Southern Co. Tackles Global Warming

Or does it? Take this quiz to find out

It's not easy being David Ratcliffe. As president, CEO and chairman of Southern Co., Ratcliffe has been bom-barded lately with bad news.

The U.S. Senate is expected to take up legislation this month limiting emissions of carbon dioxide, which is considered one of the top contributors to global warming. Carbon dioxide is also a byproduct of the coal-fired power plants on which Southern Co. relies.

Some New England states are seriously cracking down on carbon dioxide emissions, going so far as to slap Southern Co. with a lawsuit in an attempt to force the company to end its reliance on coal.

What's more, Southern Co. is the country's second largest producer of carbon dioxide, according to an analysis released two weeks ago by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

Granted, Southern Co. is making progress when it comes to other types of pollution reductions, spending $6 billion on controls for sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and mercury. But that money will do nothing to combat global warming.

Three other big power companies - Duke Energy, Cinergy and American Electric Power - have made commitments to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions. But Ratcliffe isn't even close to making a similar promise - though last month he did tell shareholders for the first time that the Earth is indeed warming.

On May 25, at the company's annual meeting in Buckhead, Ratcliffe said, "There's no question that we are now in a warming period. [But] we don't know enough about the current warming period to take drastic actions."

His comments came at the end of a month that saw the release of three separate studies documenting the effects of global warming, and global warming's links to carbon dioxide.

But hey, at least Southern Co. execs are no longer denying that the Earth is heating up.

The day before, Ratcliffe announced at a press conference that Southern Co. has joined forces with Georgia Tech to explore the viability of building wind farms off the coast of Georgia. After the press conference, Ratcliffe answered

Creative Loafing's questions and offered some promising (and some puzzling) insight into air pollution and global warming.

Telling you how Ratcliffe answered our questions would be too easy. Instead, guess which of the following statements belong to him. The correct answers are at the story's end.

1) The Kyoto Protocol has been ratified, and the European Union has its set of emission controls. We seem to be lagging in this effort to get ahead of what's perceived as a major threat to the climate. What's it going to take to get Southern Co. on the cutting edge of some of these carbon dioxide reductions?

A) "We have several initiatives in place that may actually cool off the planet and provide a substantial return to our shareholders."

B) "I think we are on the cutting edge. One of the things we've been doing for years is sponsoring research that we don't advertise very much."

C) "All we're waiting for is for someone to say 'Please.'"

2) Southern Co. spent a lot of money studying wind power in Georgia years ago. But back then you didn't think to look at wind flows off the coast?

A) "No. Well, we didn't have any data. We didn't know we had data out there."

B) "We looked out into the areas offshore, and there was no wind that we could see."

C) "We did, actually, and we found that with wind power we could generate a whole lot of electricity without polluting. But that's not our thing."

3) How do you address some of the criticisms about the company's recently released environmental impact statement [which says Southern Co. may increase carbon dioxide emissions]?

A) "This isn't about our environmental impact. It's about pollution, and its effect on the air and water."

B) "We are dragging our feet in some ways. But that's what our shareholders expect. Reducing carbon dioxide will take an enormous amount of money. Shareholders want to make money, and we of course have to respect that."

C) "We didn't come out and make a commitment to reduce carbon dioxide. And my opinion is that's the wrong public policy."

4) What if, in a worst-case scenario, technology doesn't come along by the time the telltale signs of global warming hit us?

A) "Well, I think the technology will. Let me add something. ... There isn't anything I can do about that."

B) "India and China have no pollution controls whatsoever. ... Why don't you ask them that question?"

C) "I don't think God would allow that to happen. ... Or the very least, it won't happen in my lifetime."


Interested in joining the cause to improve air quality in Georgia? Visit www.georgiapirg.org.

Answers: 1-B, 2-A, 3-C, 4-A.