A lengthy, thoughtful commentary in the Aug. 7 issue of The Wall Street Journal by Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, caught my attention. The EDF is considered one of the leading pro-environmental organizations in the country.
“Respected Republican leaders like Govs. John Kasich of Ohio and Chris Christie of New Jersey have spoken out about the reality of climate change . . . Even Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson . . . conceded the reality of climate change while offering assurances that ‘there will be an engineering solution’ and ‘we’ll adapt.’”
“For too long, the U.S. has had two camps talking past each other on this issue. One tended to preach and derided questions about climate science as evidence of bad motivation. The other claimed that climate science was an academic scam designed to get more funding, and that advocates for action were out to strangle economic growth . . . Constructive conversation rarely occurred.”
“If both sides can now begin to agree on some basic propositions, maybe we can restart the conversation. Here are two: The first will be uncomfortable for skeptics, but it is unfortunately true: Dramatic alterations to the climate are here and likely to get worse – with profound damage to the economy – unless sustained action is taken. As The Economist recently editorialized about the melting of the Arctic: ‘It is a stunning illustration of global warming, the cause of the melt. It also contains grave warning of its dangers. The world would be mad to ignore them.’”
“The second proposition will be uncomfortable for supporters of climate action, but it is also true: Some proposed climate solutions, if not well designed or thoughtfully implemented, could damage the economy and stifle short-term growth. (Environmentalists) cannot ignore the economic impact of any proposed action . . . For any policy to succeed, it must work with the market, not against it.”
“If enough members of the warring climate camps can acknowledge these basic truths, we can get on with the hard work of forging a bipartisan, multi-stakeholder plan of action to safeguard the natural systems on which our economic future depends.”
Krupp addresses the issue of the “revolution” in natural gas production. He says, “It makes environmentalists uncomfortable, but we cannot afford to ignore this potentially lower carbon fuel. CIA Director David Petraeus had it right when he said last month . . . “Assuming it can be done in an environmentally safe way, which is obviously a must, (natural gas) is going to provide an incredible boost to our economy.” Krupp adds, “The key is ensuring that methane leaks in the system don’t undermine the carbon advantages of gas, and that our groundwater remains clean and safe.”
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The July 14-20 issue of The Economist contains a 14-page report on natural gas extraction and utilization. It predicts a bright future for the product, and emphasizes the benefits to some countries, especially America which has vast reserves and the advanced technology needed for efficient extraction and transport. It contends that adverse environmental impacts are minimal.
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In a recent column, I addressed industrial air pollution, and stated that coal-fired power plants were responsible for most of the mercury emissions. Elemental mercury is released, and when it falls into the water it enters the food chain and ultimately may be incorporated into the flesh of fish in an organic form. Fish most likely to have high levels of mercury are large carnivores such as tuna and bass.
Particulates are dangerous because they enter the lungs and contribute to asthma and other respiratory diseases. Indications are that particulate pollution can also increase the risk of heart disease, strokes, and early deaths. Sources of particulates include coal-fired power plants, wood-burning stoves and fireplaces, diesel trucks, and heavy highway traffic. Pittsburg tops the list of cities most polluted by particulates, followed by three California cities. Birmingham is fifth on the list. Natural gas combustion produces no mercury contamination and virtually no particulates.
Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides result from burning oil and coal. Small amounts of nitrogen oxides result from burning natural gas. These compounds when entering the atmosphere are converted into sulfuric acid and nitric acid resulting in acid rain.
Smog, a serious air pollutant in many metropolitan cities, results when ground level ozone is produced. Heat from sunlight causes a chemical reaction involving carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and volatile organic compounds. It can cause burning of the eyes, and temporary or long-lasting, permanent lung damage.
Some electrical energy companies are replacing coal with wood products or other biofuels to burn in some of their plants. Although wood is a renewable resource, conservationists question the desirability of relying heavily on wood as an energy fuel. In a future column I will address their concerns. Stay tuned.
Bob Mount is a Professor Emeritus with the Dept of Zoology and Entomology, Auburn Univ. He is also chairman of the Opelika Order of Geezers, well-known local think tank and political clearing house. He writes about birds, snakes, turtles, bugs and assorted conservation topics.