Greta Thunberg accuses leaders of creative public relations – reprise from 2019

My wife and I just watched the first part of a PBS documentary series on Greta Thunberg and her climate change response advocacy. Below is a post I wrote two years ago following her UN speech in Madrid. I had the good fortune of seeing her on her US trip before she traveled back for this speech. One of the highlights is how much a student of the issues she is, unlike many of her loud critics who offer personal attacks and even death threats in rebuttal. Plus, I should add the US has reentered the Paris Climate Change Accord and has seriousness of purpose to help lead the efforts.

In an Associated Press article called “Teen activist accuses leaders of ‘creative PR’ at UN climate talks” by Aritz Parra and Frank Jordans, Greta Thunberg did not shy away from calling leaders on the carpet. The activist who was recently awarded the Time Magazine Person of the Year for 2019, “accused governments and businesses of misleading the public by holding climate talks that are not achieving real action against the world’s ‘climate emergency.’”

Using a multitude of scientific facts, Thunberg “told negotiators at the UN’s climate talks in Madrid they have to stop looking for loopholes and face up to the ambition that is needed to protect the world from a global warming disaster.” It should be noted, the US is present, but its attendance is on the shoulders of lower level folks who cannot make decisions. Unfortunately, sans the US leadership as one of the two biggest polluters, other countries did not send decision makers either.

“‘The real danger is when politicians and CEOs are making it look like real action is happening, when in fact almost nothing is being done, apart from clever accounting and creative PR.’ said Thunberg.” Even at age 16, she is savvy to an age old practice by leaders to look like they are doing something when it is all a part of a subterfuge.

There was a positive action last week, “where the European Union announced a $130 billion plan to help wean EU nations off fossil fuels. German Environment Minister Svenja Schulze said she hoped the “European Green Deal’ would ‘give the discussions here (in Madrid) a boost.’”

“Some experts echoed the activist’s concerns about lack of progress. ‘In my almost 30 years in this process, never have I seen the almost total disconnect that we’re seeing in Madrid, between what the science requires and the people of the world are demanding on the one hand and what climate negotiations are delivering in terms of meaningful actions,’ said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a US based non-profit group.”

The lack of leadership on climate change is appalling and was a major concern of mine if the current (now former) US president won the election. Good things are happening in the US in spite of his naysaying efforts, but the world needs its leaders of the bigger polluters to be part of the solution. Thunberg is well deserving of her honor and continues to speak truth to people in power. It is sad that she knows far more about this topic than many adults who could make a difference. That would include the (now former) US president who is more concerned with perception and awards than helping the planet address this pandemic-like issue.

The virtuous cycle – a repeat

The following post was written about six years ago. Since that time the production cost of renewable energy has fallen to be competitive and, in some cases, lower than fossil fuel energy costs. And, that is without the residual costs of fossil fuel acquisition, transport, litigation, and maintenance.

The virtuous cycle is a nice term, but what in the heck does it mean? In the context under which I most recently saw it used is with one of two ultimate rationales why the move to renewable energy will begin to accelerate and replace fossil fuel energy sources.

Of course, renewable energy has many benefits and as the cost of production continues to fall, it will be on par with current fossil fuel energy production costs. This does not even consider the other costs that can be avoided which are inherent in the fossil fuel process. And, a key rationale for the migration will be the avoidance of the significant water loss that occurs in the fossil fuel and nuclear power production process through dissipated steam and loss of water to retrieve natural gas and oil through fracking.

But, the virtuous cycle will be one that will join water as the key reason for the accelerated migration to renewable energy. In essence, in fossil fuel energy production, energy has to be used to create energy. For example, to create electricity with fossil fuel, we have to burn coal or natural gas to boil water into steam to turn the turbines which turn the electromagnet generators. We have to exhaust energy to make more energy.

With renewable energy, we need not exhaust energy to make energy. The sun will shine and the wind will blow. They are doing this already, so we are merely harnessing that energy to produce electricity thereby creating a virtuous cycle. Using monetary terms, we do not need to spend money to make money, once the solar panels or windmills are created. Yes, we need to maintain them, but we do not have to spend energy to create new energy.

This matters now as energy companies look to build new energy production facilities. As a company considers the building over years of a natural gas-fired plant, the virtuous cycle of renewable energy may render that natural gas investment obsolete before a return on investment can be achieved. Companies will migrate to cost-effective and environmentally friendly energy sources. The fossil fuel industry is big on focusing on the cost and jobs as reasons to do more of the status quo, yet the production cost will flip the other way and will become more favorable for renewables. The jobs are already there and growing rapidly with double-digit increases.

