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Are ‘Fractivists’ Promoting Global Warming? (unintended consequences of a futile crusade

“Privately, scientists and analysts within national environmental organizations are appalled that celebrity fractivism could get in the way of the coal-to-gas shift. They say the fractivists undermine green credibility, and are disturbed by the failure of their movement’s leadership.”

Mainstream environmental groups used to support natural gas, which offers significant public health and climate benefits over coal and is a “bridge fuel” to a clean energy future. But celebrity activists like Mark Ruffalo, who has a house in the Catskills, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. have led the movement astray with NIMBY opposition to fracing in areas such as upstate New York.

Over the last year, celebrities such as Yoko Ono, Sean Lennon, Robert Redford, Mark Ruffalo, Mario Batali, Scarlett Johansson, Alec Baldwin, and Matt Damon have spoken out against the expansion of natural gas drilling. “Fracing kills,” says Ono, who has a country home in New York. “It threatens the air we breathe,” says Redford.

In fact, “gas provides a very substantial health benefit in reducing air pollution,” according to Daniel Schrag, director of Harvard University’s Center for the Environment. There have been “tremendous health gains” from the coal-to-gas switch, MIT economist Michael Greenstone told The Associated Press. Indeed, air pollution in Pennsylvania has plummeted in recent years thanks to the coal-to-gas switch. “Honestly,” added Greenstone, “the environmentalists need to hear it.”

Fractivism might be dismissed as so much celebrity self-involvement had it not reversed the national environmental movement’s longstanding support of natural gas as a bridge to zero-carbon energy — and kept shale drilling out of New York state. Last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo was set to green-light 40 demonstration gas wells in a depressed part of New York until Natural Resources Defense Council attorney Bobby Kennedy Jr. called him and asked him not to.

Bill McKibben and his organization 350.org have made common cause with the anti-fracking movement, as has the Sierra Club. NRDC went from being supportive of a coal-to-gas switch to opposing the expansion of gas production. Even the Environmental Defense Fund’s chief, Fred Krupp, said in a debate last month that he opposes the expansion of natural gas.

All of this comes at a time when carbon emissions are declining in the U.S. more than in any other country in the world. The USA is the global climate leader, while Europe and Germany are returning to coal. The main reason is gas, which increased last year by almost the exact same amount that coal declined.

Just a few years ago, environmental leaders were saying that we faced a climate emergency, that emissions must start declining rapidly, and that enemy number one was coal. Now the same leaders are saying we have to stop shale fracking even though it is crushing coal and driving down American carbon emissions.

Of course, the fractivism isn’t really about the fracing. Matt Damon’s anti-natural gas movie was originally an attack on wind farms. In 2005, Bobby Kennedy Jr. helped lead a campaign to stop the Cape Wind farm from being built because it will be visible from the Kennedy compound. Meanwhile, he was championing the construction of a massive solar farm in the Mojave Desert, 3,000 miles away — itself opposed by local environmentalists.

Fractivists like Mark Ruffalo protest that his NIMBYism isn’t pro-coal. He told AP that we don’t need natural gas; we can easily switch from coal directly to solar panels, like the ones Ruffalo installed on his Catskills house.

But when the sun isn’t shining on Ruffalo’s roof, he’s mostly getting his electricity from natural gas. In order to accommodate the intermittent nature of solar and wind, utilities rely on natural gas plants, which can be quickly ramped up and down to keep the lights on. Contra Gasland’s Josh Fox’s claims about using “compressed air” in a recent debate with Ted at Salon.com cheap, utility-scale energy storage simply doesn’t exist.

Privately, scientists and analysts within national environmental organizations are appalled that celebrity fractivism could get in the way of the coal-to-gas shift. They say the fracktivists undermine green credibility, and are disturbed by the failure of their movement’s leadership.

But there’s little reason to expect national green leaders will become, well, leaders. They will likely continue to follow donors who demonstrate time and again that what matters most to them — whether in the case of a nuclear plant in Long Island, a wind farm in Cape Cod, or a gas well in the Catskills — is the view from their solar-plated eco-compounds, not the potentially catastrophic impact of global warming on the planet.

