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Thursday, June 9, 2011

Michael Lind - Fracking

So my buddy Michael Lind is again making the case for a resurgence in fossil fuels.  And I must say he's beginning to convince me.  I'm not won yet baby, I need more sweet talking.  I must say--he almost sounds like he's shilling for the Natural Gas Industry.  I hope not, one political betrayal at a time.  On the topic of WeinerGate (the first gate since Watergate which is truly awesome and appropriate.  Don't we all seek a weinergate after all?)  I might try that one on my wife soon as foreplay.  Sigh.  Ok.  Briefly, I really don't care about what goes on in a politician's bedroom.  None of them, whether or not he's a Republican or a Democrat.  It's the policies that matter, the men, are just men.

On to Fracking.  As you know, Lind is a fan of cars, driving, gas and energy.  He says that the use of "shale" gas, which was previously unrecoverable is six times as much as oil, cleaner and with modern technology easy to refine and produce.  He says that we could be witnessing the rebirth of the fossil fuel energy industry.

"If gas hydrates as well as shale gas, tight oil, oil sands and other unconventional sources can be tapped at reasonable cost, then the global energy picture looks radically different than it did only a few years ago. Suddenly it appears that there may be enough accessible hydrocarbons to power industrial civilization for centuries, if not millennia, to come."

Wow, how exciting!  He then goes on to say how all the reasons for sustainable energy are now irrelevant.  1)  Peak Oil is no longer an issue.  No imminent energy crisis. 2)  No political blackmail.  Shale gas, tight oil, gas hydrates are everywhere!  Wheee!  3)  The effect on the environment is no big deal, Natural Gas is clean, drink up!

This is where he loses me:

"The scenarios with the most catastrophic outcomes of global warming are low probability outcomes [Huh?  says who?]-- a fact that explains why the world’s governments in practice treat reducing CO2 emissions as a low priority, despite paying lip service to it [if by lip service you mean broadly denouncing global warming as a hoax, then yes] . But even if the worst outcomes were likely, the rational response would not be a conversion to wind and solar power but a massive build-out of nuclear power. Nuclear energy already provides around 13-14 percent of the world’s electricity and nearly 3 percent of global final energy consumption, while wind, solar and geothermal power combined account for less than one percent of global final energy consumption." 

Phew, boy am I glad that Lind is here to be rational for all of us.  There's a reason wind, solar and geothermal use less than 1% and Lind knows it.  Governments need to get on board and ask for them, governments are the major purchasers of energy resources afterall.  And then he whitewashes the nuclear disaster in Japan.

"The disasters at Chernobyl and Fukushima have dramatized the real but limited and localized dangers of nuclear energy."

A radiation plume spanning the entire Pacific ocean is a localized disaster?  The problem isn't that nuclear energy is unsafe, it's perfectly safe in controlled environments.  The problem is what to do with the waste, which will be radioactive for centuries, and when it all goes to shit (unlikely, but possible) a few of these "localized" disasters in different parts of the world could make the entire planet unlivable.  Or at least, hopefully medical science will keep up with the rising rate of cancer and will develope Battlestar Gallactica like radiation pills.

But I was serious, Lind really does make a convincing argument for Natural Gas, though his arguments consist almost entirely on debunking "alarmist" "Green" studies about the dangers of NG.  His most convincing arguments are political ones.  Namely that to develop sustainable energy will require an enormous governmental cost--which is true.  Wind/Solar had a tremendous boost in the Roaring Two-Thousandsees, when investment banks were using green companies as tax shelters for millions of dollars, but now that the investment banks are gone, and the economy is still staggering, the cost of propping up green energy to the levels needed to power our communities, might well prove too much.  Not when Natural Gas is knocking at the door with a plate of brownies.

Even so, he has a very dismissive, non fact-substantiated view of Green Energy:

"Eventually civilization may well run out of natural gas and other fossil fuels that are recoverable at a reasonable cost, and may be forced to switch permanently to other sources of energy. These are more likely to be nuclear fission or nuclear fusion than solar or wind power, which will be as weak, diffuse and intermittent a thousand years from now as they are today. But that is a problem for the inhabitants of the world of 2500 or 3000 A.D."
My friend, that's a whole lot of assumptions in one paragraph, I don't need to tell you that.  Let's ask my other friend, Andrew Leonard.  He comments on the exact same paragraph above!

"A better explanation for why the world is treating climate change as a low priority problem might be because the U.S. -- historically the largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions -- has refused to take any action at all."
Another goody of Leonard's:

"I'm not sure what definition of catastrophe Lind is using, but the unprecedented frequency of extreme weather events that we are already witnessing all across our planet is a strong indicator that global warming is already contributing to serious disruptions"
As to the relative safety of fracking, Leonard gives us some interesting tidbits:

"I defy anyone to read the New York Times' massive, exhaustively reported series on pollution problems associated with fracking and still not be concerned with threats to the nation's drinking water supply or the multiple failures of our regulatory system. "

Last but not least, Leonard lays it to Lind with Lind's alternative, nuclear energy:
"The more pertinent question to mull is why, if the economics of nuclear power make sense, private industry can't seem to make a go of it. The free market isn't very friendly to nuclear power -- it is most widely implemented, today, in countries where there is a strong state presence in the industry, like France or China. Building enough nuclear power plants to make a dent in climate change will be massively expensive. And if we're going to subsidize new sources of energy why not funnel that government funding toward sectors that do not have waste or potential meltdown issues -- like wind and solar."

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