By Jeanie Johnson
“We need much more renewable energy, and we need
it fast. We must replace fossil fuels in order to prevent
a climate catastrophe. And we must leave oil, gas, and
coal behind because they are depleting, nonrenewable
fuels that will inevitably become more expensive and
dirtier the longer we rely on them.”
Snake Oil: How Fracking’s False Promise of Plenty
Imperils Our Future by Richard Heinberg
Ten years of intensive reading and study have helped me to understand the history, political dynamics, worsening human-caused climate change and environmental degradation that come into play when talking about oil, coal and natural gas. That is to say, the conventional energy sources we rely on for 97% of our transport, agriculture and military might. Check out The Story of Stuff online if you would like an easily digestible version of how we got where we are in our consumption of fossil fuels and what it has brought the planet, other species, our waters, our air and ourselves.
Recently the President announced that the United States was poised to become energy independent with one hundred years of oil and gas and could also become the new Saudi Arabia of the western world. To what was he referring? The International Energy Agency (a Paris-based autonomous intergovernmental organization established in the framework of the OECD in 1974 in the wake of the 1973 Oil Crisis) reported this past fall that the U.S., due to newly discovered shale gas and tight oil reserves recovered via hydrofracturing technology, will deliver us such an abundance of unconventionally-based energy that we will not have to fret issues of peak oil much less foreign oil dependency. But what we are to think of quickly worsening climate change, the deterioration of the environment and accelerating species extinctions, all of which proceed directly from fossil fuel consumption? Is it really a cause for celebration that the burning of more and more unconventional oil and gas in the U.S. in addition to globally increasing amounts of coal will add substantially more CO2 to our already overburdened atmosphere? When fabulously wealthy energy executives and politicians who are in the pockets of Exxon Mobil and other fossil fuel companies trumpet the extraction and refinement of dirty tar sands oil (bitumen) as a gift to the U.S. and our future energy independence or the escalating fracking of the U.S., are we thinking about the dirty downsides? Please take a moment and watch this TED Talk from 2011 on the tar sands devastation in Alberta, Canada http://tinyurl.com/7ln2jrp for a sobering look at what is happening to vast areas of our planet.
I’m not speaking only about the Keystone XL pipeline, currently awaiting the President’s thumbs up or down. The KXL is only one of thousands of pipeline extensions crisscrossing the country, with more to come, that will transport Canada’s dangerous, gritty, low quality oil to the Gulf (exactly what Garth Lenz spoke of in the above link) to be refined and sent to the highest bidder overseas. This will not be oil for Americans bringing us lower prices at the pump that we have fantasized we would see once again and what most of us grew up paying. Perhaps that disappointment will be one of the downsides however, far worse than our disappointment will be the ravages our dependence on, addiction to, and our lack of imagination regarding conventional and unconventional energy use is bringing to our only home.
Michael T. Klare, author of several books (see titles at the end of this article) on this and related topics, recently published an outstanding article at tomdispatch.com titled The Third Carbon Age: Don’t For A Second Think We’re Heading For an Era of Renewable Energy, Klare writes one of the best, most comprehensive articles I have read. His wrap-up speaks directly about what is at stake.
“For all President Obama’s talk of a green technology revolution, we remain deeply entrenched in a world dominated by fossil fuels, with the only true revolution now underway involving the shift from one class of such fuels to another. Without a doubt, this is a formula for global catastrophe. To survive this era, humanity must become much smarter about this new kind of energy and then take the steps necessary to compress the third carbon era and hasten in the Age of Renewables before we burn ourselves off this planet.”
I strongly encourage readers to find Klare’s article at: http://tinyurl.com/mqrank8 and become educated on our fossil fuel history, the current situation, and the politics that have always been involved in the oil game as well as the connection between climate change, environmental devastation and species extinction and our consumption of coal, petroleum and natural gas. (As well as the study Drill Baby Drill by J. David Hughes included at the end of this article in PDF format which will provide a clear and concise understanding of the multifaceted issues regarding conventional and unconventional fuels.) I encourage readers to start conversations with others on these topics. These are dynamics of our overdeveloped, fossil fuel dependent Western societies that are complicated but I believe they deserve our focus because we don’t have the luxury of time to remain ignorant.
This is a passion of mine for many reasons. One reason is intensely personal. My five year old great niece, with whom I share a deep connection, helped her Daddy in their organic, heirloom-seeded garden this past summer. She is learning about sustainability, locally-based agriculture and the precious heritage of non-GMO seeds. I am grateful her parents are paying attention because she is going to live with the now unavoidable ravages that the past fifty years of fossil fuel indulgence in particular have left for her world. Complacency will not do. Saying we cannot understand it all, it’s too complicated, let the economists and the business people figure it out will not do. These little ones and the Seventh Generation are waiting for us to find the strength to confront what every writer I’ve read for the past ten years believes to be the single most critically important time for the continuation of life on planet Earth.
Long years of activism have taught me that we can do better than to rant, criticize or provoke without leaving some suggestions for what can be done about the situation we’ve highlighted. I leave some suggestions for becoming better educated about the plight caused by our addiction to the extraction, refining, transportation and burning of fossil fuels.
The Race For What’s Left: The Global Scramble for The World’s Last Resources by Michael T. Klare
Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy by Michael T. Klare
Snake Oil: How Fracking’s Promise of Plenty Imperils Our Future by Richard Heinberg
Post Carbon Institute – postcarbon.org
http://www.postcarbon.org/reports/DBD-report-FINAL.pdf this is a seminal, exhaustive study on unconventional fuels (shale gas, tight oil)
350.org – a global grassroots movement to solve the climate crisis; currently working on stopping the Keystone XL pipeline northern leg