The Weather is Fickle, But is it Fake?

Let’s say you consider climate change to be fake news. Weather is weather; it’s fickle.

But you like to eat tuna. Maybe tuna salad, sushi, or straight out of a can, which is how I like it. Tuna contains mercury, mainly because it’s in all the creatures that tuna eat.

Today there’s some good news on that front: Research on bluefin tuna caught in the Gulf of Maine between 2004 and 2012 revealed that levels of methylmercury in their bodies decreased at a rate of 2 percent per year, or 19 percent over nine years.

“The decline is almost in parallel with declines in mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants and the decline of mercury in the air,” Nicholas S. Fisher, a professor of marine sciences at Stony Brook University in New York, told Darryl Fears of The Washington Post. “It appears that the fish are responding almost in real time.”

Did the tuna go on a low-mercury diet? In a way, yes. The decreases occurred as coal-fired power plants began closing in 2008 — with 300 now shut down, according to the National Mining Association. The research showed that the benefits of lowering coal emissions as power plants switch to natural gas are almost immediate and measurable.

“More coal burning gives you more carbon dioxide and more mercury, and these are things that connect very directly with people’s health in the United States,” said Noelle Eckley Selin, an MIT atmospheric chemist, who was not involved in the study.

So even if you don’t believe that burning less coal will help combat climate change, you and your fellow Americans will be healthier if we cut back on those emissions. How much of a problem is air pollution? Worldwide, it causes 6.5 million premature deaths a year, according to the International Energy Agency.

If, despite such evidence that burning less coal will make our lives better, you still think we should adopt policies that will promote reliance on coal as a source of electricity, consider this news from Michigan: The head of the state’s largest electric utility, DTE Energy, said that his company plans to shut down eight of its nine coal-fired plants by 2030. “All of those retirements are going to happen regardless of what Trump may or may not do with the Clean Power Plan,” said Gerry Anderson.

It’s mostly a matter of dollars and common sense. A new coal plant in Michigan costs $133 per megawatt hour. A natural gas plant costs half that. Wind contracts cost about $75, a price that is sure to decline. “I don’t know anybody in the country who would build another coal plant,” Anderson said. And surveys show that most Michiganders want to rely more on renewable, he added, “if it can be done at reasonable cost.”

So let’s not fight about whether all those climate scientists are trying to scam us. Anyone who’d like cleaner air and healthier food should support efforts to accelerate the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy. And the quickest way to make that happen is to enact a carbon fee and let the free market go to work. The new Congress can prove its mettle by taking such action early in 2017.