So, when  people say we cannot afford to move to renewable energy, that is actually a very short-sighted argument. When you factor all of the added costs on environment and health of fossil fuel acquisition, use, and future maintenance, the costs are already in the favor of renewables. The virtuous cycle will accelerate the move even more.

Water problems have been around for ages – a repeat

The following post was written in 2016 during that presidential election season. Water is our dearest resource besides the air we breathe. For several years, the World Economic Forum has noted water shortages and climate change are our biggest concerns, with the latter making the former problem even worse.

The water issues that have been plaguing Flint, Michigan residents are not new. Our planet has had water (and sewage) issues dating back to when people gathered together in villages. In Steven Solomon’s book called “Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization” he describes how the mastery over water resources kept leaders of civilizations in power. The needed mastery revolved around water to drink and bathe in, water to carry sewage away, water for transportation and trade and water for naval control.

Here are a few examples to illustrate this point.

  • Every major city has had water/ sewage issues. In London in the 1850s, a  major problem came to a head which was called the Big Stink. The planners had sewage lines dropping waste into the Thames. When cholera and dysentery epidemics broke out, initially, the planners thought these were air borne diseases. But, when they realized a brewery, where employees drank free beer, had only minimal breakout, they realized the diseases were water borne. It turned out the sewage line was perilously close to the line that pulled water from the Thames to drink. Once that was remedied, the breakouts subsided.
  • In Edinburgh, the Scots had an unusual way have handling sewage. It turns out, the city dwellers would throw sewage out of their homes around 10 pm, which is the reason people smoked after meals to mitigate the smell. This made foot traffic very perilous and less than sanitary.
  • In Chicago, when the city got so crowded and filthy, city leaders realized they needed to carry sewage away, but they could not figure out how to do it. An engineer had an idea that they should lift the buildings using railroad car heavy duty jacks and build the sewage and water lines beneath the buildings.This actually worked too well, as Lake Michigan began to get filthy and fish would be coming up through the water lines into bath tubs. So, they had to remedy where the sewage was dumped.
  • It is thought that the greatest Chinese achievement is the Great Wall. Yet, a more monumental achievement per Solomon was to build a canal between the two major rivers in the country – the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers. This was a massive undertaking, but led to transportation and trade across the country.
  • Solomon also advocates the two greatest achievements in US History that made us a world power is the building of the Erie and Panama Canals. The former linked the east coast with trade of goods with the Midwest, making Chicago a very important port. The latter gave us access to two oceans and helped with global trade and naval might. He also credits the two Roosevelts as our greatest water presidents, with Teddy building the Panama Canal and buying watershed rights in the west. FDR built many dams to create hydro-power.

I mention this now, as Solomon has been a staunch advocate for addressing our water problems before it is too late. Flint-like problems exist in several cities right now. Yet, this goes beyond Flint, as our planet is drying up our water resources and it is noticeable by satellite pictures. It is also being made worse by climate change, which the Department of Defense says is one of the greatest threats to our planet. And, The World Economic Forum echoes these concerns with the global water crisis being the number one risk in their 2015 Global Risks report followed by climate change inaction. Solomon is adamantly against fracking as the amount of water wasted is huge per frack. He also notes that not only climate change will make the water crisis worse, but so will over-population.

Finally, the man who predicted the housing crisis two years before it happened, who is featured in the movie “The Big Short,” has only one investment right now. He is buying up water rights. Yet, outside of the Flint issue which is being spoken to by Clinton and Sanders, no candidate is addressing our water concerns and only one Republican candidate admits that climate change is a problem, John Kasich, with both Democrats being vocal about it. These might be questions we want to ask our candidates about, especially with Department of Defense and World Economic Forum noting their concerns.

*NOTE: The city of Cape Town, South Africa has come perilously close to running out of water on more that one occasion. It was so bad, the city had a countdown clock. In Solomon’s book, it is noted Muslims are permitted to pray with sand than water, as it is such a dear resource in Saudi Arabia.

A Few Earth Day Observations (from eight years ago)

The following post has been briefly edited from its origin eight years ago. It remains pertinent today. Progress has been made, but some progress has been waylaid. We need to move more rapidly than before.

