At The Environment's Expense

ISSUE 4 | 01.15.19 | Not-so-natural gas boom; Mom's Air Force; A climate change soundtrack

Where do we go from here? | Photo by Daniel Jensen |

Not-so-natural gas boom. TWO | It’s not you, it’s the methane. THREE | Fracking West Virginia. FOUR | Incoming from Moms Clean Air Force! FIVE | Hot climate data! SIX | Neil Young and our Climate Activism Playlist. SEVEN | Is climate change YOUR fault? EIGHT | Winds of the future. NINE | Carbon fee gets billed. TEN | A climate change snowman.

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ONE | NOT-SO-NATURAL GAS BOOM: Bigger feet than expected
For years, the lower-carbon footprint of natural gas has been touted as a good transition to renewable energy. And a lucrative one. Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s keynote at the big World Gas Conference in June 2018 opened with a marching band and ended with the Harlem Globetrotters. The Texas Tribune has sorted through a tangled web of interests that birthed a U.S. natural gas boom. If the Globetrotters are in, it has to be good, right?

But the headline to the Tribune’s 08.16.18 deep dive describes the stakes: “The U.S. is helping the natural gas industry make a profit at the expense of the environment.” Natural gas used to be natural trash, burned off as an unwanted byproduct of oil drilling. But condensed into liquid form, it’s now shipped en masse to places like China and championed as a coal-alternative to combat climate change. This has powered a booming U.S. export industry, first touted by the Obama administration, then unleashed by Trump’s:

What’s good for corporate profits, however, may not be good for the planet. A growing body of research suggests natural gas isn’t the climate panacea many promised it would be, with mounting concerns over its main component: methane, …. In the race for energy supremacy, the U.S. has become not only the world’s largest natural-gas producer but also a top exporter of oil — a fuel that remains among the most harmful for the climate and public health. As energy exports climb, so too does global consumption of fossil fuels, drawing billions in infrastructure investment that — some argue — tilts the world away from renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar.

TWO | YOU’RE NOT MY FRIEND ANYMORE: It’s not you, it’s the methane
A recent 12.12.18 installment in the Tribune’s gas boom coverage explains why you may be seeing in your local and national media more and more coverage and protests of natural gas pipelines. And of the controversial hydraulic fracturing — better known as fracking — process powering the boom:

Record-high U.S. gas production is also spawning thousands of miles of pipelines and hundreds of gas-fired power plants nationwide, despite urgent recommendations from scientists for a more rapid and extensive transition to zero-emissions sources of energy such as solar and wind. The latest from the National Climate Assessment showed global-warming impacts are already being felt, from worsening blazes such as the November wildfire that tore through Northern California — the deadliest in state history — to intensifying storms like Hurricane Florence, which pummeled the Carolinas with record rainfall in September.

The Sierra Club initially wrapped their arm around natural gas’s shoulder, buddying up to a supposedly more climate-friendly energy mix. The friendship’s kaput:

“The world as a whole is going to need to reduce its use of all fossil fuels, gas included, in order to achieve the kinds of emission reductions we need,” said Nathan Matthews, a senior attorney at the Sierra Club. “When we’re building infrastructure now, it’s got to be the infrastructure that’s gonna get us to zero emissions.” The Sierra Club was among several green groups that championed gas as a pathway to renewables but quickly soured on the fuel amid mounting concerns over methane and drilling. As far back as 2012, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune wrote, “It’s time to stop thinking of natural gas as a ‘kinder, gentler energy source,’” as he launched Sierra’s “Beyond Natural Gas” campaign.

My former Charleston Gazette-Mail colleagues teamed up with Pro Publica to craft a blockbuster 2018 series on how the fracking industry has changed the energy playing field in West Virginia. And also, quite literally, changed fields and hills, as the fracking industry tore pages from the rip-and-ship playbook of no-longer King Coal. See West Virginia’s Troubled Transition to Natural Gas,” for the knock-on effects of the retreat of one fossil fuel — coal — in favor of a supposedly more climate-friendly one with all sorts of new headaches. (As well as perhaps earthquakes, which the series does not explore, but which this earthquake scientist discusses in a 08.31.18 Heavy article).

PS: Along with being stellar investigative work, The G-M/Pro Publica series also showcases killer multimedia, including audio of a clanking fracking operation, a drone overflight of a fracking pad and nifty maps. Click this link or the graphic below to zoom in on a map depicting the startling growth of fracking across the state. PSS: An essential piece of climate change activism is to support media like the G-M, Pro Publica and Texas Tribune, which do the heavy lifting of essential enviro-reporting.

