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Licking Their Lips Over Ukraine


The way to beat Vladimir Putin is to flood the European market with fracked-in-the-USA natural gas, or so the industry would have us believe. As part of escalating anti-Russian hysteria, two bills have been introduced into the US Congress – one in the House of Representatives (H.R. 6), one in the Senate (S. 2083) – that attempt to fast-track liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports, all in the name of helping Europe to wean itself from Putin’s fossil fuels, and enhancing US national security.

According to Cory Gardner, the Republican congressman who introduced the House bill, “opposing this legislation is like hanging up on a 911 call from our friends and allies”. And that might be true – as long as your friends and allies work at Chevron and Shell, and the emergency is the need to keep profits up amid dwindling supplies of conventional oil and gas.

For this ploy to work, it’s important not to look too closely at details. Like the fact that much of the gas probably won’t make it to Europe – because what the bills allow is for gas to be sold on the world market to any country belonging to the World Trade Organisation.

Or the fact that for years the industry has been selling the message that Americans must accept the risks to their land, water and air that come with hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in order to help their country achieve “energy independence”. And now, suddenly and slyly, the goal has been switched to “energy security”, which apparently means selling a temporary glut of fracked gas on the world market, thereby creating energy dependencies abroad.

And most of all, it’s important not to notice that building the infrastructure necessary to export gas on this scale would take many years in permitting and construction – a single LNG terminal can carry a $7bn price tag, must be fed by a massive, interlocking web of pipelines and compressor stations, and requires its own power plant just to generate energy sufficient to liquefy the gas through super-cooling. By the time these massive industrial projects are up and running, Germany and Russia may well be fast friends. But by then few will remember that the crisis in Crimea was the excuse seized upon by the gas industry to make its longstanding export dreams come true, regardless of the consequences to the communities getting fracked or to the planet getting cooked.

I call this knack for exploiting crisis for private gain the shock doctrine, and it shows no signs of retreating. We all know how the shock doctrine works: during times of crisis, whether real or manufactured, our elites are able to ram through unpopular policies that are detrimental to the majority under cover of emergency. Sure there are objections – from climate scientists warning of the potent warming powers of methane, or local communities that don’t want these high-risk export ports on their beloved coasts. But who has time for debate? It’s an emergency! A 911 call ringing! Pass the laws first, think about them later.

Plenty of industries are good at this ploy, but none is more adept at exploiting the rationality-arresting properties of crisis than the global gas sector.

For the past four years the gas lobby has used the economic crisis in Europe to tell countries like Greece that the way out of debt and desperation is to open their beautiful and fragile seas to drilling. And it has employed similar arguments to rationalise fracking across North America and the United Kingdom.

Now the crisis du jour is conflict in Ukraine, being used as a battering ram to knock down sensible restrictions on natural gas exports and push through a controversial free-trade deal with Europe. It’s quite a deal: more corporate free-trade polluting economies and more heat-trapping gases polluting the atmosphere – all as a response to an energy crisis that is largely manufactured.

Against this backdrop it’s worth remembering – irony of ironies – that the crisis the natural gas industry has been most adept at exploiting is climate change itself.

Never mind that the industry’s singular solution to the climate crisis is to dramatically expand an extraction process in fracking that releases massive amounts of climate-destabilising methane into our atmosphere. Methane is one of the most potent greenhouse gases – 34 times more powerful at trapping heat than carbon dioxide, according to the latest estimates by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. And that is over a 100-year period, with methane’s power dwindling over time.

It’s far more relevant, argues the Cornell University biochemist Robert Howarth, one of the world’s leading experts on methane emissions, to look at the impact in the 15- to 20-year range, when methane has a global-warming potential that is a staggering 86-100 times greater than carbon dioxide. “It is in this time frame that we risk locking ourselves into very rapid warming,” he said on Wednesday.

And remember: you don’t build multibillion-dollar pieces of infrastructure unless you plan on using them for at least 40 years. So we are responding to the crisis of our warming planet by constructing a network of ultra-powerful atmospheric ovens. Are we mad?

Not that we know how much methane is actually released by drilling and fracking and all their attendant infrastructure. Even while the natural gas industry touts its “lower than coal!” carbon dioxide emissions, it has never systematically measured its fugitive methane leaks, which waft from every stage of the gas extraction, processing, and distribution process – from the well casings and the condenser valves to the cracked pipelines under Harlem neighbourhoods. The gas industry itself, in 1981, came up with the clever pitch that natural gas was a “bridge” to a clean energy future. That was 33 years ago. Long bridge. And the far bank still nowhere in view.

