As it becomes increasingly evident that a switch from coal to natural gas is reducing energy-related carbon emissions in the United States--which is a net plus if you care about climate change-- opponents of fracking find themselves being asked to choose between the lesser of two evils. That is a debate in of itself worth having. But it's not helped by fantasy world statements such as this one by the anti-fracking filmmaker Josh Fox:
Renewable energy can run the whole world. We know we have enough wind in the world to power the world five to ten times over. We have a technological solution for this.
We do? Which incantation do I recite to make this magical world appear? Oh wait, somebody's already written it, Fox tells Andrew Sullivan. Based on that, he says the United States can meet all its power needs from wind, solar and hydroelectric dams. (For a skeptical perspective on renewable utopia, read this by Vaclav Smil.) But that won't matter, Fox adds, unless the world starts "consuming less energy." Hmm, getting India, China, and other developing countries on board with that might be tough. The reality, for those who are truly concerned about global warming, was laid out by Alan Riley last summer in a New York Timesop-ed:
Unless a cheap, rapidly deployable substitute fuel is found for coal, then it will be next to impossible to safely rein in rising carbon dioxide levels around the world. Although the green movement might at first see shale gas as an enemy in this fight, it may in fact turn out to be a friend. Broad development of shale gas resources — with proper ecological safeguards — could be the best way to achieve the quick cuts in carbon dioxide emissions that we need to maintain a habitable environment on Earth.
I'm a big fan of Andrew Sullivan, but I'm sorry, asking Josh Fox if fracking can ever be safe is like asking Helen Caldicott if nuclear power can ever be acceptable. Asking Josh Fox to explain how the world can be powered by wind and solar energy is like asking someone from the Rodale Institute to explain how organic farming can feed the world. It's useless noise that makes reasoned debate that much harder. UPDATE: This APstory from Thursday is quite relevant. It's titled, "Oil drilling technology leaps, clean energy lags."
All aboard the train to a world run by solar and wind power. Photo credit: Wikimedia commons.