With the release of the National Climate Assessment, we now have, by my count, four major scientific studies of climate change within the past year. All of them are in agreement as to its causes, current status, and dire consequences. The National Climate Assessment is a report to the President by a large team of researchers every four years on the US situation. Here are links to the New York Times report on the report, and to the overview and full text of the report itself.
I hope that the President will take more decisive steps than he has so far —to his credit, by executive action rather than through an obstructive Congress—to deal with both the national and global climate-change crisis. Those he has taken, on auto emissions and coal for instance, are baby steps when matched against the immensity and time-urgency of the problem. Rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline project, which would deliver tar sands oil from Alberta, and refusing to support fracking (hydraulic fracturing) operations by oil and gas companies, would be decisive steps. Both pose serious threats to the environment–Keystone, with large carbon emissions at the production end and potential damage to local water supplies in US communities; fracking, by release of methane and poisoning of water and soil. Avoiding reliance on these supposed energy saviors will not improve the climate, but they will send a message that damaging both local and global environments for the sake of more energy is not an acceptable tradeoff.
But Obama is up against powerful political and economic interests as well as arguments that support of fracking and Keystone will help put the US out front in terms of world energy leadership and create near-self sufficiency in natural gas and oil. American consumers, used to unlimited sources of energy, will find such arguments, with their allure of lower costs, hard to resist. The latest (May-June) issue of Foreign Affairs, for instance, features two articles extolling the virtues of the “shale revolution,” with one of them rejoicing that “companies in the United States have fracked about 150,000 miles of shale about two million times. That adds up to around a thousand times as much shale exposed inside the United States as outside it” (www.foreignaffairs.com/issues/2014/93/3). In other words, the revolution has already bypassed us; resistance is futile.*
Sadly, the third article on the subject, by the president of the Environmental Defense Fund, Fred Krupp, articulates the main arguments against fracking but ends by calling for more careful drilling. How will that come about? “By forging unlikely alliances based on a mutual understanding of what is at stake . . . ” Lost in the shuffle is “the transition to truly clean, renewable energy”—that’s it, seven words about one of the most meaningful energy path. And nothing at all about conservation. I’m sure the energy industry leaders are grateful to have such a kindly environmental partner.
I make small annual donations to EDF because of its work protecting the Amazon and promoting water conservation in China. After reading Krupp’s article, I wrote a letter to EDF criticizing his mild response to fracking, his wishful thinking about its safety, and his unsupported presumption that a partnership with the gas and oil industry based on “mutual understanding of what is at stake” is possible as well as desirable. Let me end by sharing the final paragraph of the letter:
While I am a strong believer in cooperative problem solving, there are times—and now is one of them, in the wake of several reports on the climate-change crisis—when we need strongly worded, well-researched articles that make clear our environmental principles and red lines. Fracking is occurring in the US at an extraordinary level, as one of the Foreign Affairs articles indicates. These guys aren’t compromising their goals, and neither should we.
* Except that it isn’t: see the remarkable, and moving, story of Nebraskans’ resistance to Keystone XL: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/18/magazine/jane-kleeb-vs-the-keystone-pipeline.html?hp. It’s about finding common ground by protecting the common ground: our neighbors’ land.
Quote of the Day (from a Times op-ed May 7 by the former governor of Utah and presidential candidate, Jon M. Huntsman, Jr.): “So obtuse has become the [Republican] party’s dialogue on climate change that it’s now been reduced to believing or not believing, as if it were a religious mantra.”