Climate hero of the week

Climate hero of the week: Kenneth Bone (let us explain)

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A coal-fired power station in the distance in agricultural landscape. The power station Niederaussem has the second highest cooling tower in the world with a height of 200m.

Image: Shutterstock/IndustryAndTravel

Ah, yes. Kenneth Bone. Hero of the 2016 Second Presidential Debate. Red sweater enthusiast. True American. Potential Halloween costume. Etc., etc.

Whether you think of him as the fresh face representing the undecided vote, or just a distraction from the reality of this (slightly horrific) election season, one thing is clear: Kenneth Bone created a conversation about climate change that all of America needs to partake in, making him our Climate Hero of the Week.

Don’t get me wrong. I am aware that Bone is not the poster boy for climate change. If you were to look up the definition of climate change in the dictionary, you most certainly wouldn’t see Ken smiling in his red sweater and black-rimmed glasses. In fact, if you were to look up the definition of climate change in the dictionary you might read one or two vague sentences, about the same amount of sentences politicians spurt out every election season regarding climate change. But I digress.

Bone, a coal power worker in Southern Illinois, asked a question involving climate change that is personal to him and his employment at the town-hall style debate on Sunday night.

“What steps will your energy policy take to meet our energy needs while at the same time remaining environmentally friendly and minimizing job loss for fossil power plant workers?”

Cue instant stardom. His inquiry, though serious, put the debate back in order after hours of incessant ranting and insulting, which instantly put Mr. Bone in the spotlight. His quirky demeanor and bright red sweater also seemed to boost his likability.

He asked a fair question—a question that should have resounded with every American, especially those who care about the earth and those who inhabit it. But in all honesty, the undertone of his question is completely colored by that of, well, a coal power worker. As The Huffington Post puts it, his question “certainly seems like a question that might have come from a fossil-fuel lobbying group.”

Bone is asking how we can “meet our energy needs…environmentally” while “minimizing job layoffs.” As we know, really attending to the issue of climate change will mean not only big change (including job layoffs in the fossil fuels industry), but also buckling down on a system and policies that ignores pollution, health and climate impacts with increased subsidies for polluting fossil fuels.

While his question was mediocre at best and pushed more toward his own agenda as a coal power worker than anything else, here’s what it did do:

  • It created a conversation about climate change that spread throughout the United States rapidly. The first debate had a whopping 82 seconds worth of discussion targeted toward the environment, which is just sad and unacceptable. Whether Bone had the earth’s best interest at heart or not, we can at least work with some recognition and ignite environmentalists everywhere to keep the conversation about climate change going.
  • It has caused widespread intolerance for our candidates (and all politicians for that matter) to keep ignoring the issue of climate change. Whether Bone is pro environmentalism or not, those of us that are have taken the opportunity to influence this ongoing conversation.
  • It is bringing to light some other environmental topics, such as the North Dakota Pipeline. Native Americans who are local to the land are protesting the pipeline that is slated to carry a half a million barrels of crude oil daily from North Dakota to Illinois. The New York Times states:

Tribal and environmental activists say that the pipeline would threaten water supplies for the Standing Rock Sioux and millions of others downstream, and that its route would destroy tribal burial grounds and sacred cultural lands. The pipeline company, Energy Transfer Partners, says it has followed federal and state rules and claims that the pipeline would be a safer and cleaner way to move crude oil from fields to refineries.

  • It also put the water crisis in Flint, Michigan into a bigger conversation, where cost-cutting measures led to tainted drinking water that contained lead and other toxins that endangered the population, showing there is a direct correlation between the environment and the health of those who inhabit it.

Bone’s question also gave us another (short lived) opportunity to see how our presidential candidates respond to such questions regarding climate change.

Trump’s response was full of inaccuracies, claiming there is some magical substance out there known as “clean coal” existing at this present moment. Hillary, while still not completely fact-based, did commit to continue and accelerate the nation’s movement toward a clean energy future.

While the climate discussion has been disappointing at best regarding both our candidates, at least we know their stance on the matter.

So Mr. Bone—we applaud your courage to ask the potential future leaders of this great country a question that is on all of our minds. We can only hope that the conversation inspires action by every one of us, and that the climate change conversation continues to grow.

Ellen contributed to this piece.