil our environment and kill miners to make a profit. Although we live in Colorado where mining techniques don’t involve blasting mountains, we live close to one of the most polluting coal-burning power plants in the country. From an airplane or mountaintop it is easy to see the brown haze from this power plant.
As a physician concerned about public health, I am aware of the cost that we all pay for this air pollution. The cost of electricity may seem low when you pay your electric bill. However, if you add in the cost of illnesses caused by air pollution, mercury poisoning, cancer from carcinogens and the estimated costs of climate change, the true cost of a kilowatt-hour is over 23 cents. Even this price does not include the true value of the land that is destroyed by coal mining.
We are surrounded by natural gas wells. We are aware of some of the health problems of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and learning of more as time goes on. In addition, scientists have recently discovered a cloud of methane the size of the state of Delaware over the Four Corners Region, where we live. This is evidently from escaped gas, and is a major contributor to climate change.
Fortunately, there are options. We have had a photovoltaic system on the roof of our home for 9 years that makes all of our electricity. We just installed a second PV array to charge our plug-in Prius that is getting 78 miles to a gallon of gas. It is great to drive with power from the sun!
This Swarthmore couple (we are both class of ’65) is concerned about the world that our granddaughters will know. We believe that climate change will cause hardships that we can barely imagine, and we want to soften that blow for Claire, Kate, Anya and the others who will live into the second half of this century.
Concern for the future is the reason we have changed our investment strategy to be free from fossil fuels. And that is why we ask Swarthmore’s Board of Managers to do the same. Swarthmore’s divestment will not solve climate change, but it is a step in the correct direction. Divestment is morally correct, it will set a good example for the whole College family, and it will avoid financial losses as the value of carbon-based investments lose their value. Now is the time for Swarthmore to divest from fossil fuels!
Richard Grossman ‘65 and Gail (Sise) Grossman ‘65