FOUR | IT’S A LOBBYIST THING: Moms against Trump’s EPA Pick
Speaking of methane, let us now consider this op-ed by Dominique Browning, co-founder of Moms Clean Air Force. Never heard of the group, but I <heart> its name, plus its ‘About Us’ mission statement: “Moms Clean Air Force is a community of over 1,000,000 moms—and dads!—working together to combat air pollution, including the urgent crisis of our changing climate.” Browning fires a heat-seeking NYT op-ed straight at Andrew Wheeler, Trump’s pick to pick up where Scott Pruitt left off in dismantling the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to protect anything. In her 01.19.19 piece, “This Coal Lobbyist Should Not Run the E.P.A. ,” Browning writes:

Mr. Wheeler has sought to roll back an Obama-era rule requiring energy companies to monitor and repair leaks of methane; these leaks can occur from the moment a well is fracked until the gas gets to your home. Methane is an extremely powerful and swift contributor to global warming. Rather than move the country onto a path toward climate safety, Mr. Trump and Mr. Wheeler are leading us — and the world — closer to mutually assured destruction…. Mr. Wheeler is more media savvy than Mr. Pruitt ever was, and that makes him more dangerous. His nomination to run the E.P.A. is among the most consequential and cynical of all the cabinet appointments that Mr. Trump has proposed. Mr. Wheeler’s disregard for the agency’s core mission — to protect public health and the environment — is brazen. But what else should we expect from a former coal industry lobbyist?

This is a clear and present danger: The Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee will consider Wheeler's nomination at a hearing this Wednesday, Jan. 16. Here is how to contact your personal Congress-critters.

FIVE | IS IT GETTING HOT IN HERE? Yes. It started with Thomas Edison
Get yer hot, viral climate change data visualizations here. Chris Hayes played this alarming time-lapse animation on his 01.11.19 “All In” MSNBC show, as part of a good segment on climate change (which he noted “is a far bigger crisis than anything happening at the border.”) The animation, crafted by research scientist Antti Lipponen with the Finish Meteorological Institute, depicts temperature anomalies by country from 1880-2017, based on NASA GISTEMP data (which, as NASA explains here, is an estimate of global surface temperature change). But Hayes only ran the visualization from the start of the 20th century to 2017 (the latest data set). To get the full picture of how radically things are heating up, start in 1880. That’s the same year Thomas Edison patented the incandescent lamp whose successors we use to read about climate change via illumination from coal-fired household lights. It’s a complex web we’ve woven.

Consider this an ongoing thread. My friend, Jim Probst, who heads the Citizens Climate Lobby West Virginia group, pondered something worth pondering at a recent CCLWV meeting. Where’s all the protest music about the existential threat to the human race that climate change poses, especially with its many corporate arch-villains, climate thugs and reprobates (am I being too strong?). Jim and I are on the lookout for climate change activism songs. If you have one, e-mail: douglasjohnmartin AT As he noted in an email exchange:

“CO2 is hard to sing about. It's a clear gas that is all around us. Not much of a villain. Millions of people were affected by civil rights and the war in Vietnam. Same with climate change but too many people just haven't made that personal connection yet. I mean there are certainly bad guys, the Kochs and the Trumps and their ilk. This is where I get stuck. Why isn't there more music to rally around? Why aren't we joining in song to raise up the urgency of what we are facing? Maybe it's the difference between "'your boy coming home in a box" and we may all be facing the end of life on earth as we know it. Pretty dire stuff to be singing about.

Meanwhile, Jim offers a debut song to a climate change activist playlist: Neil Young’s lovely, symphonic “Who’s Gonna Stand Up,” from the studio album “Storytone.”

Full lyrics at this link:

"Who's Gonna Stand Up?" by Neil Young

Protect the wild, tomorrow's child
Protect the land from the greed of man
Take out the dams, stand up to oil
Protect the plants and renew the soil

Who's gonna stand up and save the Earth?
Who's gonna say that she's had enough?
Who's gonna take on the big machine?
Who's gonna stand up and save the Earth?
This all starts with you and me

End fossil fuel, draw the line
Before we build one more pipeline
End fracking now, let's save the water
And build a life for our sons and daughters

Who's gonna stand up and save the Earth?
Who's gonna say that she's had enough?
Who's gonna take on the big machine?
Who's gonna stand up and save the Earth?
This all starts with you and me

Damn the dams, save the rivers
Starve the takers and feed the givers
Let's build the green and save the world
We're the people known as EARTH

Who's gonna stand up and save the Earth?
Who's gonna say that she's had enough?
Who's gonna take on the big machine?
Who's gonna stand up and save the Earth?
This all starts with you and me

SEVEN | AM I TO BLAME FOR CLIMATE CHANGE?!: Complicating the narrative
I’ve seen several articles that, in effect, critique Young’s lyric on reversing climate change: “This all starts with you and me.” But is that really where the action and power to change things lies anymore? Being of “vintage” age, I recall in the ‘70s and ‘80s the message was: if we recycle, buy better light bulbs, put up solar panels, stump for windmills, and sing out on Earth Day, we can turn this ship around and head back towards Eden. But University of Warwick researcher Morten Fibieger Byskov complicates that narrative in this 01.10.19 piece for “The Conversation,” titled “Focusing on how individuals can help is very convenient for corporations.” report found just 100 companies are responsible for 71 percent of global emissions since 1988: “Incredibly, a mere 25 corporations and state-owned entities were responsible for more than half of global industrial emissions in that same period.”

