By Daniel Rigney
A recent Houston Chronicle editorial deplores the power of “Big Green,” described as “the well-funded environmental lobby that stands foursquare against any fossil fuels development.”
I’ve heard of Big Business, Big Government, Big Oil, Big Pharma, and even Big Data, but this is the first I’ve heard of Big Green.
A quick search reveals that “Big Green” typically refers to large mainstream environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club, the Nature Conservancy, and the World Wildlife Fund that promote the conservation and preservation of nature. I think of these as the “nature lobby,” though in the end, the laws of nature won’t need a lobby to do what they do. Ask the dinosaurs.
The Chronicle sniffs a whiff of Big Green’s influence in the Obama administration’s decision to delay completion of the Keystone XL pipeline.
Keystone XL, as you probably know, is the 1,700-mile-long carbon catheter designed to drain diluted bitumen (~asphalt) from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada to refineries in Houston and Port Arthur, Texas, from whence its product may then be burned domestically or shipped for combustion abroad.
Major environmental groups have opposed Keystone, but the Chronicle editorial neglects to mention that many of these green groups are disdained by fellow environmental activists, such as Naomi Klein (e.g., here and here), precisely because they have substantial funding and investment ties to the fossil fuels industry, and thus are emphatically not “foursquare against any fossil fuels development,” as the Chronicle puts it.
Klein reports that while some major groups, such as the Sierra Club, are moving toward carbon divestment, others are not. Big Green turns out not to be the monolith the Chronicle editorial suggests it is.
Limitations of space probably precluded the Chronicle from probing the complexities of this internal debate within the environmental movement regarding the near-term prospect of a fossil-free economy.
Limitations of space may also have prevented the Chronicle from comparing the lobbying resources of Big (and little) Green with those at the disposal of Big Oil, Big Gas, and Big Carbon in general. If Green in Big, then what do we call Big Carbon?
If David is “Big,” what do we call Goliath?
Nearly all environmentalists oppose tar oil, and for good reason, but many acknowledge, albeit reluctantly, that another fossil fuel, the dangerously potent but marginally cleaner greenhouse gas methane, or natural gas, will realistically be needed as an interim bridge to a world powered by renewable and sustainable energies such as wind, solar, and the yet-to-be-discovered YTBD.
While few environmentalists are avidly pro-gas, many (including myself) acknowledge a realistic need for natural gas as a bridge fuel on the road to clean, renewable energies.
My problem with natural gas is this: It’s one thing for Big Gas to build a bridge to future renewables. It’s something else entirely for Big Gas to seek an endless (and endlessly lucrative) carbon causeway to the future in rapacious pursuit of its own “big green.”
That’s a bridge too far for me, and for the well-being of future generations.
Big Tar is worse than Big Gas.
Switching from coal and oil to natural gas is a little like switching from unfiltered to filtered cigarettes. It’s a step in the right direction, but let’s not pretend it’s a cure for cancer.
Tapping into tar oil, by contrast, is like switching from filtered to unfiltered cigarettes. It’s a step in a deadlier direction.
While natural gas prolongs, but ameliorates, our addiction to what George W. Bush rightly called our “addiction” to fossil fuels, tar oil deepens that addiction.
The environmental impact of oil from tar sands extends far beyond local problems such as pipeline spills and their effects on local ecosystems and water supplies along the way. Tar oil’s (and natural gas’s) most significant toxic effect is on the CO2 number – the number of carbon molecules in the atmosphere per million molecules of dry air.
In general, the higher this CO2 number, the greater the greenhouse effect. Rising levels of greenhouse gas trap heat inside Earth’s atmosphere and progressively warm and destabilize its climate, with potentially disastrous ecological consequences.
As news editors well know, the CO2 number now hovers around 400 ppm (parts per million) in Houston and around the world. The carbon number continues to rise steadily, due mainly to the combustion of dirty carbon fuels. Prior to the industrial revolution, a “normal” atmospheric CO2 reading was 280. By this metric, Earth is now running the equivalent of a high fever and getting warmer.
Climate scientists warn that an increase in atmospheric CO2 increases the likelihood of major climate disruptions, including, just for instance, more and bigger hurricanes in places like Houston – a painfully ironic prospect for what is arguably the carbon capital of the world.
Tar oil is bad news for humanity whether it’s piped to Texas or across Canada to ships bound for China. (Houston-based Kinder Morgan is already extending its pipelines across Canada toward the port of Vancouver.) But tar oil will have perverse effects on global CO2 levels no matter where it’s shipped.
Big Carbon (and the Houston and Texas economies) may benefit from Keystone XL in the short run, but only at the expense of Big Posterity.
But as economist Robert Heilbroner asked provocatively, what has posterity ever done for us?
Big Carbon’s most realistic fear is not the threat posed by Big (or little) Green, but rather the threat posed by Big Science, the prophetic messenger who’s been bringing so much bad news lately to the carbon industry and its derivative economy.
Climate scientists didn’t invent greenhouse heat pollution. They just measured it and tried to figure out where it's been coming from. They’ve homed in on an answer, but few of us want to hear it, least of all those who’ve invested their lives and fortunes in the carbon business.
But don’t blame scientists for bringing bad news. Don’t blame the messenger for the message. Blame the message’s source.
Blame Big Reality.
And good luck lobbying the laws of nature.
[cross-p0sted at Danagram]