Today is a good day to reflect on what more we can do to protect our planet and make it a life-sustaining environment for eons to come. Below are a few odds and ends for your review as well.

It is all about water and air

These are our dearest resources. We must be vigilant on how we use and impact these resources. I have written recently about “water is the new oil.” We can not only avoid polluting our precious resource, we have to be very thoughtful about its overall supply. Do not let anyone tell you this is not a major issue.

On the air side, we must guard against the emissions that come from the mining, collection, use and disposal of fossils fuels and petro-chemicals. For those who want to protect our kids from future debt problems, this will impact their health and the debt in far greater way, with the high cost of fixing problems and tending to those impacted mentally and physically.

Some skeptics will see the word “mentally” and say that is overblown. Yet, one of the key tenets of Dr. Sandra Steingraber’s books “Living Downstream” and “Raising Elijah” is most environmental models look at the impact of pollution on a 50-year-old man. The models need to look at the impact on children who are of lesser weight, closer to the ground, mouth breathe more, put hand to mouth more, and have developing brains. The data are showing the impact of various chemical pollutants heightens the propensity to certain mental and physical challenges such as autism and its various manifestations, asthma and other breathing disorders and more premature births which creates a vicious cycle for future health issues. Her data are very compelling and her voice needs to be heard.

Global warming will accelerate many bad things

In her books, Dr. Steingraber, who is an ecologist, biologist, and bladder cancer survivor, also notes that a problem we do not talk enough about in the discussion of global warming is its impact on the toxins that are in our air, water and environment. She says it is like a chemical crockpot. As the earth warms, so will these toxins and our ability to reduce them will be challenged. She highlights her bladder cancer as a bellweather cancer, as it is typically caused by environmental issues. She had other relatives nearby who also had bladder cancer – the key is she was adopted, so it was environmental not hereditary.

We are already seeing worse things in the global warming models than forecasted, so as one of the US’s political parties is fiddling, Rome is burning. Last year at this time, I read a report that showed hurricanes will more significantly impact the coastal regions with the higher sea levels. The analogy used is it is easier to dunk a basketball when the court is raised. This was before Hurricane Sandy which many scientists note was heightened by the raised sea levels. In addition to lives, livelihoods, and homes, the cost to fix is at least the $50 billion the federal government provided in January.

The other predictions in the model are heightened forest fire prevalence and intensity, worsened droughts in the drier areas along with more stalled weather systems. So some areas get way too much precipitation, while others get way too little. The human and economic cost of these worsening conditions is huge says Mercer Investment Consulting and major pension trust sponsors around the globe. This study done in 2011 talked of these increasing forest fires, worsening droughts, and intensifying hurricanes, which had already been occurring and are now more prevalent around the globe.

Already too much carbon in the air

People like to talk about global warming as a future event, yet as noted above, it is already impacting our lives. We have too much carbon in the air today and it will only get worse. China is firing up more coal plants and Beijing is coming closer to being an inhabitable city. If you do not believe this, then ask why it is getting harder for companies to get their ex pats to move and stay there.

There are solutions in addition to moving more quickly away from fossil fuels. We need to adopt older ways of grazing cattle that will let the grasslands flourish. We need to plant even more trees than we are doing now and stop taking them down at such an accelerated rate. And, we need to move more food growth and distribution closer to the sale and consumption of food. The greener areas will absorb more carbon at of the atmosphere and coupled with more renewable energy sources, will move us down the right path.

And it is not just humans

Finally, our ability to survive on this planet is not just in human hands. We are seeing the impact of global warming and environmental toxins on animals, fish and insects that matter to us. The honey bee population continues to fall and the culprit is most likely the pesticides sprayed on adjacent crops. These bees cross-pollinate a non-inconsequential percentage of our food and farmers and beekeepers are worried.

Our coral reefs are dying off in greater numbers. The Great Barrier Reef outside of Australia is shrinking for example. This is of vital importance due to the numbers of fish and other species that swim and grow there. And, species we do not eat are eaten by species we do. So, it is a major concern. And, closer to home the populations of cod are much smaller in Cape Cod, so the fishermen have to go further out to sea.  The US Fisheries Department has been tracking the impact of global warming on fish populations for over ten years, while the fiddlers still fiddle.

