Year 4, Month 2, Day 24: Things Would Be Very Different If They Were Not As They Are

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.

Warren Senders

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