Are we fracking mad?
With my thanks to Paul Handover at Learning from Dogs for alerting me to the fact, I have been saddened – but not surprised – to read about the tone and content of the latest five-yearly Global Environmental Outlook report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). As Richard Black reports on the BBC’s website, this highlights the fact that significant progress has only been achieved on 4 out of 90 previously-agreed environmental goals; and that humanity’s current trajectory is a very long way away from being sustainable.
However, in addition to being unsustainable, it is, as Paul himself put it yesterday, “insane”: We appear to be surrounded by political leaders who are in denial about being in denial of the finite capacity of the Earth to provide us with what we need; and to recycle the waste we produce. When confronted with a reality such as this, rather than put all their energy into building a sustainable solution; they continue to throw good money after bad and prop-up the fossil fuel industry with massive subsidies. If you have not already done so, please register your protest against this via Bill McKibbin’s 350.org online petition here.
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) may well eventually prove feasible – and our continuing existence as a species (if not the continuing habitability of Earth as a whole) may come to depend on us making it feasible but – CCS should not be used (as it is being used) as an excuse to make something that is insane seem sensible… Now that we know the burning of fossil fuels is the primary cause of the problem, we should find ways to replace their use wherever we can: We may be a long way from finding alternatives for many things we derive from fossil fuels (such as plastics); but we already have alternative ways to generate heat, light, and electricity. Therefore, where the use of fossil fuels can be readily substituted, this needs to happen as soon as possible. The list of organisations warning that delay will be unimaginably costly – and possibly terminal – grows longer all the time; a list to which we can now add UNEP.
Burning fossil fuels just because they are there is insane
For a long time, I have told anyone that would listen that we should leave unconventional hydrocarbons in the ground because of the extremely high probability that James Hansen is right; if we burn them all the runaway greenhouse effect is a “dead certainty” (i.e. on page 236 of Storms of My Grandchildren). However, thanks to the persistence of my many friends in the blogosphere, I have now also woken up to the reality that unconventional fossil fuel extraction – and hydraulic fracturing (known as fracking) in particular – is having significant immediate adverse environmental impacts. Pendantry has described this as humanity “fouling its own nest”; but I think my own description of it as “defecating in our own pig pen” conveys a more appropriate image.
In the USA, fracking has recently been prohibited in the State of Vermont and it must be hoped that other States will now do the same. The Vermont legislature took this action as a result of reports confirming the link between fracking and minor earthquakes; and because of high profile campaigns mounted by those communities already being adversely impacted by fracking. However, the latter should not be confused with NIMBYism. This is because opposition to fracking is a response to real environmental problems afflicting real people as a result of real stupidity on an industrial scale.
When hydrocarbon exploration turns kitchen [taps/faucets] into flame throwers; kills fish in lakes and rivers; and renders water wells unusable, I think it is time for Plan B.
Must we turn the entire planet into a pollution incident in order to extract a non-renewable fuel source? Why don’t we replace our growing dependence upon this vanishing resource with the sustainable development of all forms of renewable energy? If it were not for the vested interests that prioritise the maintenance of the status quo over the interests of life on Earth, our insane behaviour would surely have been changed a long time ago? Sadly, vested interests are everywhere; they are like an invasive species that has infested the very fabric of society – making it very difficult for an alternative paradigm to emerge. Unfortunately, unless it does, I am fairly certain civilisation as we know it will be consigned to history. Civilisations have come and gone before; and the main reason history repeats itself is because no-one is listening. As George Santayana said, “those who cannot remember history are condemned to repeat it” …Must History and Santayana be proved right once more?
Business as Usual is not sustainable
Since realising that, in addition to being insane from a sustainability perspective, fracking is having very significant adverse environmental effects; I have been trying to establish what the current position of the Geological Society of London (GSL) is on the issue. Last year, the GSL published an ambivalent statement on the subject; urging a precautionary approach but ignoring the sustainability issue. Much more recently, the GSL has published a position statement on hydrocarbon exploration in the Arctic that, although re-iterating the previously-published recognition of the threat posed by anthropogenic climate disruption, relies entirely on the future efficacy of CCS to justify the World’s current laissez-faire strategy of burning all the Earths fossil fuels. Thus, I do not need to wait for the GSL to reply to my requests for an explanation, their position is very clear: CCS is a valid excuse to trash the planet; and the short-term interest of those employed in the hydrocarbon industry trumps those of the global ecosystem that sustains all life on Earth.
As if to add insult to injury, the independent review the UK Government commissioned last year recently concluded, on the basis of submissions from the GSL and many others, that fracking should be allowed to proceed. Furthermore, although it has gone through the motions of public consultation, it seems highly unlikely that government will go against expert advice. Therefore despite relying entirely of the future efficacy of CCS; despite all the mounting evidence of immediate environmental hazards; and despite the complete insanity of burning all the Earth’s fossil fuels rather than investing in renewable energy… the UK seems set to just that. Meanwhile, in the USA, the International Energy Agency, which last year issued a very sensible statement warning of the dangers of failing to de-carbonise our energy production systems, has now completely contradicted itself by appearing to be in favour of continuing with fracking…
Truly, I think the world has gone fracking mad
We are in a massive hole but we are going to carry on digging regardless. Forget Digging for Victory; I think we are more likely to be digging our own grave.