Friday, May 4, 2012

Will Coal Train Protesters Cause Economic Harm?

Over the last few months on this blog, I have been suggesting that environmental activism is likely to become a  headwind in the future for economic activity. Successes of the environmental movement include  shutdowns of nuclear plants in Japan and Germany, and the moratorium on building the northern section of the Keystone XL pipeline. The next target of the North American environmental movement is coal trains and coal export terminals.

On Saturday (May 5), protesters are planning to block Burlington Northern Santa Fe coal trains from reaching Vancouver’s ports. "From dawn to dusk on May 5th we will also stop all unloaded coal trains traveling [southeast] approaching mile 122  (White Rock pier) on the New Westminster Subdivision, Northwest Division," explains a letter addressed to Warren Buffett from Stop Coal B.C.
The planned Saturday protest follows closely on the heels of the Thursday (5/3) arrest of seven anti-coal protesters after they chained themselves to a railroad track outside of Terrell, North Carolina and halted a coal train heading to a Duke Energy power plant.

The coal train protest movement has the potential to gain significant traction. The Occupy camps tapped into a desire to be a part of a protest movement held by many of today's disaffected and unemployed youth. The Occupy protesters became a mass movement despite a fatally flawed lack of direction and failure to actually accomplish anything. The coal train protesters goal to "save the planet" and capability to disrupt coal deliveries give this movement a highly targeted focus and potential for achievement that is much more compelling than complaining about "the 1%".

A geography that could offer fertile ground for recruiting activists for the coal train protest movement is Appalachia. There is a wide spread sense across this region in which mountain tops are being lopped off  that their beautiful scenery is being destroyed and environment damaged simply in order to ship coal off to India and China.

The coal train protest movement definitely bears watching. Time will tell whether it will gain enough traction to impact coal shipping and harm the U.S. and world economies.

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