And in 1988 – the year that the climatologist James Hansen warned Congress, in historic testimony, about the urgent problem of global warming – the American Gas Association began to explicitly frame its product as a response to the “greenhouse effect”. It wasted no time, in other words, selling itself as the solution to a global crisis that it had helped create.

The industry’s use of the crisis in Ukraine to expand its global market under the banner of “energy security” must be seen in the context of this uninterrupted record of crisis opportunism. Only this time many more of us know where true energy security lies. Thanks to the work of top researchers such as Mark Jacobson and his Stanford team, we know that the world can, by the year 2030, power itself entirely with renewables. And thanks to the latest, alarming reports from the IPCC, we know that doing so is now an existential imperative.

This is the infrastructure we need to be rushing to build – not massive industrial projects that will lock us into further dependency on dangerous fossil fuels for decades into the future. Yes, these fuels are still needed during the transition, but more than enough conventionals are on hand to carry us through: extra-dirty extraction methods such as tar sands and fracking are simply not necessary. As Jacobson said in an interview just this week: “We don’t need unconventional fuels to produce the infrastructure to convert to entirely clean and renewable wind, water and solar power for all purposes. We can rely on the existing infrastructure plus the new infrastructure [of renewable generation] to provide the energy for producing the rest of the clean infrastructure that we’ll need … Conventional oil and gas is much more than enough.”

Given this, it’s up to Europeans to turn their desire for emancipation from Russian gas into a demand for an accelerated transition to renewables. Such a transition – to which European nations are committed under the Kyoto protocol – can easily be sabotaged if the world market is flooded with cheap fossil fuels fracked from the US bedrock. And indeed Americans Against Fracking, which is leading the charge against the fast-tracking of LNG exports, is working closely with its European counterparts to prevent this from happening.

Responding to the threat of catastrophic warming is our most pressing energy imperative. And we simply can’t afford to be distracted by the natural gas industry’s latest crisis-fuelled marketing ploy.

 

9 Comments

  1. mike sheck April 15, 2014 4:48 am 

    To Francis Yellow, my apologies to you and your people. We stole everything you had ( including the idea of “being endowed by our creator with inalienable rights”). I think Native Americans should knock on Cliven Bundy’s door and remind him that their family has been working the land about. 10,0000 years longer than Mr. Bundy’s family has.

    • avatar
      Francis Yellow April 15, 2014 12:45 pm 

      Hau Mike Sheck, Wopila tanka cicu, a Big Thanks, for you acknowledgement. In regard to Cliven Bundy: like our beloved ancestor, Russell Means, said to mainstream America, “Welcome to the reservation”. Meaning that genocidal policies (euphemistically called Federal Indian Policy and Indian Law) are now being applied to everyone who isn’t insanely wealthy!
      “Land of the Free” free land, free constitutional structure, free shit all around; we should remember that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t.
      Ways of Life mean nothing to the Greedy!

  2. avatar
    Francis Yellow April 14, 2014 2:50 pm 

    Pilamaya, I thank you, Naomi Klein for your words. “Responding to the threat of catastrophic warming is our most pressing energy imperative. And we simply can’t afford to be distracted by the natural gas industry’s latest crisis-fuelled marketing ploy.”
    Looking on from the non-western/non-scientific perspective of my ancestors, Lakota Oyate kin, The Friendly People, I see that our human powers are over-shadowed, hidden, by hand-shadow puppet masters. All I hear about “response” is, “Technology got us into this mess and more of the same will get us out.”
    There’s another kind of technology that the Original Peoples of Turtle Island have developed. It’s called Kinship; Wotakuye in Lakol Iya, the Friendly Language of my ancestors. Our Lifeway is another kind of technology –call it Low-tech.
    My Elders called Lifeway, “Everyday ways of Peace”. There is no One True Lifeway, never been written down; it’s passed on through another age-old technology, Speech. Speech that is informed by clarity of being.
    Our Lifeway is expressed by the phrase, Mitakuye Owasin, All my Relations! in English. We recognize All Life as kin. Our ways help us to make relations with All Life, seen and unseen. Essentially, kinship obviates hierarchy.
    When you get to know your relatives, intimately, you are naturally sensitive to them. Being sensitized, it follows that you feel responsible to them and moderate your place among them. Above all you learn to love Life and care for it to the extent that you will risk your life to defend Life against harm.
    Contrary to modern history, my ancestors weren’t always at war over land. And the indian Wars of this country weren’t “about Ownership of the Land”.
    Our human nature was put to work developing kinship. Our kinship with Life reflects the kindness of the plant, animal, spirit, earth, air, and water peoples that us two-leggeds are interdependent with. Our Love of Life should cause us to risk our lives by taking a stand, speaking out, making relatives/allies. Our love of Life should make us pay attention, tell it straight, do something about it –with others.
    You’re hearing this from a Lakota male, 59 yrs. old. My People are undergoing, experiencing, a genocide that has been normalized to the extent that most of my People would disagree that such a thing is happening.
    All of us have been dehumanized, disrelated, alienated from Life, by modern day, western civilization. No wonder we can’t see for ourselves, inform ourselves –let alone act!
    You gotta be brave if you want to live! I see exemplars of such bravery in squirrels, birds, plant life renewing! They’re in the same boat we are. But as my Elders say, “They remember their Original Instructions, only human beings forget!” We are told by our Elders and Ancestors that those Original Instructions were given to all Life. In a word, Un Po! Live! Be what you were made to be in kinship with Life!
    This age-old knowledge has always been expressed through the storytelling of LIfeway. Writing about it is a new thing. It’s best learned face to face, in community/kinship! Simple stuff, can’t be bought and sold; gotta get out there and represent!

