environment Politics: analogies fracking methane
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The Washington Post covers some of the problems with natural gas:
Two guys in a black Pontiac Vibe cruise the streets of Washington’s residential neighborhoods. The only sign of what they are up to is a gray plastic tube hanging out of the trunk. And the fact that they get out of the car frequently to place a black box on manhole covers and study its readings.
Measuring how much methane gas is leaking from pipes under the District could help answer a key policy question. As natural gas production expands in the United States, do its benefits for the climate far outweigh its dangers?
Methane, the main component of natural gas, is about 25 times more powerful as a heat-trapping gas than carbon dioxide, the largest human contributor to climate change; the atmospheric concentration of methane has doubled since the start of the Industrial Revolution. While it largely dissipates in a few decades and there is far less of it in the atmosphere than CO2, it continues to drive global warming. Depending on how much leaks out in the journey from wellhead to homes and factories, some experts say, it could be enough to offset the advantages natural gas has over coal.
More fun with heroin. March 6:
Natural gas advocates tout it as a “climate-friendly” substitute for dirty fossil fuels, and at first blush this seems a valid assertion. But energy and environmental policy shouldn’t be based on first impressions; more careful studies of natural gas reveal multiple mutually-reinforcing problems with the ostensibly clean energy source.
Leaks are inevitable, and — given that methane is an exponentially more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2 — not easily dismissed. And the extraction technique of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) turns out to have devastating local and regional effects on water supplies, agriculture, and environmental quality.
In late 19th century America, morphine addiction was a serious problem, until the fortunate introduction of a “non-addictive” cure for the condition: diacetylmorphine — marketed under the trade name, “Heroin.” To substitute one fossil fuel for another is at best a stopgap strategy to avoid a cold-turkey withdrawal from our civilization’s oil and coal addiction.
environment Politics: corporate irresponsibility fracking idiots methane
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The UK Guardian reports on a scientist who’s not on my gift list this year:
America will only achieve the ambitious climate change goals outlined by President Barack Obama last week by encouraging wide-scale fracking for natural gas over the next few years. That is the advice of one of the nation’s senior scientists, Professor William Press, a member of the president’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.
Fracking – known officially as hydraulic fracturing – involves pumping high-pressure water through underground rocks to release natural gas trapped deep underground. It is believed that there are vast reserves of these subterranean gas fields across the US.
Thousands of wells have already been drilled in Texas, leading to a substantial rise in the use of natural gas in the US and a major decline in the burning of coal, a far more serious cause of carbon pollution. However, fracking is also controversial. Environmentalists say it can lead to the contamination of underground water reservoirs and the pollution of the surface with chemicals used to help to release subterranean gas stores. They also point out that burning natural gas releases carbon dioxide.
The concluding analogy leapt to my mind as I sat down to write. February 16:
Backers of natural gas as a tool in the fight against climate change have adopted an extractive technique that is wasteful, resource intensive, and environmentally hazardous. Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” has in only a few years’ time accumulated a troubling history of communities and ecosystems destroyed. A study released in Scientific American in early 2012 confirmed that hydrofracturing releases significant quantities of methane, and families living near fracking sites discover that their tap water is foul-smelling, discolored, and highly flammable, all strong indicators what was touted as a climate-friendly and ecologically benign process is anything but.
In 1895, morphine addiction was a serious social and medical problem, and the Bayer pharmaceutical company introduced a new drug as a “non-addictive” substitute — diacetylmorphine, marketed under the trade name of “Heroin.” Let’s remember how well that worked out for everybody before we unquestioningly accept the claims of William Press and other natural gas advocates.
environment Politics: corporate irresponsibility fracking methane Natural Gas
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The Albany Times-Union, on New York governor Andrew Cuomo’s approach to climate change:
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has placed himself in the vanguard of public officials pledging action on climate change. He repeatedly has recognized that climate change is real and that New York is vulnerable to the extreme weather events that accompany our rapidly warming climate.