And, in the animal species, it is not just polar bears who are being impacted. The huge amount of fracking going on in our national parklands is impacting animals there. In Pennsylvania, small animals and birds are impacted by drinking the chemically laden water that cannot be kept out of the water supply. There is a domino effect that will impact us humans at some point, either directly, or through the animals, fish and insects we come in contact with.

Conserve and advocate

Now that I have scared the crap out of you, what can we do? Continue to conserve, compost and reuse. Do small things and big things. I wrote a post on last year’s Earth Day about conservation. But, also advocate. Change the conversation with others and leaders. Write them and be matter of fact. If someone starts a conversation about their doubts over global warming, say “that train has left the station, we need to talk about what to do about it.” If they insist, say “97% of scientists believe it to be so and only 26% of Republican Congresspeople. I choose to believe the 97% of scientists.” My advice is to not to debate the obvious, but discuss what to do about it. It will change the tenor of the conversation to be action-oriented.

And, that is precisely what is needed – action. We really do not have any time or resources to waste. Happy Earth Day.

Religious Support for the Environment (a revisit)

The following post was written about six years ago after the Sierra Club meeting which hosted the religious leaders. It should be noted it preceded a similar panel which included a Baptist and Hindu religious leaders at an Interfaith Council meeting.

A Catholic Nun, a Muslim Imam and a Jewish Rabbi walked into a room. Per the Rabbi, there is no punch line as this is not a joke, as all three came to discuss how their religions support treating the environment well. The discussion was called “Interfaith Perspective on Caring for the Planet.” After viewing a movie called “Stewardship and Lost Rivers,” co-produced by two professors at University of North Carolina at Charlotte, which featured numerous religious leaders of various faiths, it is very apparent that each religion supports doing something about man-influenced climate change and treating our environment well for our children and grandchildren’s sake. In fact, Pope Francis will be publishing a position paper that says these very things later this summer, in advance of the next United Nations global meeting in Paris on doing something about climate change.

The Catholic Nun, who is one of 25 Climate Action leaders in the US Catholic Church, was keen on equating poverty and maltreatment of the environment. She noted that people in poverty are more impacted than others due to the placement of environmentally harmful energy sources nearer poor neighborhoods and the inability to easily pick up and move or seek medical help for illnesses perpetuated by pollution and energy waste product. Also, climate change seems to hit impoverished low-lying areas with sea rise and encroachment into farm land and fresh water supplies. In fact, one of the co-producers of “Stewardship and Lost Rivers” who was present used the term “eco-racism” to define the inordinate onus placed on the impoverished.

Yet, each religious leader echoed what was noted in the film regarding the wishes of God, Allah or a supreme being to treat the environment well for future generations. The Rabbi told the story of a man who was planting a tree that would not bear fruit for 75 years. When he failed to attend a meeting with a potential Messiah, he said he needed to finish planting this tree, as a tree bearing fruit was here when he came along and, irrespective of whether this is the Messiah, people will need the fruit from the tree. This is echoed in Deuteronomy where God tells the armies if they must wage war, to avoid cutting down the fig trees, as people will need to eat regardless of who wins.

Each religious leader discussed our need to be good stewards with our resources, in particular, water which is important in all religions symbolically and spiritually, but as well as to survive. I spoke with the Imam afterwards, and he noted because water is so dear in the Middle East, Muslims can use sand instead of water in their prayers. We discussed in Steven Solomon’s book “Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power and Civilization,” Solomon notes that Saudi Arabia is oil rich and water poor, which will cause huge problems in the not-so-distant future. Sounds like Texas, Oklahoma and California to me.

This topic resonated with me, especially when poverty and the environment were linked. We must do something about man-influenced climate change and its impact on the world. We need to treat our resources of air and water as dear as they are and will become in the future. As noted in the movie, there is no “Planet B,” as this is the only chance we get. We cannot rewind and change what we have done, but we can alter the future course. It is great to see religious leaders, like the Pope and these three folks, embrace the need to act to address our environmental concerns and poverty, as well. We should follow the instructions in our religious texts and join them.

An added thought, now six years later, we are making progress, but there is far more that is needed. Solar, wind and tidal energy continue to get more economical and are we must step up other efforts to reduce our carbon and methane footprints and take more carbon out of the air. There is an excellent documentary called “Ice on Fire” which is worth the watch as it speaks to these two sets of issues. Then there is that plastic waste thing….

Time for the adult swim – just a quick dip

We need more rational adults to tell people in leadership and legislative positions to “get out of the pool, it is time for the adult swim.” The message is simple – “you folks are too worried about keeping your job, than to do your job.” The lobbyists pay a lot of money to get these funded drones to look the other way or do their bidding.

