We made a mistake that will crash the two degree warming guard-rail not by 2100, but before 2030. That is coming right up with Professor Anthony Ingraffea from Cornell. Our second interview is with the co-founder of the Transition Town Movement, Rob Hopkins, with his personal transition. Welcome to Radio Ecoshock, let’s get going.
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ANTHONY INGRAFFEA 30 minute Radio Ecoshock show 180516 in CD Quality or Lo-Fi
ROB HOPKINS 29 minute Radio Ecoshock show 180516 in CD Quality or Lo-Fi
YOU WON’T BELIEVE HOW FRACKING HAS THROWN US INTO THE CLIMATE HEAT – INTERVIEW WITH ANTHONY INGRAFFEA OF CORNELL
A listener sent me a link to a YouTube video published April 4, 2018. This “Bedrock Lecture” was just 13 minutes long. It made me want to buy more solar panels – and stock up food in my basement. The title is “Shale Gas: The Technological Gamble That Should Not Have Been Taken”. Published on YouTube on April 4, 2018 (and over 3,000 views by May 1st), the video is about 13 minutes long. There is no audio track at first, during the title (so do not adjust your sets).
Imagine you are a scientist exploring the secrets of the atom. Then society takes that discovery to make bombs that blow up cities. Now imagine you study the way water breaks up rock underground. It’s an obscure specialty, until industry decides to use that data to explode the underground for methane, also known as natural gas. Money is made, but that technological choice blows up the future. They call it “fracking”.
Since 1977, Dr. Anthony R. Ingraffea has been a popular professor teaching structural mechanics, and fracture mechanics, at Cornell University in New York State. He and his students published over 200 scientific papers. Ingraffea has been a lead investigator in projects for major corporations like Boeing and Grumann, and for government agencies like NASA and the National Science Foundation. He’s won a ton of awards for his work. When it comes to fracking rock, this is an expert’s expert.
From Ithaca New York, we welcome Anthony “Tony” Ingraffea to Radio Ecoshock.
In 2011, Tony and another Professor at Cornell, Robert Howarth, published two major papers on the climate impacts of fracking. In November 2011, I interviewed Dr. Howarth, and broadcast the Radio Ecoshock show titled “Fracking Gas = Climate Crash”.
Now it’s seven years later. And the big gamble turned out worse than anyone expected. It’s not just the direct emissions of power methane during production (very large). It’s not just all the carbon released into the atmosphere when natural gas is burned. Ingraffea says the “revolution” of fracking shale derailed – or at least seriously slowed – much safer alternative energy from solar, wind, and other sources. You can see it on the graphs he presents, and hear it in this interview.
If a corporation wants to locate an industry with truckloads of toxic chemicals, plus lots of air pollution and noise, they are regulated into an industrial park or something. How is it possible in America to set up fracking pads right next to schools, hospitals or in America suburbs? Perhaps only multi-billionaires and their lobbyists know for sure who and how that giant loophole was built into the system.
But the shale gas revolution did not need to happen. Let me pass on these notes from the Youtube video description:
“Early this century, gas and oil operators, regulators, and legislators collectively violated this precept across most of North America. Having discovered a way to extract gas and oil from a previously undevelopable source, shale, they forged ahead at unprecedented scale.
This unwise boom led to three compounding results:
 the prolongation of the fossil fuel era for decades;
 the depression of the deployment of clean renewable energy; and
 the exacerbation of climate change. This lecture focuses on these three results of a risk that should never have been taken, incorporating data on natural gas production, the slowing of renewable energy development, and faster-than-predicted global warming.
This talk is a part of the Bedrock Lectures on Human Rights and Climate Change presented by the Spring Creek Project.”
And note, those are three COMPOUNDING results. Each breeds to increase the others.
In Graph 3 of the video “U.S. Wind Energy Capacity: History and Forecasts” – we find the timeline extended out to about 2028. Compared to the earlier exponential growth of wind power (before 2007) – our current path leads to a loss of about 400 Gigawatts of wind energy by 2028. The introduction of shale gas into our energy economy led to a huge loss of wind power, he says.
Before we dive deeper into serious problems with fracking, Tony’s video presentation suggests 5 narrowly defined goals, seemingly good reasons to introduce this technology.
