David Suzuki: Fracking is neither a climate solution nor an economic blessing

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The rush to exploit and sell fossil fuels as quickly as possible before the reality of climate disruption becomes too great to deny or ignore has generated some Orwellian rationalizations. Somehow a bitumen pipeline has become part of Canada’s plan to tackle the climate crisis. Another fossil fuel, fracked gas, is being touted as a climate solution.

It’s twisted logic that exposes a lack of honesty, imagination, and courage from many of those we elect to serve us. Pipeline proponents say we need the money to fund the transition to green energy. That’s like saying we have to sell cigarettes to fund lung cancer research. It’s also premised on the idea that “we can’t get off fossil fuels overnight”—something I’ve been hearing since I started talking about climate change decades ago, during which we’ve done little to get off them at all.

Natural gas, which now almost always means liquefied fracked gas, is being vaunted as a climate remedy because it burns cleaner than coal. In Canada and the U.S., governments are so intoxicated by the dollars that they’re helping industry build as quickly and massively as possible. As research in Canada and the U.S. shows, it’s not a climate solution; it’s another way to keep fossil fuels burning.

Natural gas is mostly methane, a greenhouse gas about 85 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. It’s responsible for about a quarter of atmospheric warming, and emissions are rising. Scientists estimate about 40 percent is from natural sources, while 60 percent is human-caused—from agriculture, landfills, coal seams, and oil-and-gas-industry leakage. Even some natural emissions are indirectly caused by human activity. For example, human-caused global heating is causing permafrost to melt, which releases methane.

Research by the David Suzuki Foundation and St. Francis Xavier University revealed methane pollutionfrom B.C.’s oil-and-gas industry is at least 2.5 times higher than reported by industry and government. Studies in Alberta and the U.S. reached similar conclusions.

New research from Global Energy Monitor, a U.S. nongovernmental organization that tracks fossil-fuel development, found even greater problems with the recent fracking frenzy. Its report, The New Gas Boom, found that the 202 LNG terminal projects being developed worldwide—including 116 export terminals and 86 import terminals—represent warming impacts “as large or greater than the expansion of coal-fired power plants, posing a direct challenge to Paris climate goals”. Canada and the U.S. account for 74 percent of these developments.

The report also questions the long-term viability of this gas rush, cautioning that many developments could become “stranded assets”, given rapidly falling renewable-energy costs. It points out that because only eight percent of terminal capacity under development has reached the construction stage, “there is still time to avoid overbuilding”.

Beyond its climate impacts, fracking comes with a range of environmental and health problems, including earthquakes, contaminated water, excessive water use, and health issues. A recent review of more than 1,500 scientific studies, government assessments, and media reports by the Concerned Health Professionals of New York and Physicians for Social Responsibility concluded that fracking contaminates air and water with chemicals that can cause serious health problems—especially in children, pregnant women and other vulnerable people, as well as industry workers—including cancer, asthma, and birth defects.

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Green New Deal: When politics was trumped by the weather


 The original image by Dominik Dancs/Unsplash 

It may be a bigger public investment programme than the Marshall Plan or the moon-shot, but thanks to US congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the young people who back her, it may just get through. As an answer to climate change, the Green New Deal is the best humanity has right now. Which means that South Africa could reap the benefits too.

“If everyone is guilty, then no one is to blame,” said Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg at Davos two weeks ago. “And someone is to blame.”

Was this a veiled reference to Nathaniel Rich’s novella-length article “Losing Earth,” in which The New York Times Magazine took the unprecedented step of devoting an entire issue to climate change, ultimately blaming our collective failure to avert its worst effects on “human nature”?

Perhaps. Since rising to prominence in August 2018, the same month that Rich’s piece was published, Thunberg had drawn the attention of climate celebrities who appeared to despise the blamelessness hypothesis as much as she did. Chief among these was the journalist and filmmaker Naomi Klein, who’d laid into Rich for employing the “royal we” in place of the easily identifiable individuals that had been behind the massive increase in carbon emissions since the late 1980s — the fossil fuel executives and their plutocrat enablers, to be specific.

Back in November 2018, Naomi Klein wrote in The Interceptthat the Green New Deal “is not a piecemeal approach that trains a water gun on a blazing fire, but a comprehensive and holistic plan to actually put the fire out”.

She then added: “If the world’s largest economy looked poised to show that kind of visionary leadership, other major emitters — like the European Union, China, and India — would almost certainly find themselves under intense pressure from their own populations to follow suit.” MORE

A Clean Energy Revolution Is Rising in the Midwest, with Utilities in the Vanguard

Xcel is leading the pack, with a pledge to go 100% zero carbon by 2050. Other major electricity providers are trading coal for wind and solar sooner than planned.

Xcel Energy's Rush Creek Wind Farm mixes renewable energy and agriculture. Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty
This was a fulcrum year for the clean-energy transition in the Midwest as Xcel announced plans to go zero carbon and other utilities said they would shut down coal-fired power plants early. Credit: Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Even with all the evidence that renewable energy has become less expensive than fossil fuels, it doesn’t seem real until utilities start to stake their futures on it.

For some Midwestern utilities, 2018 is the year that happened.

“It’s a matter of environmental value and economic justification.”

Xcel Energy of Minnesota in early December said it would go to zero carbon emissions throughout its eight-state territory by 2050, the first major utility to do so. MORE