Skip Navigation

Don’t Be Afraid of Bill McKibben

August 19, 2016

Climate Change Weekly #222

added

“Be afraid. Be very afraid.” That is the overriding sentiment of a recent article titled “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Chemistry,” written by Bill McKibben, an environmental activist and founder of 350.org, an organization dedicated to stopping the use of all fossil fuels. McKibben portrays methane, the primary component of natural gas, as a greenhouse gas potentially more dangerous than carbon dioxide because methane is more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere.

McKibben claims hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as “fracking,” is responsible for releasing massive quantities of methane into the atmosphere. He argues fracking could release methane in sufficient quantities that humans’ use of natural gas could lead to more intense global warming than our use of coal.

Fortunately, McKibben is wrong. Acting on his arguments against fracking would actually cause the United States to increase greatly its output of carbon dioxide, which would be the opposite of what environmentalists say they want.

Fracking and the natural gas it produces have been heralded by many experts as reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, primarily because burning natural gas emits half as much carbon dioxide (CO2) per BtU of energy produced than burning coal. Some life-cycle estimates suggest burning natural gas emits 43 percent less CO2 per BtU than the burning of coal.

Data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) show the United States reduced its carbon dioxide emissions by 12 percent between 2005 and 2015. Switching from coal to natural gas in the power sector was responsible for 68 percent of the total energy-related CO2 reductions during that period. Burning larger quantities of natural gas for electricity generation is the main reason the United States has reduced its CO2 emissions more than any other country in the world since 2005.

There is value in measuring how much methane is escaping into the atmosphere, since doing so allows us to identify leaks in pipelines and flawed equipment that reduce efficiency as well as potentially damaging the environment. But using an inaccurate portrayal of methane emissions as a reason to push for a ban on fracking would be bad public policy. We need the energy provided by natural gas and oil, as renewable sources cannot meet that demand.

Renewable energy advocates have every right to argue for their preferred source of energy, but they are wrong to claim these sources of energy won’t cost more or would even save consumers money “because the wind and sun are free.” Renewable energy policies come at staggering costs and, as seen with Germany, those policies bring few if any measurable environmental benefits.

If taxpayers and consumers are informed about the high cost and limited environmental benefits of renewable energy, and nevertheless choose freely to support renewables by voluntarily paying taxpayer subsidies and higher electricity bills, that is their right. But they also have a right to an honest and fact-based discussion of the cost and environmental impacts of renewable energy polices. None of this is presented in McKibben’s article.

The most terrifying aspect of McKibben’s piece is his biased selection of flawed supporting documentation and his disregard for the truth about fracking.

* Editor’s note: This week’s lead essay is a guest essay by Isaac Orr (iorr@heartland.org), a Heartland research fellow specializing in fracking, and is excerpted from a forthcoming Heartland Policy Study. For more information, see Heartland’s Fracking Facts page at https://www.heartland.org/topics/energy/fracking-facts/.

 


IN THIS ISSUE …

Atlantic hurricane lull continuesStill a lot of unknowns concerning decadal climate variabilityGroups fight carbon tax in Washington State, no money for themAustralian group launches ‘Clexit’ pushInland waters carbon dioxide emissions underestimated


ATLANTIC HURRICANE LULL CONTINUES

I don’t want to jinx a good thing by talking about it, but good news on the climate front continues, although you wouldn’t know it from reading your local newspaper or watching the news on television. In less than two months (October 6, 2016) it will be 4,000 days since the last time a major hurricane (category 3 or higher) made landfall in the United States, Wilma on October 24, 2005.

At nearly 11 years this represents the longest period between major hurricane strikes since hurricane records began in 1851. The previous record was a little more than nine years, set from August 11, 1860 to September 8, 1869.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports about two major hurricanes, on average, make landfall somewhere along the Gulf or Atlantic coast every three years. The year with the most is 2005, when four major hurricanes made landfalls in the United States (Dennis, Katrina, Rita, and Wilma), with Wilma setting records as the strongest Atlantic hurricane on record. As Roy Spencer said, “… after the record-setting 2005 Atlantic hurricane season, with a whopping 27 named tropical storms, the bottom pretty much dropped out of hurricane activity since then.”

With a little goading by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change scientists, in 2005 newspaper headlines linked the busy hurricane season and the strength of the hurricanes to human-caused climate change. Where are the headlines now?