Surely one unsung goal was to make obscene amounts of money for company executives, shareholders and the banks making those high-risk, high- profit loans to frackers. As Ingraffea points out, even if all those narrowly defined goals were achieved, only people in North America would benefit, or about 5% of the world population. Countries due to flood out don’t benefit from U.S. fracking. They just lose it all.
In Tony’s graph of the “History of U.S. Natural Gas Production” we see the broad picture. In 1968, onshore gas production was dominant. By the 1980’s, natural gas production had fallen, and was mostly coming from offshore (ocean production rigs mostly in the Gulf of Mexico). America began importing natural gas. Around 2007, instead of steadily reducing production of natural gas, while going to renewable sources, shale gas powered a steep rise of gas production in the United States.
Then Anthony Ingraffea brings out the downsides to the fracking gamble, the “broader unintended consequences” – and they are huge. First, he says fracking caused the “Elongation of the Fossil Fuel Era”.
The second big unintended consequence is a “depression of the renewable energy supply”. He graphed out a timeline of the growth of fracking and the early exponential growth of wind power. The rate of wind power installations declines visibly as fracked gas comes online, around 2007.
I wonder these really were “unintended consequences”. Surely industry executives knew cheap fracked gas could keep us burning fossil fuels longer. They were probably happy to flatten out competitors like wind and solar – that’s just “good business”. If we ever find out who knew and when, it will be too late. This grand social gamble was made, and now the future will judge.
The final and worst unintended consequence presented in the new Youtube video is worsening of climate change due to a new dependence on burning fracked gas. His first graph is from a paper led by Drew Shindell of NASA, as published in the Journal Science in 2011. The paper showed warming of the Earth since 1900, and then made several possible projections, depending on our social response to climate change.
In the video, Ingraffea says:
“All the simulations done back in 2011-2012 were wrong regardless of the scenarios. Worse, they were wrong in the worst possible way. Every one of these scenarios under-predicted actual global warming. Whereas the worst case scenario brought us to 1.5 degrees Centigrade by 2040, we’re almost there today. We will certainly be there in the next two to three years.”
“If you extrapolate from these red dots, meaning that we don’t do anything significant about fossil fuels, and especially shale gas, we will be within 2 degree centigrade territory within the next ten to fifteen years. This is frightening.”
In 2018, 8 years have gone by since the data used in that Shindell paper. The actual warming recorded by NASA tell us the worst projections Shindell’s team made fell short of what is already happening. Given recent temperature records being set, Ingraffea says a new graph shows us going past the two degree C. global warming mark – BEFORE 2030. That matches closely what other scientists have been telling us here on Radio Ecoshock.
In 2011, Tony Ingraffea and Robert Howarth of Cornell published two papers. The most cited, published in “Climatic Change”, reported that fracked gas resulted in far more greenhouse gases than either the government or the industry were reporting. In fact, they said fracked gas was more polluting than coal. So that got a lot of attention.
But their other paper that year, published in the journal “Nature”, asked the question we are all asking: “Should fracking stop.” Ingraffea and Howarth argued “yes it should stop”. But Terry Engelder from Penn State University said the panic was overblown, and gas is worth it all.
“The good news is that methane has a very short half-life in the atmosphere: carbon dioxide emitted during the building of the first Sumerian cities is still affecting our climate, whereas escaped methane from the fracturing of the Barnett shale in 1997 is more than half gone.”
There are so many things wrong with that argument. Tony goes into several. I would say that methane is a much stronger warming gas (about 100 times stronger than CO2 for the first ten years or more). When the production and distribution “natural” gas (methane) reaches the atmosphere, it can kick many other systems up a notch – things like permafrost melting, sea ice and glaciers melting, changes in plants and animals, as well as an uptick in human deaths.
Plus all the methane burned becomes carbon dioxide, which stays in the atmosphere for many thousands of years, warming us all the way. Natural gas production (and leaks) is way up since the Barnett shale days of 1997. As the industry doubles, emissions go up. There wasn’t a simple burst of extra methane that has now gone away. Instead the atmosphere is hit with an expanding bubble of methane emissions, PLUS another wave of carbon dioxide after methane is either burned or breaks down in the atmosphere. All that instead of totally enabling wind, solar, and geothermal power.
