Climate Change

Climate change is called climate change. So far, it is called neither “climate disaster” nor “party-palooza in the warm sunshine.” But it appears that change is en-route and most people I know are somewhat anxious about it.

So far, the predictions include receding glaciers and more extreme weather. The dry will get dryer, the wet wetter, the storms stormier. Some expensive beach-front properties will be underwater, and not just in terms of the mortgage. Some very tiny Islands in the middle of the oceans may cease to exist. For me, sheltering in a forested Pittsburgh suburb, none of this stuff seems to be a big crisis.

That’s important. I’m not alone. In order to stop climate change, we need incredibly massive changes. I need to stop driving to work. Taking the electrically powered light rail into work wont do, as it is powered by coal fired power plants that are even worse than gasoline.

Look at it this way: As I take my cheesecake out of my natural gas operated oven, I realize the cream cheese came from California via a diesel truck, refrigerated by a diesel powered reefer. I found the recipe on my electrically driven computer connected to the electrically driven internet where some electrically driven housed a blog that has that recipe. I turn on the electrically driven light in my electrically cooled dining room.

I’ve long tried to blame this whole problem on those greedy coal barons.I jumped with joy when cheap natural gas came along and knocked coal over the head. I am still trying very hard to ignore the bankruptcy of Patriot coal that threatens to liquidate the retirement funding of thousands of elderly coal miners and families. The grandmothers, especially, just don’t make good coal barons.

I read some place that  sloganeering, like ‘drill baby drill‘ or ‘all of the above‘ are just excuses for not thinking. I have also read that we are in a real conundrum with respect to climate change; condundrums like that of of Patriot Coal’s grandmothers who’ve sold out for our mercury fishing holes.

I no longer trust those who promise a silver bullet that will painlessly stop climate change. I no longer believe them whether they are on the left promising renewable energy within a decade, on on the right promising clean coal or spill free drilling. I really hope they are right, but so far, the record does not look good.

Our government is utterly hopeless. It is much easier for it to do nothing that to do anything and it is currently gridlocked beyond redemption. Only a huge crisis that risks the political hide of a majority of encumbents could get them to act. And maybe that’s a good thing, I don’t really know.

I have friends who thought, apocalyptically, that peak oil would provide a comeuppance from the supreme being that would include contental social collapse with roving bands of thieves and warlords taking over whatever they wanted. In the face of shale gas, that crisis receded faster than any glacier on the planet.

As if that were not enough, the Japanese are desperate for energy that can’t be washed away in a Tsunami or cut off by some enemy. They are also inventive, smart people. They’ve begun drilling for methane hydrates. That’s the frozen natural gas deposits at the bottom of the oceans. The estimates I’ve seen is that there is 35,000 years of natural gas reserves in methane hydrates. Peak energy is going extinct faster than polar bears.

There are a large number of natural gas refueling depots going up along the interstate highways across the US this year. 18 wheelers can use these by converting their diesel rigs to run on natural gas. It can cost a trucker $18,000 to make the switch. But with the price difference between natural gas and diesel, the conversion costs can be recouped in as little as 14 months.

In one way, that’s great news for the environment. This conversion of 18 wheelers will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  But, the problem is, it reduces, but does not eliminate those emissions. It slows, but does not stop global warming.

I think humans have tried to stop global warming by finding and prosecuting  every possible flaw with fossil fuels. And one by one those flaws are being eliminated or mitigated by this or that technical innovation. Global warming, however, has not made it into the cross hairs. Instead, we fix immediate problems that are relatively easy to fix. Drilling fluids spills, methane leaks, poorly constructed wells can all be eliminated or rendered non-crisis producing through techniques or technologies.

I’d really be thankful if we could stop sending our children to the Mideast to protect our oil. The government has not been able to pull that off, but it appears that market forces and fracking have done so.  If you added the costs of bombers and aircraft carriers defending or oil supplies to the price at the pump for gasoline, We would probably all switch to using natural gas because we can’t afford the gasoline.

But, all that begs the question. There is now more natural gas than we can possibly use if we use all 35,000 years of it up we will probably turn global warming into a global toaster-oven. We will not be saved by peak oil, peak gas or peak anything else. Apparently, we’ll have to confront climate change on its own merits.

Some people say we are addicted to our oil, to our overconsumption of energy. It is widely believed that an addict cannot change until he ‘hits bottom’ in some sort of awful crisis that shatters his denial. They also say that those who save him from his crisis prevent his recovery. I do believe that applies to our energy consumption habit. Every time you go out and protest fracking, you cause the drillers to improve fracking. That’s a lot like getting some alcoholic to switch from cheap wine to organic whiskey. When you write a letter to your congress person about the detriment of methane leaks, and some pipleline company seals some leaks, you avoid the real crisis and the alcoholic escapes with only a hangover and a determination not to spill any more booze.

We would like to blame this on corporate greed, bureaucratic pork or just plain stupidity, but the fact is you are probably using some amount of energy to look at this post. You and I are both funding energy consumption. By doing so, we are holding that alcoholic down on the ground an pouring gin down his gullet. Trouble is, that alcoholic is you and me! That is very inconvenient.


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