We Begin Bombing in Five Minutes

It was 1984. Where were you then?

Apple stunned the world with its 1984 ad, then started selling the Macintosh PC. The Bell System divested. Bruce Springsteen released Born in the U.S.A.

President Reagan joked, in an NPR sound-check, “My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes." Three months later, he won reelection over Walter Mondale, taking forty-nine states.

Ghostbusters, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Beverly Hills Cop, and The Natural were in theaters. Count Basie and Marvin Gaye died.

And in 1984 we burned 664,399 thousand short tons of coal to produce electricity. What’s so special about that? It’s the last year we burned less coal than we did in 2016.

We burned 677,981 thousand short tons in 2016. That’s a thirty-five percent drop from the peak year, 2007.

In was in the late seventies and then the eighties when the U.S., reacting to the economic and national security threat of OPEC, dramatically ramped up coal-fired electricity generation. In just ten years, from 1975 to 1985, coal burning increased sixty-four percent.

With oil-fired generation sharply cut, and with natural gas-fired and hydro generation plateauing, coal-firing grew rapidly in the nineties. The electric sector’s carbon dioxide emissions reached two billion metric tons annually in 1996.

Consider how much higher emissions would have been if nuclear generation had not emerged in the late seventies, and if it had not grown so rapidly in the eighties. The U.S. would have released in the earth’s atmosphere around twenty billion more metric tons of carbon dioxide.

Number-crunching and insights by the magazine for commentary, opinion and debate on utility regulation and policy since 1928, Public Utilities Fortnightly.

Steve Mitnick, Editor-in-Chief, Public Utilities Fortnightly
E-mail me: mitnick@fortnightly.com