The governor has reignited a public debate on climate change, flatly stating that our nation had become distracted by an argument over the causes while failing to address the “inarguable effects” of our warming climate.
In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, after viewing the devastation and the damage that had been wrought, Cuomo laid down his marker when he said, “We need to act, not simply react.”
Color me skeptical. Sent January 9:
Governor Cuomo’s going to face some hard choices if his actions are to match his rhetoric on climate change. In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, he noted that “Mother Nature is telling us something,” but she’s not the only one trying to attract his attention. Natural gas companies are heavily invested in hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” and the question of whether to allow this risky technology in New York is going to cross Mr. Cuomo’s desk very soon. But when it comes to the greenhouse emissions that are driving climate change, research has shown that natural gas extraction and processing emit significant quantities of methane, an extremely powerful greenhouse gas. Given that fossil-fuel corporations have also invested very heavily in our country’s politicians, should we be surprised if the Governor responds to their messages rather than those of our endangered environment, or those of the ordinary citizens of New York?
Education environment Gardening Personal Politics: bread community eloquence excellent analogies food fracking
This is not an article about bread. But bread is central to what I want you to read. So just nibble briefly at the first few paragraphs, and plunge downward to find words that taste of truth.
A few years ago, my brother left his career in academia. Weary of endless tenure battles and internecine squabbles between departmental factions, he sought another path.
And in Wide Awake Bakery, he found it.
We live and bake in Mecklenburg, just a few miles from Ithaca, Trumansburg, and Watkins Glen. We love the place and we love the people–and that’s what this bakery is about. We work with local flours, grown just a few miles away in Newfield, Lansing, and Brooktondale, and we work with our local flour mill, Farmer Ground Flour.
Here’s a little snippet from their F.A.Q.:
Why should I care if my bread is made by hand?
Most of the bread, even “artisan bread,” sold nowadays is untouched by human hands. Mixed, shaped, and baked by machines, the bread is flash-frozen and warehoused before being shipped to distribution points where it is eventually warmed (“baked”) in display ovens. Modern bread factories are consistent and they produce a pretty good product, but they require huge quantities of standardized ingredients. Bread factories simply don’t have the flexibility to bake with small crop runs and local grains. Big factories, big farming.
Small local bakeries where bread is made by hand offer something else entirely. We can vary our baking quickly in response to our flours and our customers. When a farmer comes to us with a batch of fruit, for example, we can quickly make it part of your share. We can keep a close watch on the fermentation process and give it the care it requires. We can change our baking to make more of the breads that you particularly like. Hand made bread generally tastes better, and is better for our communities, than factory made bread.
There are other reasons to care about how your bread is made. We bake our bread as if we were going to eat it ourselves, and feed it to our friends and family—because that’s exactly what we do. Baking bread, good bread, is one way we try to take care of our community. It’s a great feeling to know that the pile of flour we start with in the early morning has turned into shining loaves of bread that are nourishing and pleasing our neighbors. Every week we read about another food crisis, and it’s clear that we’ve got to start making food differently. That’s what we’re trying to do.
But I didn’t invite you here to tell you about my brother’s right livelihood, wondrous though it is. Or about his bread, which is mindbendingly delicious. Or even about the fact that those fabulous loaves fed the Occupiers in Zucotti Park.
Commendable though these things are, they’re not what prompts this post, or what’s brought me to tears of pride.
I want to share what he said to the assembled crowd at Monday’s day of action against hydrofracking in Albany, NY.
After handing out over 200 loaves of bread to the assembled crowd, my brother spoke. (I am reproducing his words in full. We’re family; it’s cool.)
My name is Stefan Senders, and I am a baker. Beside me are Thor Oechsner, an organic farmer, and Neal Johnston, a miller. We work together.