  3. mike sheck April 13, 2014 5:59 pm 

    To Mr. Val, so you are then, the unwilling beneficiary of all you condemn. The comfort, convenience, and relative ease of your life have been forced upon you against your will by the evil forces of capitalism. This hellish existence of push button warmth, endless food choices, and unlimited mobility has been inflicted upon your enemies. The horror, the horror.

    • avatar
      Francis Yellow April 14, 2014 3:39 am 

      @Mr. Sheck, “The horror, the horror” has been normalized, valorized, commodified, propertized, etc. Are you saying that capitalism’s omnicidal self destructiveness is well worth it? Do you have children, grandchildren? What do you love about Life, what are you most grateful for right now? Do you care whether or not your future generations have something to love or be grateful for too?

  4. Joseph Val April 13, 2014 3:18 pm 

    all governments lie; it’s their job
    capitalism is wholly destructive and hostile to all life on the planet, animal vegetable mineral.
    capitalism is founded upon lies: the lie of progress, of technological ingenuity and invention, of rising tides and ever-expanding markets.
    we are all prisoners in this system, kept ignorant, and under control, induced through threat of punishment or promise of reward; the rewards all bind us ever more deeply to the system, rendering the idea of repeal, denial, defiance, rejection of the system inconceivable.
    we will never be allowed any freedom from the system.
    we must free ourselves.
    we don’t have 100 years.
    we don’t have 50 years.
    we may not even have 5 years left, in which to reverse the course we’ve allowed ourselves to be dragged down for the past 300 years, +/-
    the infrastructure we need to build must be less material, and more inter-relational, to ourselves, to others of our species, to other species, to the whole of the biosphere of which we are but a minor part, for it is only in relation to the whole of which we are a part that we can derive any meaning for our existence on this planet; otherwise, we’re left with stories and lies, concocted and forced upon us by those who seek dominance in a hierarchy of relations.
    Hierarchy is a creation of the human imagination.
    Everything we’ve ever been told is a lie.
    Culture is a hierarchical structure of progressive lies.
    There is no freedom but that which lies outside of our culturally conditioned, culturally sanctioned, and culturally created state of normal waking consciousness.
    The bug in the renewable energy brew is that it only slows the pace of greenhouse gas introduction into the atmosphere, whereas IPCC states that what is necessary is “large net removal” of greenhouse gasses present: “A large fraction of anthropogenic climate change resulting from CO2 emissions is irreversible on a multi-century to millennial time scale, except in the case of a large net removal of CO2 from the atmosphere over a sustained period.”
    irreversible on a multi-century to millennial time scale…
    if you click on the Sanford link, you’ll come across things such as: “Enough concrete and steel exist for the millions of wind turbines” needed to be manufactured.
    “Photovoltaic cells rely on amorphous or crys-
    talline silicon, cadmium telluride, or copper in-
    dium selenide and sulfide” which have to be extracted from the earth, on various continents, purified, shipped, stored, and incorporated into ” large-scale production.”
    Another ‘solution’ is “building millions of electric vehicles” which has the snag that “not enough
    economically recoverable lithium exists to build
    anywhere near the number of batteries needed in a global electric-vehicle economy.” whoops. Not to mention the emissions from the manufacture process itself, which equals that of 10 years of driving the vehicle, whether gas-, or battery-powered.
    “When the so-called externality costs (the
    monetary value of damages to human health,
    the environment and climate) of fossil-fuel gen-
    eration are taken into account, WWS technolo-
    gies become even more cost-competitive.” But then, it’s not the “monetary value” of damage to human, environment, and climate health which should concern us, it is the actual damage to all of the above. This is an example of the inability to extract one’s thinking from the capitalist monetary cost-analysis mindset which compels us to destroy the planet with our normal daily activity.
    ” For their part, legislators crafting policy must find ways to resist lobbying by the entrenched energy industries.” ok; grant us one free miracle and then it’ll work.
    “[T]he obstacles are primarily political, not
    technical.” Actually, the obstacles are primarily in the existential realities of our current energy-profligate lifestyle. Without addressing this fundamental pathology first, all endeavours will be at best mildly ameliorative balms applied to previous self-inflicted thumps on the head.
    “Of course, changes in the real-world
    power and transportation industries will have to
    overcome sunk investments in existing infra-
    structure.” Again, within our current system we must rely on miraculous intervention.
    “But with sensible policies, nations
    could set a goal of generating 25 percent of their
    new energy supply with WWS sources in 10 to
    15 years and almost 100 percent of new supply
    in 20 to 30 years…but with more modest and likely policies full replacement may take 40 to 50 years.” Well, by then the problem will be largely taken care of, not by us humans, too enamoured as we are with our techno-glitz titillation-addicted lifestyle to even contemplate any sort of change, but by the larger ecosystem in which we exist.
    Climate change? Don’t worry. There’s an app for that now.