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Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger are leading global thinkers on energy, climate, security, human development, and politics; founders of the Breakthrough Institute; and executive editors of the Breakthrough Journal. Their 2007 book Break Through was called “prescient” by Time and “the most important thing to happen to environmentalism since Silent Spring” by Wired.

This post appeared yesterday under the title, Fracktivists for Global Warming (March 6, 2013). Nordhaus and Shellenberger previously authored Uniting a Fractured Republic: Pragmatism, Innovation, and the Shale Gas Revolution (November 7, 2012).

7 comments

1 Donald Hertzmark { 03.07.13 at 11:56 am }

One of the great ironies of the opposition to fracking is that not only do the Europeans end up with more coal-fired electricity than if they permitted fracking, they will also be importing this coal and not providing themselves with any market hedge against Russian gas maneuvers.

In the U.S. the opposition to new power plants that actually work reliably, based on gas or coal, also ends in irony. In order to maintain base load supply quality quite a few of the older, inefficient and polluting coal plants slated for retirement may need to be kept on line as reserve or to supply certain ancillary system services. This is especially rich since renewables not only do not provide ancillary services, they are major consumers of stability and control services from other (read, evil gas or even worse coal) power plants.

There are willing private investors to replace those old plants with new ones, and as Power Magazine has shown quite conclusively, new coal technology is a much better neighbor and citizen than a 40 year old plant with 40 year old technology.

2 rbradley { 03.07.13 at 1:24 pm }

The broader question is: when will emotional environmentalism be demoted to rational means-ends environmentalism. Good intentions do not result in good policy, even appropriate policy for one’s desired ends. This is why the workd of the Breakthrough Institute (BI) is important.

I do think that at some point BI will need to reconsider climate alarmism given the destructive environmental policies (gov’t-enabled windpower and on-grid solar, etc.) that are incurred in the name of fighting climate change.

3 Charles Battig { 03.07.13 at 6:24 pm }

Question: What do Yoko Ono, Sean Lennon, Robert Redford, Mark Ruffalo, Mario Batali, Scarlett Johansson, Alec Baldwin, and Matt Damon all have in common? Answer: Not one is expert in climatology or related sciences.

Question: What is the unifying skill of actors? Answer: The ability to parrot, without the need to think, the words and thinking of others more skilled in such intellectual pursuits.

Those listed almost make a cast for a redo of “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover”movie of 1989.

4 Dan M Cox { 03.11.13 at 10:43 am }

very interesting slogan “Fracking Kills”. Really? name on death due to fracking?
please, please, please HOllywood……….learn something, anything about geology, about pressure, about oil/gas drilling/well completions, fracing,.
please………..learn something.
Those of us geologists, in the oil/gas industry, who have been around the thousands and thousands and thousands of wells that have been frac’ed since the 1970′s (at least that far back that i know of personally) do not recall a single problem, death, illness, ………nothing…………it just has not happened.
Fracking Kills??…………..really???………..
just unbelievable the level of their stupidity about the energy business. Stick with the make-belive world you chose to spend your life in. leave the real world, the energy business supplying the energy consuming 5 billion of us, to the experts.

5 clive hoskin { 03.11.13 at 4:51 pm }

We can easily stop all this rubbish from the green warmist fools.Stop funding to the UN,sack the EPA and drive all the green movement into the sea.End of problem!

6 Marcellus & Utica Shale Story Links: Tue, Mar 12, 2013 | Marcellus Drilling News { 03.12.13 at 7:01 am }

[...] Are ‘Fractivists’ Promoting Global Warming? (unintended consequences of a futile crusade MasterResource Mainstream environmental groups used to support natural gas, which offers significant public health and climate benefits over coal and is a “bridge fuel” to a clean energy future. But celebrity activists like Mark Ruffalo, who has a house in the Catskills, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. have led the movement astray with NIMBY opposition to fracing in areas such as upstate New York. [...]

7 Mike Mellor { 03.15.13 at 9:06 am }

This article says that the shale gas industry is in deep trouble as a result of sub-economical rates per mcf and rapid depletion of wells. I’m sure that masterresource has already countered these claims. Could you give me links please?

http://mondediplo.com/2013/03/09gaz

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