The last word (for now) on shale gas

Debating the merits and dangers of fracking shale gas has become a major obession of those who worry about energy and the climate. Yale’s e360’s latest contribution comes in the form a forum that includes a wide variety of perspectives pro and con.

For me, the wisest observation, and the one that really trumps all others, comes from Kevin Anderson, who directs the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research’s energy program:

… the only responsible action with regard to shale gas, or any “new” unconventional fossil fuel, is to keep it in the ground — at least until there is a meaningful global emissions cap forcing substitution. In the absence of such an emissions cap, and in our energy hungry world, shale gas will only be combusted in addition to coal — not as a substitution, as many analysts have naively suggested.

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The stick sets the beat

The title of this post won’t mean much until you read this contribution to The Conversation, a new and laudable attempt by climatologists to get out the message that time’s a wastin,’ folks. Here’s a taste:

We’re only a few decades away from a major tipping point, plus or minus only about a decade. The rate at which the ice sheets would melt is fairly uncertain, but not the result that says we are very close to a tipping point committing to such melt and breakdown.

Is it irresponsible or “alarmist” of climatologists to point this out? The science brief for policy is not to prescribe policies, but to point out the implications of pursuing or not pursuing particular courses of action.

Pointing out that we are close to one of the largest tipping points imaginable in the climate system is well within the remit of science. It’s not alarmist to describe the threat accurately; it’s alarming if the political and social culture can’t absorb this.

There’s nothing new or surprising in the way of science in this Conversation. But it’s high time we started having it. As David Roberts at Grist points out, today’s most optimistic outlook for emissions reductions leaves us far short of safe:

Source: BP Energy Outlook 2030.

Sometimes, even television has its uses

This video, a selection of TV news clips that serve to illustrate Bill McKibben’s recent op-ed on climate change denial, has already made the rounds, but as it deserves as wide an audience as possible, I’ll do my bit.

It’s also noteworthy because the op-ed marked a first for McKibben: the use of a snarky, satirical tone. Until now, he’s been a upbeat cheerleader for climate change activists. Sooner or later, it would, we all get tired of banging our head against a wall and have to lash out at idiocy.