Ingraffea just did a short piece in that Youtube video. He’s covered it all in more depth in public lectures and scientific papers. For the downsides of fracking, I would add:
local well water pollution; earthquakes where fracking fluids are stored, whether in Switzerland or especially in Oklahoma, which has become an earthquake state; sucking up vast amounts of fresh water for the whole process; possible improper storage of fracking fluids; the secrecy of the toxic ingredients in fracking fluids (and the damage that causes to the public’s right to know what is happening to their environment); impingement on public lands, and fracking near schools and parks (which also made many people feel abused and unsafe); likely bribes and corruption to dispel legislation that would limit or regulate fracking, making democracy less; a distortion of the both the banking industry and the stock market, and the possible crash once the public becomes so damaged from climate change that they demand an end to an industry that has made us dependent upon it; a ballooning of questionable debt, as many fracking companies are wildly in debt, again threatening the financial health of investors, which may include pension funds…
The 2011 paper also says:
“More than 96% of all oil and gas has been released from its original source rocks; industrial hydraulic fracturing aims to mimic nature to access the rest.”
We create all that disturbance in energy sourcing, plus all that pollution, during extreme climate change, just to get the last 4% of oil and gas. How desperate is that, at the end of the fossil fuel age?
AS THE FRENCH (DON’T) DO IT
The French President Emanuel Macron just visited the U.S. He dined with President Trump and then told a joint session of Congress that yes we should worry about climate change. France has a world-class reserve of natural gas waiting in it’s rock formations. Based on estimated reserves of shale gas and oil, France could be big player. But the French made a different choice. They subsidized wind and solar installations (and kept their aging nuclear reactors) – and France totally banned fracking. Fracking is not compatible with a survivable ecosphere, so they don’t do it.
WHY I DON’T HAVE SOLAR POWER ON MY ROOF
I would love to have solar panels on my roof. The upfront cost is at least $10,000 even for a small rig. Meanwhile, gas here in British Columbia is ridiculously cheap. I’d have to run my solar panels for 20 years just to pay for their installation cost, compared to my monthly gas bill. How can we get past this crushing disadvantage to renewable energy? British Columbia does have a small tax on carbon (a world leader!). But it’s not enough to make solar or wind affordable to the average person. In France and Germany there are no-cost loans to homeowners to install solar. In other places, the utility will install solar on your roof, and then pay you for the energy. Nothing like that where I live.
Tony begins his video with two quotes that seem rather sad. First, we need the wisdom to realize we should not develop every technology that is possible. And second, we always do it anyway, just because we can. It sounds like human psychology is perfect for the trap of fossil fuels.
Ingraffea presents another graph: “United States Gas Production from post-2008 Horizontal Wells compared to the AEO2017 shale gas projection to 2050” and says:
“This one shows the history and the prognosis for shale gas development in North America… The U.S industry, and the Department of Energy predict a ten-fold increase in shale gas production, and a million additional wells to do it, by 2050… If we do that, there will be dire consequences to every human being on Earth.”
We have two diametrically opposed visions of our future: what the climate science says, and what the industry hope to produce.
MORE RESOURCES WITH ANTHONY INGRAFFEA ON FRACKED GAS RISKS
For more, please see this article “World May Hit 2 Degrees of Warming in 10-15 Years Thanks to Fracking, Says Cornell Scientist”
By Sharon Kelly, published April 11, 2018 in the Desmog Blog.
How did Tony Ingraffea travel from working with fracking technology to an opponent? Read “Meet Anthony Ingraffea—From Industry Insider to Implacable Fracking Opponent” by Ellen Cantarow.
And this video with Dr. Anthony R. Ingraffea “Dr. Ingraffea Facts on Fracking” posted by the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition on June 16, 2011
INGRAFFEA PAPERS LISTED HERE
The most cited is:
Methane and the greenhouse-gas footprint of natural gas from shale formations
RW Howarth, R Santoro, A Ingraffea
Climatic Change 106 (4), 679
That is available as an online .pdf full text here.
ROB HOPKINS Still in Transition
If you think the future looks troubled, a personal bunker is not the answer. We will need each other – and resilient communities. Dr. Rob Hopkins is a world-leader in that quest. He is a co-founder of the Transition Town movement, the Transition Network and author of essential books like: “The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience” and “The Transition Companion: Making Your Community More Resilient in Uncertain Times”.
