No Fracking Way

Busy day here at APV, this Saturday marks our first fundraiser, here’s a link if you haven’t heard about it and are planning on being in Richmond this weekend, and everyone is hustling to get their work done and be ready for the big throw down.  With that in mind, here’s some light reading for your Wednesday afternoon.

So, Michael Lind, the Policy Director for the Economic Growth Program at the New America Foundation, a “centrist” Washington think tank, published an interesting article in Salon yesterday morning:

Everything you’ve heard about fossil fuels may be wrong

Lind notes that new technologies in fossil fuel extraction push back the date at which the industrial world will begin to seriously run out of carbon based energy, and he thinks this is a very good thing.  I.e. there’s centuries worth of coal just waiting to have the mountains scraped off it, new fracking technologies mean there’s enough natural gas for another hundred years, there’s lots of oil in shale and tar sands in Canada and the high plains and new advances in undersea extraction will allow us to get at all that methane under the sea floor (not to mention all the methane trapped in ice and permafrost that global warming is helpfully releasing).  Even better it’s all here in North America, so we don’t have to go to the Mid East, and buy/steal it from those nasty Arabs.. Oh and another thing, “Global Warming” is sort of a scare tactic by the “Greens” who want everyone to live like Hobbits in some idilic medieval agricultural paradise… and, even if it is really as bad as everyone says, it won’t be that bad, and we’ll all adjust and be fine, or at least the kind of people who work for well funded Washington think tanks will be fine (I’m sure science will come up with a way to raise Martha’s Vineyard a couple feet when the seas eventually do rise).  Oh and, if you have to move away from hydrocarbon based fuel… nuclear power is a great alternative and we need more and more of it, cause it’s so clean and cheap and safe… hell, I can’t even figure out how they turn a profit on it, it’s so cheap, and clean and… er safe, right?  If this seems well, a little too good to be true, welcome to the club. The letters section at Salon did a good job of raking him over the coals so I’m not going to do an extensive critique here, but I will point out a few things and then I’ll post some interesting links that commentators volunteered.

Lind hypothesizes that there’s something on the order of five times as much oil and natural gas available as was formally thought, but as I mentioned last week in another post, the oil companies are going after this stuff precisely because the easy to get oil and gas is running out.  This stuff is hard to get to, it’s dirty and needs much more refining, it makes a terrible mess of the environment and in the case of fracking, the technology is very new and the risks it poses are just now becoming apparent.  Fracking poses a real threat to the water table, and if you haven’t seen the Academy Award nominated documentary Gasland I suggest you have a look for a quick seminar on the law of unintended consequences.

Methane is a green house gas, big time!

Methane makes CO2 look like an amateur when it comes to green-house gasses.  There’s real fear that as the ice caps melt and the permafrost in the arctic thaws, massive amounts of sequestered methane could be released leading to a truly catastrophic effects on the earth’s climate.  Lind seems to think this is also fine, all that methane is just sitting there waiting to be burned for fuel to power our washing machines and ipads, never mind the war, pestilence, famine and death that will surely follow the massive climate disruption this will cause.  This is indicative of Lind’s thinking throughout the article, so what if the monsoon fails in India, so what if the western desert spreads into the great plains and the corn belt moves north, so what, as long he doesn’t have to use mass transit and besides, the Canadians aren’t exactly gonna stand in our way are they?  And yes, I’m being hyperbolic but these are the same thought processes that brought us the war in Iraq, the hurricane Katrina debacle and the BP oil spill, “Don’t worry, nothing can go wrong, and if it does, then, we’ll think of a plan to fix it”… or not. I’m not that worried that we’re about to run out of oil completely and be plunged into a Road Warrior world, where desperate gangs fight for supremacy amidst the ruins of civilization (the fevered dream of so many of those fat, camo wearing, gun hoarders you see at certain rallies), or that the climate will change drasticaly in the next weeks or months.  But I do worry that the kind of inside the beltway complacency that Lind manifests in this essay, will prevent us from doing the hard work that is needed now so that we don’t have to face the many bad scenarios that come from forever waiting and procrastinating until it’s too late.

Here’s Andrew Leonard’s take down of Lind in Salon today.

“If Michael Lind’s intention, in his Salon article published Tuesday, “Everything you’ve heard about fossil fuels may be wrong,” was to throw so many bombs at once that critics would be too buried by shrapnel to respond, then he at least partially succeeded. It’s hard to know where to start grappling with a column that simultaneously dismisses the challenge of global warming, declares a new golden age of fossil fuels that could last millennia, ridicules renewable energy technologies such as wind and solar while advocating a massive nuclear power buildup, and even throws in a few digs at city-living and organic agriculture, just for fun. Readers who might more logically expect to see such sentiments espoused in the National Review or the American Spectator than in Salon were unsurprisinglyannoyed.

Finally, what to make of this sort of thing is always hard, something tells me that the powers that be will try and keep solar and other renewables expensive and exotic as long as they can until they can figure out a way to put a meter on the sky.  Still, we encounter so much bad news, so much of the time, it’s nice to report something good for a change.

GE: Solar may be cheap option in five years

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