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Boston Review: Living With Coal: Climate Policy's Most Inconvenient Truth

Authors: David G. Victor, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Science and Technology, and Richard K. Morse
September 18, 2009

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David Victor and Richard Morse examine the economic and political challenges of managing global reliance on coal and reducing coal emissions, and suggest a three-front focus for new global warming policies.

Governments around the world are now struggling with the question of how to reduce emissions of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming. The task is bigger than any other environmental challenge humanity has faced. Carbon dioxide, the leading human cause of global warming, is an intrinsic byproduct of burning the fossil fuels that power the world economy and thus difficult to regulate.

All fossil fuels emit carbon dioxide when burned, but the real heart of the warming problem is coal. Emissions from coal are growing faster than from any other fossil fuel. Beyond greenhouse-gas pollution, coal is linked to a host of other environmental troubles such as local air pollution, which is why a powerful coalition of environmentalists in the richest and greenest countries is rallying to stop coal. Mired in opposition, barely any new coal plants are being built anywhere in the industrialized world. Coal, it may seem, is on the precipice.

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