Saturday, January 12, 2013

Sky is falling on Fracking New York State


SkyFallingMany dismiss alarmist claims by activists against Fracking New York State that instead of talking science the activists cry “THE SKY IS FALLING!” (See Chicken Little.) Fractivists (or anti-Fracking folks) get on the media and say things like, ‘Fracking will ruin our state’s water!’, or ‘Fracking will make Climate Change worse!’, or ‘Fracking will jeopardize the health of millions!’ Then, the pro-Frackers characterize the Fractivists as a bunch of luddites, fearful of change and unable to back up their unwarranted fears with scientific proof. Which is ironic when you think about it -- renewable energy such as wind and solar are cutting-edge technology, while Fracking for more fossil fuel to burn is so 125,000 years ago (when early man learned to control fire).

But what if the sky is actually falling? What if the allegations by the anti-Frack New York State folks have a high probability of being accurate? Wouldn’t you want to rule those claims out before going headlong into something as dangerous and unnecessary as drilling for natural gas?

Only a few decades ago, activists tried to warn the public that cigarettes were bad for your health. That second-hand smoking was bad for folks who didn’t even smoke. That the overuse of DDT for insect control was harming wildlife. That our rivers were so polluted that they were catching on fire. That the lead additive in gasoline was causing lead poisoning in our children. That building a community over a chemical dump site at Love Canal was making people sick. That the ozone in the troposphere that blocked dangerous radiation was being destroyed by manmade chlorofluorocarbons.

Not only have all these turned out to be true, despite dismissals by deniers, and eventually backed up by hard science, they remain persistent problems to this day. Just take lead poisoning for example, where “New research finds Pb [lead] poisoning is the hidden villain behind violent crime, lower IQs, and even the ADHD epidemic...” (America's Real Criminal Element: Lead) What if folks had heeded the alarms sooner rather than later on these issues?

Those against Fracking have accumulated a lot scientific evidence that this drilling process is cause for concern:

There’s more, but cherry-picking science studies to fit one’s agenda is not the point. Gaining a sense of priorities in a time of Climate Change is the point. The role of Climate Change is critical in the argument about Fracking. But if the media treats Climate Change as if it’s still an unlikely wildcard, as it did with the dangers of cigarette smoking, lead poisoning and the like, then the public gives equal value to any science study that comes along.

However, if Fracking does emit up to 9% of methane (many times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide) in the drilling process, then this study trumps most other studies—if you think rendering our environment uninhabitable as one of the top things that should concerned you.

I know, many in the US (not so much elsewhere) don’t believe in Climate Change and even if they do they don’t think a 6° Celsius rise in greenhouse gases by the end of this century is a big deal. But you have to remember that since the Ice Ages it took 10,000 years for the temperature to rise 6°C, allowing many plants and animals enough time to adapt to all that.

If you argue, as Governor Cuomo does, that the Fracking decision should be based on the science, then what ‘science’ are you going to use? The science that the Fracking proponents use or the science that the anti-Frackers use? Are you going base your science on the risks of water contamination by Fracking even though industry won’t divulge the chemicals involved? Are you going to mandate baseline water testing before Fracking begins so you can tell if a Fracking chemical is the cause? Do we want to know the answer to that question when not knowing will so effectively protect the gas industry from law suits?

There is one Science (it’s physics all the way down) and there are many scientific studies. If you want to prove or disprove something, anything really, you can do a scientific study. And, if you have designed the study correctly with a healthy dose of humility and a great concern for life, you might come up with something useful. However, what should guide your decisions is a sense of priorities, not just science studies. Science won’t tell you what you should do. Science won’t tell you if you should shoot someone or not; it’ll just tell you whether the gun will go off.

This is the question: Should you even consider using fossil fuels as an energy option in the future if there’s a good (scientific) chance that by doing so you will accelerate warming? Science, however useful, won’t tell you if a sustainable future is a good thing or not. That is a judgment call.

So, when do you sound the alarm? After you have lifted the moratorium on Fracking in New York State and the first twenty or thirty complaints about water contamination comes to the New York State Department of Conservation’s door? Or, do we wait and see if by the end of this century we have learned enough to understand the consequences of Fracking? The sky is falling for Climate Change and as a matter of scientific fact it is already warming things up.

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