Commentary: Environmental Uprisings Abound

by S. Tom Bond on August 1, 2012

"Stop the Frack Attack" Rally

Environmental Uprisings Abound

S. Tom Bond, July 31, 2012

Largely unnoticed by the mainstream media (MSM), a whole series of strong environmental reactions are taking place over the country. They are seldom connected in the MSM, but they arise from the same cause.

Since this is being published in the Marcellus shale area, I would assume most of the readers would be familiar with the reaction that industry is getting in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York, and now in Ohio, Maryland and Delaware. The reaction started in Texas and the West, where shale drilling started, and it is now everywhere it has been tried. At present there are more than 200 Internet sites against shale drilling. Just this week past there was a demonstration against “fracking,” as it is commonly called, in Washington, D. C. [The “Stop the Frack Attack” rally may well have involved close to 10,000 people in its various aspects.]

A second huge protest has been against the Keystone XL Pipeline, which will bring the Canadian Tar Sands “oil” all the way across the U. S. from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. The extraction of tar sands “oil” requires huge investment of energy, producing carbon dioxide at the source, and results in huge quantities of waste from the process. It pollutes surface water, causes cancer and other sickness, has very low energy return on energy invested, and pollutes aquifers. The pipeline crosses major rivers, including the Missouri River, the Yellowstone, and the Red River, and the Oglala Aquifer for a total of 2147 miles. Three feet in diameter, it is designed to move as much as 830,000 barrels a day. There is a full-fledged, national campaign to prevent it from being built. Not only environmentalists are fighting it, but also meteorologists (who fear the vast amount of carbon dioxide), public health people, farmers and many others.

Mountain top removal of coal is another topic readers will be familiar with here in Appalachia and across the nation. Powerful interests ignore health and social effects of the thousands of square miles affected by strip mining for coal.

Most people are familiar with the PB Macondo well disaster in the Gulf of Mexico through the high profile “we’re good guys” advertisements on TV. The three month long, 5, 000,000 barrel leak was the result of incompetence and indifference on the part of BP and its subcontractors. This kind of deep-ocean drilling is being done all over the world, and BP is well and thoroughly hated in the Gulf.

So what is going on? Is there some kind of plot against the hydrocarbon extraction corporations, so favored by government and investors? Hardly. There are two big reasons for the reaction. The first is the growing recognition that the earth’s temperature is rising because of human activity.

Foremost among causes of global warming is additional carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Although the increase in temperature is slight by some standards, enough is known about earth’s climate in the past to understand that carbon dioxide is capable of warming the earth substantially and having dire effects. The time has come when climate change deniers, financed by the very interests finding new ways of getting additional carbon out of the earth to burn, are loosing their creditability. It is clear carbon dioxide is the culprit.

Few people understand that the carbon dioxide produced by burning carbon in fuels weighs far more than the carbon. The ratio is 12 to 44. One pound of carbon in a fuel produces three and two-thirds pounds of carbon dioxide. Whole geological formations have been converted to get the energy. A ton of coal produces over three and a half tons of carbon dioxide.

The second reason for these political movements is also simple to understand. In resource development, the “easy stuff,” the part that yields product with least effort and investment is taken first. As time passes more difficult resources are drawn on. The human race is going to greater extremes, using more difficult technology, investing more energy, taking greater risk, doing more environmental damage to get carbon energy.

Environmental damage is really destruction of other resources to get the objective, in this case energy. Environmental damage is loss of pure water, soil that can produce food, timber, un-contaminated living space and other resources society needs. It is frequently seen to some as an effort to maintain a pristine original state of the out of doors, a conservatism of “nature.” This is true of parks. But “nature” is the standard of comparison, not the final objective for large areas. Protection of biological productivity is the value most everywhere.

As time passes we will see more and more people adopting this view of nature. Hopefully, sooner rather than later, the sentiment will coalesce into a movement against subsidies for hydrocarbon miners, against exceptions for them from laws designed to protect the public from toxins, and against exceptions to laws to protect their workers. Hopefully we will see laws favoring renewable energy and ways to get energy from the constant immense flows around us in sunlight, wind and waves of the sea.

The good news is that efficiency of solar, wind and wave power, being in the early stages, is increasing rapidly. In a few years these will be cheaper than the increasingly expensive hydrocarbons. After all, human history goes back over 10,000 years. Won’t hydrocarbons be useful in the future if we don’t burn them all up in the next few decades?

S. Thomas Bond is a farmer and citizen of Lewis County, West Virginia.  He is a retired chemist and teacher in the public schools.

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