We are going to talk about Rob’s new venture, and his short-hand guide to going forward.
Rob personally made a transition starting last year. On March 13th, 2017 he announced in his blog that while still helping the transition movement, Rob would take time off to explore a new topic. Hopkins wants to explore our powers of imagination, the tool we need to re-imagine a sustainable future. Eventually, he hopes, that will become his next book.
He headed out to explore what you perceived as a lack of imagination, as a stumbling block to social progress.
Wikipedia defines the word “imagination” as follows;
“Imagination, [the] ability to form images, ideas, and sensations in the mind without any immediate input of the senses (such as seeing or hearing).”
But that may be dangerous. Let me explain. In the so-called Dark Ages, people valued imagination more than their senses. That is where “witches” developed, and other imaginary beings. Science was conceived by Francis Bacon in order to bring humans “back to their senses” – to deal with things as they are, measurable, hard and real, as a guide against the perils of imagination. I ask Rob how he sees the relationship between the imagination he seeks to cultivate, and science. But as Rob points out, even science requires the imagination. What about technology – is that anti-imaginary?
Indigenous people continue to cultivate imagination. Rob has begun to consult with aboriginal people.
British Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher adopted a slogan from Herbert Spencer that “there is no alternative” to the market-based system of capitalism. But of course there is, and in our interview, Hopkins imagines a day in the coming sustainable world. Do we continue with fossil fuel addiction – and the industrialization of food and nature – simply because we cannot imagine an alternative?
Is there a failure in public imagination, and can that be remedied? Is there a “public imagination” or does it all play out in each individual person’s mind?
Meanwhile, specialists in mass media create movies, games, and television that play on our minds, rather than stimulating our own abilities to imagine. We can just reTweet thoughts by others, or prepared propaganda. Has imagination been replaced by experts?
BACK TO TRANSITION TOWNS
The first Transition Town was famously in Totnes, England. We broadcast in several countries, but more than half of Radio Ecoshock listeners are in the United States. I ask how far the Transition Town movement has penetrated into America. Apparently there are over 600 places in the U.S. who are trying to transition away from fossil fuels and toward sustainability. It takes time, but it’s going strong. Find out more about the Transition Town movement in America at their web site here, Transition United States.
I worry that my own program, and even the science presented by Radio Ecoshock, can become trapped in a bubble of English-speakers encased in Western-style culture. So I’m curious how Transition is received in other parts of the world. Is the Transition Town movement still valid, say, in heavily populated areas in China or Indonesia? Rob says that was never the vision for Transition Towns. Transition is more of a remedy for the ills of industrial civilization, a kind of detox plan.
Can we say that some villages in rural India have already arrived in the transition we hope for, in the sense that they are off the grid and self-sufficient in local food production?
Rob has just written a new guide. It’s called “7 Steps to Creating a Sustainability Transition Movement in Your Community”.
Here are more of my tough questions for Rob Hopkins (answered in the interview):
What do you and the Transition Town movement offer the climate change movement, and how are the two interrelated? During the interview, Rob refers to “The Radical Emissions Conference” (held by the Royal Society in 2013) and here is a Youtube video of Kevin Anderson about that. Rob Hopkins says it is climate change that “keeps me up at night”.
Given the rapacious basis of our current civilization, is a “sustainable future” future really possible?
Do you think we can re-tool this civilization, sort of remake it from the inside while it still stands, or do we need a collapse before something new can really happen?
Are you still optimistic, still struggling, because there is no other alternative?
Although not officially a Transition Town, the village where I live is trying. We have home gardens and a thriving community garden. We heat with local wood instead of fossil fuels. There is some organizing to our food shed and fair distribution. But we are still drowning with floods, or literally surrounded by bush fires, still barely coping with just the beginning signs of awful climate change. Now what? What can a small group of people do in a vast herd that seems intent on continuing to wreck the planet?
Rob Hopkins is the author of two key books: “The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience” (now completely sold out! buy used…) and “The Transition Companion: Making Your Community More Resilient in Uncertain Times”. He is now offering a seven step guide toward community building action, and soon (we hope) a book that will literally stimulate our imagination.
I’m Alex Smith. Please support this program financially if you can. I need your help to keep this going out to the planet. Thank you for listening this week, and caring about our world.