SOURCES: Dr. Roy Spencer.com and The Weather Channel


STILL A LOT OF UNKNOWNS CONCERNING DECADAL CLIMATE VARIABILITY

The National Academies Press has published “Frontiers in Decadal Climate Variability: Proceedings of a Workshop.” The proceedings conclude scientists are still unable to determine the extent human activities or other natural factors dominate climate changes on decadal time scales. For instance, the Overview and Introduction states:

Many factors contribute to variability in Earth’s climate on a range of timescales, from seasons to decades. Natural climate variability arises from two different sources: (1) internal variability from interactions among components of the climate system, for example, between the ocean and the atmosphere, and (2) natural external forcings, such as variations in the amount of radiation from the Sun. External forcings on the climate system also arise from some human activities, such as the emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and aerosols. The climate that we experience is a combination of all of these factors.

The workshop noted a number of areas where further research is needed including:

1. Discovering the specific mechanisms driving decadal variability, in the Pacific and all other the ocean basins, – these mechanisms are still unknown or only poorly understood;

2. Determining what the connection is between Arctic sea ice loss and mid-latitude weather, and the consequential regional effects;

3. Understanding how heat trapped in the ocean will be transported into the deeper layers and how that might affect global temperatures in the future.

Despite acknowledged large gaps in understanding of the drivers and impacts of decadal climate change, the authors express confidence Earth is steadily warming due to increasing human greenhouse gases emissions. In response, Judith Curry writes, “Until these [decadal] issues and knowledge gaps are sorted out, we don’t have the basis for making the above statement with high confidence.”

SOURCE: Climate etc.


GROUPS FIGHT CARBON TAX IN WASHINGTON STATE, NO MONEY FOR THEM

Environmentalists are fighting to defeat Washington state ballot initiative 732 (I-732), which imposes a $25 per metric ton of carbon dioxide tax on fossil fuels consumed in Washington. If the voters approve the initiative, Washington would become the first state in the nation to impose a tax on carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels.

Groups including the Sierra Club, Washington Environmental Council, and Climate Solutions are fighting the proposal because, rather than using the revenues generated by the tax to fund programs they support, the initiative aims to be revenue-neutral, cutting tax rates and ending the Business and Occupation tax for manufacturers.

Fox News reports the Audubon Society is nearly alone among national and state environmental organizations in supporting the measure. Speaking with Fox News, Gail Gatton, executive director of Audubon Society Washington State said, “I think for us, I-732 isn’t about money. It really is about what are the market-based incentives that will drive people to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

SOURCE: Fox News


AUSTRALIAN GROUP LAUNCHES ‘CLEXIT’ PUSH

Inspired by the Brexit decision of the British people to withdraw from the grasp of the EU bureaucracy, CLEXIT (Climate Exit), a new international organization, has formed to encourage countries’ leaders not to ratify the Paris climate agreement. The secretary of CLEXIT, Viv Forbes, said enforcement of the Paris climate treaty would be a global tragedy, heralding the end of low-cost fossil fuel use for transportation and electricity in developed countries while denying developing countries “the benefits of reliable low-cost hydrocarbon energy, compelling them to rely on biomass heating and costly weather-dependent and unreliable power supplies, thus prolonging and increasing their dependency on international handouts.”

CLEXIT’s founding statement says, “This vicious and relentless war on carbon dioxide will be seen by future generations as the most misguided mass delusion that the world has ever seen. Carbon dioxide is NOT a dangerous pollutant – it is a natural, non-toxic, and beneficial gas which feeds all life on earth. Its increasing concentration is improving the environment, not harming it.”

SOURCES: Clexit Committee and Carbon Sense


INLAND WATERS CARBON DIOXIDE EMISSIONS UNDERESTIMATED

New research published in Environmental Research Letters indicates the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by inland waters could be significantly higher than previously believed or assumed in climate models.

Some recent studies estimate inland waters emit approximately one billion tons of carbon dioxide and methane every year. Those estimates have mostly involved researchers collecting daytime water samples for analysis, once or twice a month, missing any increases or decreases in emissions occurring between readings or at night.

The new study undertook a more accurate estimate by continuously monitoring the emission of carbon dioxide from a reservoir in Mississippi. The researchers discovered nighttime carbon dioxide emissions were 70 percent greater than during the day, and extratropical cyclones increase emissions by as much 16 percent. As a result of these two previously unaccounted-for emission rates, their research indicates inland bodies of water emit as much as 40 percent more carbon dioxide than previously estimated.

Just one more factor the models get wrong.

SOURCES: Environmental Research Web and Environmental Research Letters

Article Tags
Environment
Author
Isaac Orr is a research fellow for energy and environment policy at The Heartland Institute. Orr is a speaker, researcher, and writer specializing in hydraulic fracturing, frac sand mining, agricultural, and environmental policy issues.
iorr@heartland.org