Climate Corner: No time to waste￼
May 21, 2022
The old cliche goes that, when you’re in a hole and trying to get out, you first stop digging. That is the opposite of what we’re doing when it comes to fossil fuels and derivative industries like plastics and petrochemicals amidst global climate, biodiversity loss, pollution, and contamination crises.
A study published last Tuesday in the journal Environmental Research Letters lead by researchers at Oil Change International estimates that “40% of fossil fuel reserves at currently operational development sites across the globe must be left in the ground if the world is to have a 50-50 chance of adequately slashing carbon emissions and limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius [above a preindustrial baseline] or below,” as referenced in an article for the media outlet Common Dreams. This is in addition to the finding by the International Energy Agency in 2021 that no new oil and gas exploitation and development and no new coal-fired power plants must come about in order to stay on a safe climate path and meet the goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
These sound scientific findings are being ignored. According to reporting in The Guardian, the 28 largest producers of oil and gas made close to $100 billion in combined profits in just the first three months of 2022. A study soon-to-be published in the journal Energy Policy has found that fracking projects across U.S. lands and waters will release 140 billion metric tons of planet-heating gases if fully realized. The study found that the emissions from these oil and gas “carbon bomb” projects would be four times larger than all of the planet-heating gases expelled globally each year, according to Guardian reporting. Fracking, by the way, is extremely dangerous for numerous reasons. For an incredible summation of those dangers, I refer you to the Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking and Associated Gas and Oil Infrastructure, Eighth Edition. You can find the report at https://concernedhealthny.org/compendium/.
Even the “solutions” being proposed by the fossil fuels and related industries are mostly bunk. We’re hearing a lot about blue hydrogen (hydrogen derived from fossil fuels with carbon emissions captured). While hydrogen shows promise for decarbonization of hard-to-decarbonize sectors like aviation, shipping, and the production of steel and cement, blue hydrogen or other hydrogen color codes derived from fossil fuels will release massive amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas 86-times more potent than carbon dioxide at trapping heat over a 20-year period and continue other massive pollution and contamination problems. And Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage (CCUS) is prohibitively expensive, not proven at anywhere near scale, and dangerous in its own right. For more information on all of the problems with CCUS, please see carboncapturefacts.org. The only truly promising hydrogen is green hydrogen–hydrogen derived from water molecules being split by an electrolysis process powered by renewable energy.
West Virginia’s senior U.S. Senator, Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., is in an extremely powerful position right now as the key vote in the evenly divided senate and as Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Instead of voting in favor of the largest and most crucial energy and environmental legislation in modern times, he decided to reject the legislation and leave his party scrambling to piece together replacement legislation he’ll support. Why? It might have something to do with the fact that, according to his 2021 financials, he made $536,869 last year from his coal brokerage Enersystems selling waste or “gob” coal to the Grant Town power station–an 80Mw totally unnecessary coal-fired station that cost MonPower ratepayers like me a total $117 million extra to keep operating between 2016-2021 alone.
Fossil fuels for energy and production of things like plastics and petrochemicals have got to become a thing of the past as quickly, efficiently, equitably, and justly as humanly possible. There is no substitute for this transition. There are no shortcuts or gimmicks to avoiding climate catastrophe. Atmospheric physics does not care about your politics or feelings. The massive and voluminous amount of science clarifying this reality and the path forward is undeniable. The best time to act was 30 to 40 years ago; the second best time is right now.
Eric Engle is chairman of Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action.