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Hullabaloo


Monday, February 04, 2013

 
Environmental stories can't be business as usual anymore

by David Atkins

The New York Times covers one of the biggest but most underreported battles in California right now: the war over fracking and oil. The story covers the usual contours, of course: pro-drilling developers hoping to turn California into Saudi Arabia West on the one hand, and environmentalists looking to preserve natural heritage and prevent pollution and ground contamination on the other. The typical, boring and predictable template is laid out, for instance, in this section:

But the oil companies’ plans for the Monterey Shale are already drawing increasing scrutiny from environmental groups. Though oil companies have engaged in fracking in California for decades, the process was only loosely monitored by state regulators.

The Monterey Shale’s geological formation will require companies to engage in more intensive fracking and deeper, horizontal drilling, a dangerous prospect in a seismically active region like California, environmental groups say.

Environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity, are suing the Bureau of Land Management and the Department of Conservation to prevent the opening up of further land to oil exploration and to enforce stricter environmental practices.

“If and when the oil companies figure out how to exploit that shale oil, California could be transformed almost overnight,” said Kassie Siegel, a lawyer at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Fracking poisons the air we breathe and the water we drink. It is one of the most, if not the most, important environmental issue in California.”
But two key words are missing from the coverage of the article: climate and change.

This isn't about environmentalists versus energy extractors. Absent climate change, we could have a nice back and forth about the perils of contaminants, the dangers of pollution, the value of the natural landscape, etc. These are well worn arguments and compromises could be achieved. At worst--at very worst--a generation of local residents would die of cancer and horrible diseases, a lot of oil and natural gas would be used, the environment would be degraded but would eventually recover, and life would go on.

But those are not the stakes. As high as those stakes are, the real stakes are much, much higher. The world's climate is already reaching a tipping point--a point beyond which life as we know it on Planet Earth may not be possible within just a lifetime or two. We simply cannot afford to burn another 15 billion barrels of oil's worth of previously unavailable CO2 into the atmosphere. That carbon needs to stay in the ground, and it needs to stay there indefinitely--fracking or no.

Those are the stakes, and there is no compromise to be had.

It's deeply disappointing that the Times doesn't seem to understand that climate change means environmental stories aren't business as usual anymore.


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