Most of these are coal and oil producing companies and include ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, ChevronGazprom, and the Saudi Arabian Oil Company. China leads the pack on the international stage with 14.3% of global greenhouse gas emissions due to its coal production and consumption.

The web is full of advice on how to reduce our climate impact. Use public transport instead of cars! Or trains instead of planes! Or electric scooters instead of cars! Byskov adds to the list: “And don’t forget to turn off the light when leaving a room or the water when shampooing. The implication here is that the impetus for addressing climate change is on individual consumers.” But, he adds:

If just a few companies and countries are responsible for so much of global greenhouse gas emissions, then why is our first response to blame individuals for their consumption patterns? It shouldn’t be – businesses and governments need to take responsibility for curbing industrial emissions … All of this is not to say individuals cannot or should not do what they can to change their behaviour where possible. Every little contribution helps, and research shows limiting meat consumption can be an effective step.

The point is that failing to do so should not be considered morally blameworthy … In particular, individuals living in poorer countries who have contributed almost nothing to climate change deserve the most support and the least guilt. They are neither the primary perpetrators of global warming nor the ones who have the power to enact the structural changes necessary for limiting global warming, which would have to involve holding powerful industries responsible.

Windmills of West Virginia | Photo by Douglas John Imbrogno

EIGHT | WINDY FUTURE: When turbines wise up
Speaking of alterna-fossil fuels (see item 2), Windpower Engineering and Development is a wind industry covering- and touting publication. A 01.11.19 roundup describes wind power’s 2019 outlook: floating windfarms; artificially intelligent turbines; Facebook’s windpower pledge; and wind as drought-resistant energy:

The future is floating. Researchers are evaluating floating wind structures, which allow siting offshore turbines in deeper water where fixed-foundations are unfeasible — and where roughly 60% of offshore wind resources are found in the U.S. America’s first floating offshore wind farm is expected in Northern California.

Turbines are getting smarter. Digitally connected sensors and AI-driven software means turbines can anticipate and react to changing conditions, predict component longevity, and communicate with remote data centers or the grid. Artificial intelligence will increasingly automate … operations over the next several years, boosting productivity and saving costs …

Corporations are buying clean power. According to Bloomberg NEF, corporations purchased more than 7 GW (gigawatts) of renewables in 2018 (60% of which was in the U.S.), surpassing the previous year’s record of 5.4 GW. Currently, Facebook leads the market and has committed to 100% clean energy by 2020, recently signing for more than 3 GW of new wind and solar energy.

Wind supports farmers. Wind energy is a drought-resistant cash crop farmers may rely on. Wind provides an advantage for farmers and ranchers who volunteer small portions of their land for turbine placement in exchange for lease payments that total some $267 million a year, says the American Wind Energy Association.

NINE: ON CARBON FEES: The bill’s the thing
Speaking of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby (item 6), the group has long lobbied for a fee on carbon, to be returned as a dividend to American households to spend as they see fit. Carbon fees and taxes have been touted and rolled out worldwide, promoted as fundamental to reducing atmospheric carbon. The CCL group recently pivoted its focus in the direction of a specific bill, S. 3791 / H.R. 7173, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act of 2018, which it touts as “America’s Climate Solution.” (DISCLOSURE: I’ve been doing occasional work with the West Virginia chapter of this group). Here’s an update on the status of the group’s work in support of the bill:

For over a decade, our volunteers have asked their members of Congress to work together to solve climate change. A viable climate change solution needs to be big and lasting —  which means bipartisan legislation … This policy will drive down America’s carbon pollution while unleashing American technology innovation and ingenuity… Republicans and Democrats are both on board, co-sponsoring this bill together. The majority of Americans support Congress taking action on climate change, including more than half of Republican millennial voters. Solving climate change is too urgent to get caught up in partisan politics.

TEN: PS: You promised cartoons …

PSS: Please pass on this newsletter or its website — — to encourage interested folk and outfits to subscribe. Article suggestions, feedback, issue themes, corrections and constructive criticism welcome! Trolls, in the spirit of climate change, will be recycled! E-mail: douglasjohnmartin AT | Be well, Douglas