Stuck in the muddle with Obama

I look back with some embarrassment on my enthusiastic posts when Barack Obama was in the early days of his presidency.  I thought he was offering strong political leadership in addressing climate change.  His words seemed unequivocal. Here he is speaking at the UN in September 2009:

That so many of us are here today is a recognition that the threat from climate change is serious, it is urgent, and it is growing.  Our generation’s response to this challenge will be judged by history, for if we fail to meet it – boldly, swiftly, and together – we risk consigning future generations to an irreversible catastrophe.

And he was positive about facing that challenge:

As we meet here today, the good news is that after too many years of inaction and denial, there is finally widespread recognition of the urgency of the challenge before us.  We know what needs to be done.  We know that our planet’s future depends on a global commitment to permanently reduce greenhouse gas pollution.  We know that if we put the right rules and incentives in place, we will unleash the creative power of our best scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs to build a better world. And so many nations have already taken the first steps on the journey towards that goal.

The rhetoric has changed substantially since then. In this week’s state of the union address there was certainly no clarion call to confront climate change. The term was used, and the science acknowledged, but  only in passing in the context of his promotion of clean energy:

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Natural Gas is Not a Green Fuel

My heart sinks when I read enthusiastic acclamations of natural gas as a substitute for coal. It releases less CO2 on combustion, we’re told. It is a good bridge to the time when renewable energy is sufficiently developed to take over. And latterly, with the development of fracking, that’s going to be a very long bridge. There are claims that if we can extract all the shale natural gas there’s enough to keep us supplied for 200 years. And in addition there’s the wonderful supply awaiting extraction from methane hydrates in the ocean once we find out how to do it.

The oil and gas companies even hail it as a green fuel. It’s no such thing. Natural gas is a fossil fuel. It releases CO2 when it is burned. It may be preferable to coal, but it is no solution to the crisis we are confronted with. And there is in any case doubt being cast on its superiority to coal, especially when it is obtained by unconventional means. In a paper published in Climatic Change Letters earlier this year Howarth et al evaluate the greenhouse gas footprint of natural gas obtained by high volume hydraulic fracturing from shale formations, focusing on methane emissions. Continue reading “Natural Gas is Not a Green Fuel”

The Climate Show #15: Michael Ashley and the ineducable Carter

We thought we’d try for a record short show — and failed, because once again there was just to much to talk about. We have more on Eritrean volcanoes, extreme weather over the last 18 months, a new report on the dire state of the oceans, and Stoat’s big bet. Special guest is Professor Michael Ashley from the University of New South Wales, discussing the state of play in Australia, John Cook does a rapid debunk of Bob Carter, and we have electric cars, more flow batteries and the gas we do not want to smell.

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The gas don’t work

“L&M Energy Limited is pleased to announce that it has identified five areas of interest in the South Island of New Zealand that hold significant shale gas potential analogous to some of the most productive shale acreage in the USA.” This statement headed a press release from L&M Energy on Friday. I first heard the news on the radio the next morning. My heart sank at yet another indication that we are determined to extract and use all the fossil fuel deposits we can lay our hands on. The Minister for Economic Development, Gerry Brownlee, on the other hand, no doubt felt buoyed up by the announcement. This is what he wrote in the introduction to the Draft Energy Strategy last year:

“For too long now we have not made the most of the wealth hidden in our hills, under the ground,  and in our oceans. It is a priority of this government to responsibly develop those resources.”

Continue reading “The gas don’t work”