Friday, April 11, 2014

Writer examines how a pair of national magazines recently covered the topic of clean coal

A story about clean coal in the latest edition of Wired magazine overstated its conclusions, while one on the same topic in the latest National Geographic, did not, writes Max Ehrenfreund of The Washington Post on the paper's Wonkblog.

"The article in Wired by Charles Mann is thoroughly reported and makes for a fascinating read, but nothing in it supports the magazine's thesis about clean coal: 'Because it could allow the globe to keep burning its most abundant fuel source while drastically reducing carbon dioxide and soot, it may be more important—though much less publicized—than any renewable-energy technology for decades to come'," Ehrenfreund writes.

"According to a recent estimate from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, a new clean-coal plant built now costs about as much as a new solar plant per unit of electrical generation—and that estimate looks optimistic next to the even higher costs Mann reports in Wired. Wind and natural gas are much less expensive sources of electricity. Meanwhile, the cost of solar panels is falling steadily and predictably, and solar energy is no more expensive than the market price for electricity in parts of Europe."

Ehrenfreund says "National Geographic's editors handled the story well, being careful not to overstate their conclusions. It would have been great to read a piece in Wired about any of the various fascinating new energy projects that truly aren't well publicized: supercapacitors, fusion reactors, batteries made out of air. These technologies might not be as far along in their development as clean coal, but their implications are arguably just as broad. Then again, stories that are uncomfortable for the environmental movement have always been popular with editors and their audiences, probably because they give a publication an aura of iconoclastic thinking, however undeserved it may be." (Read more)

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