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What tornadoes and coal plants have in common

On nature

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POSTED: June 5, 2008 5:00 a.m.
Last Sunday morning my weather radio went crazy. It's supposed to warn me if the nuclear plant I live near melts down, so I pay close attention when it sounds its siren inside my house.
"Severe thunderstorms," it said. Five minutes later the radio was on again. "Tornado watch." The sky darkened until it looked as if day had been only an hour long. Then, "Tornado warning." Bucketfuls of rain poured down, trees thrashed about and thunder boomed across the sky.
This was no regular thunder. This was the longest, deepest, scariest thunder I've ever heard, and as promised, it accompanied angry lightning.
If we're waiting on a sign from the heavens, it has arrived.
We are disrupting the climate. Weather patterns are changing before our eyes. Weather is becoming more violent.
In the past week or two, untold thousands (look at Myanmar) have died from increasingly ferocious weather, and Georgia has not been spared.
Blame it on ourselves. We haven't wanted to admit that our lifestyles are causing global warming. We're burning too much fossil fuel.
We thought weather immutable. We thought it beyond the reach of humans. We thought that only God could control storms.
Yes, climate has always fluctuated, but as Jim Hansen of NASA puts it, "climate change driven by human activity is reaching a level that dwarfs natural rates of change."
Overall, global temperature have increased by over 1 degree Fahrenheit, bringing changes on a vast scale, including longer, more extreme hurricanes and droughts, as well as an increase in smaller events, like thunderstorms.
All of this is occurring because greenhouse gases are piling up like blankets in our atmosphere, where they ensnare the sun's heat, much like glass traps a day's heat in a greenhouse. The most common of the gases is carbon dioxide, which accounts for more than 80 percent.
Turns out, the South plays a major role in climate change. Southerners drive more than other Americans and use more electricity per capita. We are one of the largest producers of greenhouse gases on the planet. If viewed as a country, our region would rank seventh in the world.
And we may be suffering the most.
Nearly half of the carbon dioxide rising into Southern skies comes from coal-burning power plants, many of which still operate with dirty technologies. According to the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Southeast power plants contribute more than 763 million tons of carbon dioxide annually.
Yet, despite the science on climate change and despite the fact that approximately 20 million Americans have asthma, ten Georgia Electric Membership Corporations are pushing to build an 850-megawatt, dirty coal-fired power plant on 1,200 acres in Washington County.
Georgia is perfect for solar power. Georgia's EMCs should look to Gibson EMC in Tennessee, which sells electricity generated by sun, wind and landfill gas. Its solar facility is at the Gibson County High School.
Before Sunday, I never saw one-inch hail falling in my yard. Let's wake up before more people die.

Ray's essay on global warming appears in the anthology, American Crisis, Southern Solutions, just out from NewSouth Books.
 

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