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'Get Ready for More Climate Change-Induced Hurricanes' -- The Coal Industry

12/10/2012 09:54 pm ET | Updated Feb 09, 2013

If you had any serious doubt that (whatever Arizona Governor Jan Brewer may pretend) all of the serious players in the climate wars actually understand and believe that climate change is real, man-made, and enormously serious, here's another data point to settle a restless mind.

The company that produces one-fifth of globally traded coal for steel making, the largest mining company on the planet, BHP-Billiton, announced a few days ago that it was making a major investment in replacing one of its coal export facilities in Queensland because the climate-induced increased frequency of hurricanes (called cyclones in Australia) made it necessary.

According to Marcus Randolph, who heads up coal operations for the conglomerate:

As we see more cyclone-related events... the vulnerability of one of these facilities to a cyclone is quite high. So we built a model saying this is how we see this impacting what the economics would be and used that with our board of directors to rebuild the facility to be more durable to climate change.

Randolph went on to deal with the awkward reality that the mining company is making a significant contribution to the very climate change it is now protecting itself against -- an investment which many of the ordinary citizens on coastlines all over the world, from the Maldives to Bangladesh to the New Jersey Shore -- are not able to afford for their own protection.

Thankfully he did not try to hide behind alleged confusion about the source of climate change. Discussing whether the company was only responding to Australia's carbon tax, he didn't dodge.

"If you look at the targets... there is not a qualifier saying it is okay to emit more greenhouse gases if the carbon tax is eliminated," he said. "An absolute ceiling is an absolute ceiling. Even if there isn't a carbon tax, it still needs to be an issue we devote a lot of attention to."

This is a coal company. It is an Australian coal company -- not some wimpy European softie. And it no longer thinks it can hide from the reality that the world faces an existential crisis -- get off fossil fuels or pay the price. And Randolph had a warning for investors as well. A week earlier in a different interview, as American voters were casting their verdict on Mitt Romney's attach on the Obama administration's alleged "War on Coal," Randolph was pretty direct:

In a carbon constrained world where energy coal is the biggest contributor to a carbon problem, how do you think this is going to evolve over a 30- to 40-year time horizon? You'd have to look at that and say on balance, I suspect, the usage of thermal coal is going to decline. And frankly it should."

When will the American media recognize that they are not reporting a genuine debate -- but a set-up, in which hired guns make assertions that are not only laughable, but insincere, which climate deniers (or those who bankroll them) do not believe themselves? It's one thing to report fairly on a real controversy. It's another to assert that intentional deceit warrants equal time with reality.

A veteran leader in the environmental movement, Carl Pope is the former executive director and chairman of the Sierra Club. Mr. Pope is co-author -- along with Paul Rauber -- of Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress, which the New York Review of Books called "a splendidly fierce book."