Today we bring bread to Albany to intervene in the self-destruction of the great State of New York. We come, Farmers, Bakers, and Millers, to remind our state and our Governor, Andrew Cuomo, that despite the promises of industry lobbyists, the exploitation of Shale Gas in New York is bad and broken economy of the worst kind.
This bread is the product of our community and our farms. The wheat, grown, tended, and harvested by our local organic farmers, is fresh from the soil of New York. The flour, ground in our local flour mill, is as fine as concerned and caring hands can make it.
To resurrect a term long since emptied by advertisers, the wheat, the flour, and the bread are wholesome: they bring our communities together, give us work, nourish us, please our senses, and make our bodies and our land more healthy.
This is good economy. It is wise economy. It is a steady economy that nourishes the State of New York.
We know that for many New Yorkers, Fracking sounds like a good idea. We have all heard the fantastic tales: Fracking, it is said, will save our state from financial ruin, release us from our dependence on “foreign oil,” and revive our rural economy by bringing cash, if not fertility, to our once vibrant farmland.
For politicians, these stories of money and growth are hard to resist: the numbers are large, deficits are unnerving, and elections are expensive.
For many farmers and land-owners, the promises of cash are dizzying, and to risk the land’s fertility to extract gas is only one step removed from risking the land’s fertility to extract a few more bushels of corn or soybeans.
But farmers might know better.
Farming has not always been, and need not be, an extractive industry. There was a time when farmers worked with a longer view, keeping in mind their role as stewards and caretakers of the land. That long view is the farmer’s wisdom, and it is as good and wise today as it ever was.
The promises of the gas industry are demonstrably false, and they miss what farmers know well: There is no independence that does not demand care and responsibility. There is no quantity of cash that can restore fertility to a poisoned field. There is no adequate monetary “compensation” for poisoned water. There is no payment, no dollar, no loan, that can restore life and community to a broken world.
Our work and the work we provide others—on the farm, at the mill, and at the bakery—depends on fertile soil, pure water, and a viable community. All of these are put at risk by Fracking.
What happens to our land in an economy bloated by gas exploitation? Prices rise, rents rise, and good arable land becomes scarce as acres once leased to farmers are set to quick development schemes—flimsy housing, storage barns, parking lots, and man-camps.
And what happens to our water when gas exploitation takes over? Storage pools, as safe as the Titanic was unsinkable, overflow, contaminating the soil; inevitable leaks in well-casings allow gasses and Frack-fluids to pass into our aquifers, into our bodies, and into the bodies of our children.
And what happens to communities held in thrall to gas exploitation? As we have seen in other parts of the country, the boom-bust cycle of the petroleum economy fractures communities, undermining our capacity to act wisely and civilly.
With every boom, a few get rich, a few do better, but all are impoverished. For every hastily built motel there are dozens of apartments with rising rents; for every newly minted millionaire there are many dozens who see nothing but the pain of rising costs and receding resources. For every short-term dollar there are hundreds in long-term losses that can never be recouped. To go for gas is to go for broke.
With this bread we are here to remind you that there is another economy, one that works.
This bread symbolizes a commitment to the health of New York State. It embodies the knowledge that good work, not a gambler’s dream, is the basis of a sound and sustainable economy.
This bread symbolizes the farmer’s simple truth that without fertile soil, without pure water, and without strong community, we go hungry.
This bread reminds us all that the promises of gas exploitation are empty: What are we to grow in fields broken by the drill and tilled with poison? What are we to feed our children when our water and wheat are unfit? Shall we grind money to make our bread?
We do have a choice. We need not poison our land to live. We need not taint our water to drink. We need not sell our future to finance our present. These are choices, not inevitabilities.
With this bread we say: take the long view; pay attention to the health of the soil and nourish it; treasure pure water; remember the value of your community and keep it whole.
If something must be broken, let it be this bread, not shale. Break bread, not shale!
I can’t add anything more to his words. Beautifully spoken, bro. I love you. And your bread.