Earth Day

Earth Day 2014: Where Do We Stand?

(Justmeans/3BL Media) - As I sat at my desk trying to find a suitable subject for the 44th annual Earth Day, I scoured my Twitter feed and my inbox looking for the story that would capture the essence of where we stand right now in our battle to save the planet. While there is plenty of interesting news coming out every day, it is so strongly divided into good news and bad news, that there is no way that one story can possibly sum it all up.

Take the IPCC, for example. Earlier this month, Working Group II, responsible for studying the impacts of climate change issued a frightening report that was hard to view as anything other than a call to action. The impacts are already occurring, chain reactions have been set in motion, and we can expect things to get quite bad, especially if we don’t begin to substantially escalate our efforts to curb emissions. IPCC chairman Rajendra K. Pachauri, said. “nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change.” This will be particularly true for those most vulnerable, including low-lying and poorer countries, as well as the poorest residents of all countries. But the same report (which still is yet to be officially published) also said that the economic cost of a 2.5 degrees Celsius rise is going to be somewhere between 0.2 and 2.0% of the global GDP, far less than expected. That might be considered good news, though it might also encourage politicians to defer action on the bad news contained in the report.

Then there is the question of natural gas. There can be no doubt that the large-scale replacement of coal with natural gas for electric generation purposes, accelerated by the drop in natural gas prices, has led to a dramatic reduction in carbon emissions. Coal has been the largest source of carbon pollution, and natural gas emits only half as much carbon. Unfortunately, this boom in natural gas production has come to us via hydraulic fracking, a method that is fraught with problems of its own, ranging from earthquakes, to sizable methane releases (methane is twenty times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas), to contamination of drinking water. These concerns are substantial enough for the National Renewable Energy Lab to declare natural gas less climate-friendly than diesel fuel, though still better than coal. Producers are also pressing to increase natural gas exports, which is not only bad for the environment, but will also raise gas prices here in the US.

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