So, with the more rational adults in charge, no more Q conspiracies, no more pretending climate change is not a problem, plastic in the ocean the size of Texas is not a problem, poverty and hunger are not problems, gun violence is not a problem, debt is not a problem, racial bias is not a problem, the lack of civility is not a problem, etc.

Finally, if the people in leadership positions start to focus on the multiple causes of real problems and actually use data and science to discuss solutions, then those biased talking heads with audiences will be forced to discuss these matters as well. Frankly, it is highly disappointing and embarrassing to witness how often these talking heads intentionally or accidentally misinform people.

Just a few thoughts from the cheap seats

When I was in college in Atlanta, the major league baseball team was in one of its ebb periods, where victories were less frequent than losses. Being a college student, we could get a $10 ticket to that night’s game and sit up in the right field bleachers. Yes, $10. Of course, we got what we paid for from these cheap seats, but two big beers later, the game got more entertaining, at least for us.

The cheap seats offer you a distant view of things, so please keep this vantage point in mind, as you review these thoughts.

  • If a politician has to tell you he or she is not a racist, ignore him or her. He or she is a racist. Senator Ron Johnson, who is not known for truthfulness, said he felt safe during the riots at the Capitol, but would have felt less so with a BLM crowd. This is beyond dog whistle racism and overlooks the fact, the BLM movement is multi-racial and largely peaceful.
  • If a politician has to modify an inane comment with two inane parts to it, eliminating only one of the inane parts, does that not mean they are doubling down on the other inane part? Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene has amended her conspiracy parroted statement that Jews are using space lasers to cause wildfires, by eliminating the slight on Jews. OK. Space lasers? And, you are in Congress?
  • If a politician has to film a commercial saying “I am not a witch,” she has already lost. In 2010, Tea Party proponent Christine O’Donnell defeated much better candidates in a primary for the Delaware Senate seat. It was reported that she had made earlier claims of being a witch. This story blew up her candidacy, leading to said commercial. She lost the Senate race in a big way. Given the previous story, she might have won in 2020.
  • If a politician or celebrity is known for womanizing and womanizes again, he is more than likely guilty as charged relative to someone who may have strayed once. That does not make the latter person innocent, but one does need to consider a person’s history. Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, Jeffrey Epstein, Roger Ailes, Charlie Rose, Bill O’Reilly, Gary Hart, Prince Andrew, et al, are well-known for thinking with the organ below their belts. When someone has dozens of people with whom his philandering or worse occurred, then that sets a precedent. Andrew Cuomo looks like he might fit the bill.

That is enough from the cheap seats. What are your thoughts?

Ice on Fire – a reprise

Note, the following post was written two years ago, but still serves as a reminder of the progress we have made and need to make to address our climate change problem.

I encourage people to watch the excellent HBO documentary called “Ice on Fire” on concerns over climate change and remedial actions underway that should and can be leveraged. The documentary is produced and narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio, but the most impactful voices are the scientists, inventors and trendsetters who are seeing dividends from their actions and investments.

To sum up, we have two major problems facing us – too much carbon in the air along with a growing concern over methane as it is released from beneath melting ice caps and frozen tundra, on top of the venting from natural gas sites. The title comes from researchers lighting methane leaks on fire as it is released from melting ice covered waters. The scientists note with data that it is quite clear man is causing the hastened uptick in temperatures as we leave our carbon fingerprints in the atmosphere.

These are major concerns, but we are not sitting still. Significant efforts are underway. They can be categorized as putting less carbon in the air and capturing more carbon from the air. To avoid a novel, I will touch on some of the ideas, but please do deeper dives and watch the documentary airing now.

Stop putting carbon in the air

We must hasten the move to renewable energy. The costs are more on par and less, in some cases, than fossil fuel energy production. Wind and solar energy are growing at accelerated rates. One CEO noted, the technology is here to make this happen even more than it already is. Here in the US, California gets 25% of its electricity from solar and Texas gets 16% of its electricity from wind energy.

Yet, a very promising start-up off Scotland is tapping tidal energy. There is a company producing electricity today with an offshore platform with two turbines turned by the tides to generate electricity. I have written before about this group as they use existing technologies to harness the sea. Their success is gaining notoriety around the world, as it appears to be replicable.

