We are now in what some have termed “decade zero,” the last decade left to get a handle on climate change. Stopping it is off the table. The best we can hope for now is to keep the planet’s temperature from climbing past a point-of-no-return two degrees Celsius over what it was in pre-industrial times. We’ve already raised it one degree. And because CO2 is long-lived, we’ve already pumped enough of it into the atmosphere to guarantee a 1.5 degree increase.
That’s bad news for citizens of some island nations. I was in Paris for the UN COP 21 climate talks in December. Delegations from island nations implored world leaders assembled there to agree to a 1.5 degree target. Otherwise, they will become refugees of entire nations submerged in rising ocean waters. Although some progress was made, the talks failed to produce commitments to the kind of aggressive actions required to spare those nations.
Congress has taken much of the blame for refusing to commit to emissions targets, something that prevented the Paris agreement from being stronger. However, the Obama administration’s track record on climate is not all it’s cracked up to be.
The Obama administration has done everything from approving off-shore drilling to leasing millions of acres of public lands for fossil fuel extraction to negotiating TPP with several climate-killing provisions to creating the not-so Clean Power Plan to cheerleading natural gas production.
Obama considers natural gas to be a bridge fuel. He borrowed that from the Vice President of the American Gas Association who coined the phrase in 1988, always eager to create a market for the stuff. Numerous peer-reviewed studies have exposed that notion to be the myth it is. Nevertheless, natural gas continues to be framed as a bridge fuel, that is, except for here in Pennsylvania where the Wolf administration never refers to it that way. Recently-departed former DEP chief John Quigley talked about 100 years of natural gas production and tens of thousands of miles of new fracked gas pipelines in the next 15 years.
Indeed, Pennsylvania is awash in natural gas infrastructure with no plans to slow down developing even more, despite methane’s profound contribution to global warming and climate scientists’ pleas to keep 80 percent of all fossil fuels in the ground.
One morning this spring, James Baker was at home recovering from surgery to repair a broken ankle when his home exploded thanks to a rupture in the Texas Eastern Pipeline, the same one that crosses through Berks County. He got out with his life, but is now enduring a slow and painful recovery of amputations and other procedures. In the aftermath of the explosion, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said that the area where Baker lived was “saturated” with natural gas infrastructure – fracking wells, pipelines, compressors, injection wells, natural gas power plants and more, and that it was all sitting atop a 39 square mile underground natural gas storage facility.
What we are engaged in is madness, yet when I have met with the Governor and others in his cabinet, I have felt as if I was in an intervention trying to get them to admit there is a problem. Even more maddening is the fact that solutions already exist, solutions that get us through the transition while creating family-sustaining jobs that, unlike their fossil fuel counterparts, aren’t death sentences.
We can and must do better, and do it quickly. That’s why I’m helping organize the March for a Clean Energy Revolution in Philadelphia on July 24. Visit http://www.cleanenergymarch.org for details and sign up information! See you in Philly!