One day, historians might speculate that it was the ambition of the companies that sought to profit by building coal-fired power stations that triggered the beginning of the end for humans’ most polluting habit.
Four years ago, campaigners in the US raised concerns over plans to build 150 coal-fired power stations nationwide. Today, nearly half those plans have been defeated in the courts or abandoned, while half of the remaining proposals are being actively opposed. Just 14 of the 150 plants are being developed, and environmental lawyers are all still pursuing them.
“The enormity of what they were proposing to do provided a platform to have that whole debate about pollution, including global-warming pollution, ” says Bruce Nilles , director of the national coal campaign for the Sierra Club, America’s biggest grassroots environment group.
In a few years, the backlash against coal power in America has become the country’s biggest-ever environmental campaign, transforming the nation’s awareness of climate change and inspiring political leaders to take firmer action after years of doubt and delay. Plants have been defeated in at least 30 of the 50 states, uniting those with already strong environmental records, such as California, with more conservative areas, such as the southern and central states.
The success of the US campaign is also now inspiring a global wave of protests, many in Europe, against similar schemes that plan to build coal-fired generators before carbon capture technology exists. If the European protesters succeed, Nilles believes US legislators will be likely to support presidential candidates’ promises to join international efforts to cut emissions. By implication, though, if the protesters fail in Europe, the impact on a US or international deal would be disastrous.
The US anti-coal campaign is being linked to protests against similar plans in Australia, Germany, Italy and the UK, where there are demonstrations at almost every public appearance by E.ON, the company that plans to build Britain’s first new first new coal power station for two decades in Kingsnorth, Kent, where protesters set up a protest camp against the new development in August.
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