Montana Outdoors

December 18, 2007

A terrible contrast

Filed under: Conservation, Environment, Montana, Nature, Outdoors, Photography, Photos, Pictures — montucky @ 9:13 am

In this morning’s Billings Gazette was an article about Montana’s main supplier of electrical power, and here is an excerpt from it:

“NorthWestern Energy intends to double its wind power capacity over the next seven years but foresees no new coal plant construction due to uncertainty over global warming, according to documents released by the company Monday.”

Personally, I view this as very good news on a local scale, and yet….

Yesterday this train was headed east with over a hundred empty coal cars, returning to the coal fields of southeastern Montana or perhaps Wyoming.

Coal train

Coal train

This morning in another train just like it, this time heading west, were 117 cars, all of them heavily loaded with coal, bound most likely for the Port of Seattle, then on to China. But does it really matter where it goes? Ultimately it will end up in the air we breathe, whether that happens here in the States or whether it takes place overseas. I see one of these trains traveling these rails every single day, and that is one heck of a lot of coal!

Nine miles to the north of that scene and a mile above it is this one.

White clouds, blue sky

These clean white clouds and pure blue air are what we are willing to sacrifice as we continually attempt to satisfy an insatiable demand for energy. Hasn’t the world heard of conservation?


  1. I think most of the human race feels that conservation is the job of “the other guy,” and that nothing they do will ever make a difference, so why bother? The end result of billions of people thinking this way, of course, is trainloads and trainloads of coal on their way to being atmosphere-bound.
    Me? I think every little bit helps.


    Comment by wolf — December 18, 2007 @ 2:49 pm

  2. I think you’re right. I also think with you that every little thing we do (or don’t do) helps!


    Comment by montucky — December 18, 2007 @ 3:29 pm

  3. With all the bad vibes it was carrying; that’s still one fine looking train.

    Hopefully, your message is sinking in world-wide.


    Comment by Pinhole — December 18, 2007 @ 3:37 pm

  4. I just came across this and thought you’d like it….


    Comment by wolf — December 18, 2007 @ 4:24 pm

  5. Pinhole,

    Fairly often a coal train will go by and every single car in it is new. There’s got to be some money in there somewhere!

    Yes, I wish everyone could watch a few of these go by and think about what all that coal is going to do. It’s frightening/nauseating!


    Comment by montucky — December 18, 2007 @ 6:31 pm

  6. I was thinking today of the little things we can do to help conserve; I mean the LITTLE things…like not use so much toilet paper in one sitting! sorry….with the little guys around and most of us big people not really thinking about it-it adds up!


    Comment by silken — December 18, 2007 @ 9:11 pm

  7. That’s exactly what we all should be doing, silken. If everyone went about their daily lives with that attitude I’m sure we would be astounded at what would happen!

    I usually read the Environment section of the LA Times online and they ran an article yesterday about a water conservation program in Long Beach. They did order mandatory cutbacks on water use, but at the same time designed and implemented a public relations advertising campaign to support water conservation. As a result their water use hit a 10 year low in September and set another record low in November. The biggest difference was individual residents cutting down on water use. Now if we could get something like that focusing on energy use across the world we’d be getting somewhere!


    Comment by montucky — December 18, 2007 @ 9:34 pm

  8. wind! that is totally cool Montucky. Sometimes you do this to me – you mention an article and then I read it and I get so hopeful (and you always point out something true, honest and correct but something I never foresaw.) China isn’t getting rid of coal anytime soon. According to everything I’ve read they are the least concerned about conservation or our air and more concerned I guess with making really lousy plastic toys. :o) No offense to anyone Chinese reading this… I’m not anti-China I just read an article in NGM talking about this very issue. But you know if we America’s can set upon cleaning up our faces (you know cleaning the egg off of them) maybe we can work towards those international issues. I breath a sigh of relief that your area is embracing wind. (Because like you’ve pointed out quite a bit on your blog a journey of a thousand miles starts… we’ll you know the rest.)


    Comment by aullori — December 19, 2007 @ 1:01 am

  9. There’s a lot of money and effort going into research and development of wind energy here now. I was really pleased to see that story, and I think they mean it. Of course, one big problem is always transmission of electricity and its inherent losses. It’s a great start though. Now if we will concentrate also on solar which probably won’t help you and me that much, but for those in the southwest especially it can be huge!


    Comment by montucky — December 19, 2007 @ 9:08 am

  10. Railfans would love to get ahold of these photographs.

    Hearing about additional uses of wind power is great news. I don’t know where that coal might end up, but where ever it is, it’s going to have a global impact.

    Unfortunately, the agreements being discussed lately related to the Kyoto accord are still exempting developing nations. At some point, with China’s economy and clout, one would think they would cease being considered “developing,” especially with their pollution problem in mind.

    I’m happy to see that Bush is ready to sign the new energy bill mandating, amonf other things, better gas mileage in cars for the first time in a long time.



    Comment by knightofswords — December 19, 2007 @ 3:15 pm

  11. There is a lot of conversation worldwide about conservation, because it’s easy to talk. Everyone is right though – start little. I found my family’s habits changed drastically when, as a family project, we researched the Internet for unusual home conservation ideas. So many were so easy and pretty painless. And I truly believe it makes a difference.

    But everyone has to CARE, not simply say they do.

    As for the trains, the trains are quite an awesome sight, but not when they are filled with coal which fill the pockets of political clowns. Wisconsin has a circus train. We’re far, far from perfect, but at least we fill one of our trains with real clowns! 🙂


    Comment by Bo (barbara) — December 19, 2007 @ 3:15 pm

  12. Malcolm,

    China concerns me for several reasons. With its size and population it will always be a major player, but I fear most its typical disrespect for human values.

    Mandating better mileage is helpful, but I really think it’s possible to do better than twice what they actually will do. I see one of the hybrids now advertising 38 mpg. I used to own an old Festiva which was not a hybrid, but which gave me 45 mpg. It can be done.

    At least lately we are starting to address some of the issues!


    Comment by montucky — December 19, 2007 @ 4:48 pm

  13. Bo,

    You are 100% right about the fact that we have to start really caring! Short of that, no efforts will be enough.

    I’ve found that conservation gives back a nice little gift, too: money savings! If more people ever figure that out, it might make a big difference.

    I like the Wisconsin circus train idea. The real clowns are so much better than the phony ones we keep sending to DC.


    Comment by montucky — December 19, 2007 @ 4:55 pm

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