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Acting on the climate-change imperative

A 1980 essay by Wendell Berry is titled “A Talent for Necessity.” Mr. Berry is an active farmer, poet and writer on agricultural and social-economic issues.
The essay describes the accomplishment after 20-year labor of a prize-winning Kentucky sheep stockman, Henry Besuden, in restoring to good health an inherited large farm.
Through monoculture farming by earlier owners, this had been “corned to death” and its soil washed away in deep gullies.
The odds of financial success against him at the outset, Mr. Besuden told Berry: “I had to improve the farm or starve to death [and] I found that I had some talent for doing the things I had to do.”
Recent events relating to electric power cost brought this story to mind. The Tennessee Valley Authority’s partial change-over from coal to cleaner energy in the Integrated Resource Plan drew criticism from our U.S. senators for risking loss of “cheap power.”
A national civil-rights organization’s guest commentary in this paper stated fears that the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan mandate could significantly increase home energy bills despite achieving “no meaningful environmental improvement.”
Implying a “theoretical” (only) connection of fossil-based energy to global climate change and a “tiny,” negligible temperature-rise threat from it, it seemed to support continued use of coal for affordability reasons.
To reassure Dr. Steele, author of the commentary, it is useful to recall the assessment by a utility industry analyst, source-referenced in this column earlier, that the Clean Power Plan guidelines are “really very modest” and in line with where the power industry is moving, anyway. The likelihood of steep electricity-cost rises occasioned by it would therefore seem to be very low.
Complex problems must no doubt still be resolved as we transition to a low-carbon energy system, and many politically thorny issues addressed.
Yet we must ever call to mind the compelling science — going back more than 150 years — on the greenhouse gases’ effect of heating up our planet, and the urgency of dealing with uncontrolled carbon emissions, their primary cause.
Surely, solutions to the predicament of job losses in coal mining communities should receive economic planners’ serious attention, including training and priority employment in the clean-power industry and other industry sectors.
Could not, also, a new “Tree Army” be created to help heal the peaks and landscapes devastated under mountaintop mining, as the Civilian Conservation Corps’ did during the Great Depression?
A just and living wage for all workers would protect families from poverty. It would mean security against such demeaning “food or electricity choice” circumstances as Dr. Steele’s commentary notes many families to be facing, in the world’s richest country.
In a just-published paper, 16 prominent climate scientists warn of possible 10-foot sea level rise in this century, which would make cities like New York uninhabitable, unless carbon emissions from fossil-fuel burning are drastically reduced, quickly.
As Wendell Berry’s Kentucky farmer, America has ample talent to make an effective response to the climate necessity an economic and moral success.