Green politics, philosophy, history, paganism and a lot of self righteous grandstanding.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Fracking and Climate Change

This is important.

When your twelve year old son tells you he's thinking of not having children because he's worried about Climate Change, then you know this is serious.

Now I want grandchildren, but more than that I want them to enjoy the same summers, winters, snow and sunshine that I enjoyed when I was young. I don't want to see Newsround explaining to them why Bangladesh is drowning, Ethiopia is starving and the Amazon is burning.

So days like the rally coming up on 7 March are very important, but we need to stay focussed. We
can't just be climate warriors for one day. We must welcome everyone who is sincere, but we must not let the day become one in which climate criminals can cover themselves in Greenwash by pretending to support us.

We must be able to say that if you don't support fossil fuel divestment, or a ban on tar sands or if you are not opposed to fracking or Arctic oil then stay at home, because passive support is not enough, we need action.

At Frack Free Greater Manchester we took one small part of the problem of fossil fuels, shale gas, and then we took one small part of the problem of shale gas, the test drill at Barton Moss, and we opposed it with everything we had.

Now shale gas is a problem for Climate Change, but sometimes it gets put forward as a solution. It's true, when you burn it in a power station fracked gas produces half the CO2 of coal. But by the time fracking is fully up and running, which even the optimists in the industry say won't be before the end of the next decade, there may not be any coal being used in power stations for the gas to replace.

Also, a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is not nearly good enough. Solar and wind produce only 6% and 2% of the CO2 of coal over their life cycles, and that is the scale of reduction we need to be talking about.(IPCC 2014)

But it is also far from clear that fracked gas actually provides any improvement at all on coal.

Methane is a far more potent Greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Even if you take into account its shorter lifespan in the atmosphere it is still considered thirty times more potent than CO2. So if just 3% of the fracked gas leaks out before being burnt then it is no better than coal. We don't know what the leakage rates are, except that independent assessments put the figure a lot higher than industry funded reports, and most are a lot more than 3%.

There are lots more problems with fracking, but two which relate specifically to Climate Change. The first is carbon budgets. According to the daddy of all climate scientists, James Hansen, the world can safely use 500 gigatons of use carbon, and we've already burnt our way through 370 GtC.  We can only afford to burn another 130 GtC without wrecking the climate. That is also the amount of carbon believed to be available in Coal Bed Methane alone, there’s more in shale gas, yet more in shale oil and so on.
Secondly there is the question of timing. As I’ve said, even the optimists don’t think we’ll have full scale production before 2030. A gas fired power station lasts for twenty years. So if we build a new generation of fossil fuel power stations it will be 2050 before we are replacing them with renewable. By that time the world may already have seen two degrees of warming. The ice caps will be gone and we could be in a situation where even if we don’t release another gram of carbon ourselves, natural feedbacks will ensure greenhouse gas emissions continue without us.

And so we took on IGas at Barton Moss. People camped out through the worst weather imaginable. People stood in front of the lorries every day for four months. The media ignored us. The police lied about us. Then people of Manchester decided to vote with their feet and come out for the biggest anti-fracking gathering yet seen in the UK. IGas left town and haven't come back.

We've not won yet, but we're doing well. And this is what we all need to do. We need to take this huge problem and break it down into bite sized chunks and tackle them one at a time. Pick your fight and go for it with all your heart and soul. In that way we will win.

And we need to win, because I really want grandchildren.

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