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“A matter of life and death”



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Steve Rose, publisher of the Johnson County Sun newspapers group, writes a regular column. The last deals with the coal-fired plant issue, and your author disagrees in some points of language and fact:

Sun Newspapers Memo column: A matter of life and death

Politics can be a powerful force, even when life and death is on the line.

The proposed coal-fired electrical plants in western Kansas are, unfortunately, a case in point. It appears that sensible people in our legislative delegation are buckling to extreme political pressures.

We have seen politics over many years trump health concerns. … (Read entire article)

Your author sent a letter for the editor to The Sun, thanking Rose for the column but disagreeing on some language and other issues.

The major disagreements were (in more detail):

“Health” has been a confusing term since Secretary Brembe, Kansas Department of Health and Environment, rejected the Holcomb plant permit based on carbon dioxide effects. Rose says “There is little reasonable doubt that the 11 million tons of carbon dioxide that would be spewed from two new coal-fired plants in Holcomb, Kan., would be damaging to the health of all Kansans, and the planet, as well.” But the direct damage to “health” would come from some degree of additional poisoning pollutants, like mercury, that will occur in small but significant amounts. A plant near us in Lawrence Kansas is one of the most polluting, while the Holcomb plant would be built to very stringent standards in that regard.

The carbon dioxide “health” issues are from the risks for climate destabilization and rapid shifting to the North of similar climate bands. An early effect of warming is likely to be better growing season in Kansas, but the decline into much worse conditions is (as your author understands) is very steep as the usual temperatures rise above that. And world wide the melting of ice and other oceanic related effects will devastate coastal regions, causing great loss of life or places even to live in some poorer coastal countries. The risk of species extinction discussed in ranges of seventy percent are a hazard for health of humans in the long run, because of destabilization of planet-wide systems that involve our food resources, sources of components for medicines, even beneficial and detrimental effects of insects on crops. Effects like pollination and changes in predation that limit detrimental insects, and movement of health affecting organisms from warmer climates to the North.

Some readers may discount the message because the basis of the danger to “health” from carbon dioxide is unclear, and the small but significant danger from other pollutants is not attributed to those pollutants. And the risk from the poisonous substances, small but significant, will have nothing like the impact of global climate disruption. Legislators must make decisions that balance life and death surprisingly often. Here the scale or magnitude of the effects are on a completely different scale from the usual issue, and the tendency to discount or ignore the warning from scientists is a large factor in this discussion.

Another issue is about “pressure” on legislators. In a meeting with Representative Tim Owens, he described a slightly different situation. Not any kind of direct strong-arm pressure, but rather a need to find solutions that help Western Kansas. There seems to be a very distinct divide between the East populated sector and Western Kansas. Your author’s sense from various discussions is that the legislators are doing their best effort based on the information they have, not a direct heavy handed approach, but that help must be given to Western regions as part of normal trading for desired results and because good results for Western Kansas are good for all. Just this divide has become more emphasized at present, because Johnson county seems to be giving up little compared to Western Kansas.

In this regard your author’s sense is that misinformation is rampant in the discussions. This can be verified simply by the disparity in statements from various parties–some versions have to be wrong in various ways or degrees. The issues are highly technical, whether from economic, technological, or scientific viewpoint. This is making decisions very difficult for the legislators.

But this is a “matter of life and death.” With virtually every national level professional scientific organization calling for mitigation of climate change, legislators must give this issue more time and thought. Even though the issue has occupied a painfully long time in the legislature, understanding of the issues is still poor in your author’s opinion. More time is required, rather than quick action that may result in harm to Kansas. In that I applaud Steve Rose for standing up on this issue.

 (And this is not the first time Mr. Rose has commented, see Memo column of Jan. 24, Count me as a believer.)

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