    • Joseph Val April 13, 2014 3:20 pm 

      any way to edit one’s own comment?
      Stanford, obviously.

    • avatar
      James Wilson April 14, 2014 12:44 pm 

      There’s always pain in what you write Joseph. Not much hope. Need to find some music somewhere, if only for the end! A last major seventh reaching out for a resolution that never comes.

      WHY WRITE A LETTER THAT YOU’LL NEVER SEND-THE DRONES

      we don’t write letters any more
      there ain’t the time or place
      but a friend mine wrote something like
      a letter yesterday

      it was smuggled through my inbox
      just this morning, 3am
      more impotent than important
      but let me read it now, verbatim

      he say’s “i got that same old feeling
      the one that turns the birds to brutes
      the sky is like a bad dream
      and the Earth is in cahoots

      i don’t believe no one no more
      i don’t care what no one say’s
      i just wanna make the world
      a much less painful place

      we look fonder on the good old days
      as they drift further away
      but why if everyone feels so homesick
      are they always setting sail?

      ’cause it’s all bad news up there on deck
      and each headland masks the next
      i’d just as soon dive in the ocean
      and forego the blood and sweat

      forego all aspirations
      they just put everyone at odds
      if idle hands are the devil’s work
      then where’s the time for God’s?

      and why write a letter that you’ll never send away

      why won’t you stay with me, wait and see
      all you need know
      nobody’s perfect and their needs are always stark
      stay with me, wait you’ll see
      all you need know
      everybody’s hurting and their needs are always stark

      and who cares about wars of choice in lands
      where states indulge their passions
      and all the new shoots just jackbootscoot
      all dissent out of fashion

      like Fred Astaires’ at a film premier
      that is all about them
      it’s stirring stuff, transformative
      they don’t care where they’re sent

      they’re all kiss chasing childish
      dreams of privileged masculinity
      ’till they’re spent by shock and discharged
      home to small town and big city

      the rest are the type left dying or dead
      from trying to be useful
      they’ve been handy in the years gone by
      and they’ll be handy in the future

      and who cares for their survival
      and who cares about the Yanks
      who cares if they get overrun
      by Chinese nukes and tanks

      who cares about the holocaust
      man we didn’t learn nothing there
      and all it’s memory does is
      keep the History Channel on air

      who cares about the Vatican
      man everybody knows
      and who’s surprised they went and
      chose a nazi for a pope?

      who cares about fakes like anarchists
      man they never want to dance
      let’s mambo Mogadishu
      give anarchy a chance

      i’m saying life is cruel, you know it’s true
      but all sides still try and recruit you
      for shangri-las as practical
      as doing the karma sutra

      why write a letter that you’ll never send away

      why won’t you stay with me, wait and see
      all you need know
      nobody’s perfect and their needs are always stark
      stay with me, wait you’ll see
      all you need know
      everybody skirts the fact their needs are always stark

      and who cares if the starving millions
      know if it’s christmas or your birthday
      or what movie stars in Africa
      or the guy from U2 says

      or all the statesmen never telling
      lies as truth or gospel
      who cares what’s true or false
      the truth’s the world won’t go to hospital

      but who needs to live forever
      who needs the extra miles
      we won’t need bees or seed banks
      in the Arctic for a while

      we play the game to start again
      not to better life for all
      it’s the appropriate opiate
      when a better way’s impossible

      some honesty now wouldn’t go astray
      if not, then what’s the use?
      we’re animals, we can’t help doing
      what all animals do

      so goodbye my friend, i’m hitting send
      forgive me talking straight
      i’m only trying to make the world
      a much less painful place

      and why write a letter that you’ll never send away?

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