Published in the Fort Collins Coloradoan on September 19, 2020
The recent collapse of our economy and routine activities is the result of a microscopic coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Without warning the entire human population became vulnerable, some more than others, but there was no populated place on earth that was spared.
This pandemic will pass (like the previous pandemics) and we will slowly get back to “normal.” Unfortunately, there is another threat to humans that is clandestine and potentially more lethal. This threat is the continued heating of our planet due to increasing greenhouse gas production from human activities.
Like COVID-19, there are believers and skeptics regarding climate change. Some non-believers in COVID-19, like Herman Cain, lost their lives because of risky behaviors. Many individuals who have been infected with COVID-19 will not experience serious consequences and recover completely. They are the lucky ones.
With climate change there will be some less affected but, eventually, all will suffer from the heating of the planet. If we fail to stop risky activities contributing to climate change, there will be serious consequences for our younger and future generations – unlike COVID-19, where older populations are more affected. It is sad when elderly die but tragic when young people suffer and die.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the burning of coal, fracked gas, and oil for electricity and heat is the largest single source of global greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, gas-fired power plants – like the one Platte River Power Authority, PRPA, is proposing to build – not only contribute large amounts of greenhouse gases worldwide, they also emit pollutants that harm human health.
Burning gas in power plants emits pollutants like sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, and nitrogen oxides into the air. Emissions from coal- or gas-fired power plants cause increased asthma attacks, worsen emphysema and other lung diseases, increases heart attacks, and increase heart and neurologic impairments in developing fetuses and children.
To those of us in the medical field, the decision to close PRPA’s coal-fired Rawhide power plant by 2030 is a good one – better if closed earlier. But we cannot replace one dirty coal power plant with another dirty gas power plant. When combined with the greenhouse gas emissions accelerating climate warming the prudent action is to stop burning all fossil fuels like coal and gas – now.
As mentioned before, burning of any fossil fuel will worsen climate change and the health of people. Just like “clean coal” is an oxymoron, so is “natural gas.” “Natural gas” is methane, a non-renewable fossil fuel and a very potent greenhouse gas. Methane is released via venting at fracking sites and leakage during transportation. When burned, carbon dioxide, another greenhouse gas, is released and damages our planet and future.
If we can shut down the world economy for a microscopic virus, we can quickly change our energy culture to stop burning fossil fuels. Therefore, we cannot allow Northern Colorado’s utility provider, PRPA, to build a new gas plant.
Dr. Cory D. Carroll chair of Physicians for Social Responsibility of Colorado. He lives in Fort Collins.