Two other ideas also help with both recapture and restricting release. The first is reusing depleting biowaste (such as dying trees, plants and compost) in the soils to grow crops and future trees and foliage. The biowaste holds water better, maintains top soil and is straight out of nature’s guidebook.

The other is growing more kelp offshore as it captures carbon like sequoia trees and can also be used as a food source for livestock. Feeding cattle kelp is not a new approach. Feeding cattle is important as it greatly reduces the gases released by animals and preserves more carbon capturing grassland.

Capture more carbon from the air

The documentary spells out several natural ways to capture carbon and a few technological ways. On the former, here are a few ideas:

Maintain forests, especially those with large sequoias, which are huge carbon eaters. There are several places that are nurturing huge forests, but they note we need more of these efforts. We need to be mindful to replace what we cut, but keep some protected forests off limits to cutting.

Another example is to replenish mangroves that offer buffers to oceans. In addition to offering protection against storms, they also are natural born carbon eaters.

Another effort is to grow more urban farms. These farms are usually more organic, but in addition to absorbing carbon in urban areas, they perpetuate a farm to table concept that reduces transportation fumes. Reducing auto fumes is a huge concern of cities around the globe.

The next idea is more compex, but it requires the growing of more shells in the ocean. The dusts off the shells creates “ocean snow” that settles to the bottom and absorbs carbon. The idea is to spread a very small amount of iron in the ocean to cause more shells to grow.

The more technological solutions are designed to pull carbon out of the air. There are two approaches – one is to extract carbon and store it safely underground. The other is to pull it out and reuse it through artificial photosynthesis. Both of these options need more description than I am giving them. I prefer the more natural ways, but all of the above, is a necessary strategy at this late hour.

The scientists have concerns, but they do offer hope. The uncertainty of the ice-covered methane release gives them pause. They did note the methane release from accidental leaks from fossil fuel is visible from space and reduceable with some effort.

Another concern is the well-funded activity behind climate change deniers. A Wyoming rancher scientist standing in front of a visible, leaky methane cap said it plainly – they know this stuffs hurts kids more than adults. If someone came into my home to hurt my kids, it would be over my dead body. So, why is it OK to allow this?

Another scientist was less colorful, but equally plainspoken. He said fossil fuel executives perpetuating climate change denial should be tried in The Hague for crimes against humanity. Yet, as the costs have declined, the profit of creating carbon is becoming less palatable than the profit of reducing carbon in the air. People need to know these market forces exist today and not stand for future unhealthy energy creation.

Finally, if you cannot convince a climate change denier that we have a problem, ask them a simple question – if costs were not an issue, would you rather your children and grandchildren breathe methane from vented natural gas or drink coal ash polluted water or have carbon and methane neutral solar, wind or tidal energy? Guess what – costs are not much of an issue anymore and, in an increasing number of cases, less for renewables.

The Frackers – the Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters (a reprise from 2014)

The following piece is a reprise from a post in 2014. It is important to read the concerns of six years ago about this industry. Fortunately, the renewable energy industry continues to make huge strides.

I recently completed a very interesting book written by Gregory Zuckerman, a Wall Street Journal reporter called “The Frackers – the Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters,” published by Portfolio/ Penguin Press in 2013. Zuckerman is also author of “The Greatest Trade Ever.” I highly recommend this book as it is as entertaining as it is informative, in multiple ways. It gives you a clearer picture of the risks and rewards of fracking, but also shows how hard it is to both glean the fossil fuel you are seeking and to be so highly leveraged in debt as you do.

The successful fracking companies, usually bucked the odds and the more measured risk takers in the larger companies who had much more capital to withstand some of the risk. As a result, even the ones who had success, usually failed before, after and sometimes during their success, due to the need to be land rich which came at a highly collaterized cost of debt. When some went public, they also had to contend with impatient shareholders. These wildcat developers made and lost huge sums of money, oftentimes with their egos getting in the way of knowing when to stop.

Zuckerman does an excellent job of telling the story of people like George Mitchell, who has been called the “father of shale fracking,” Aubrey McClendon, Tom Ward, Harold Hamm, Charif Souki, Robert Hauptfurher and Mark Papa, among countless others who were key to the success of gleaning natural gas and oil from places that were perceived too difficult to crack. He also defines why methods and strategies are so secretive, as companies will follow suit to leverage off your success. These men and their companies, Mitchell Energy, Oryx Energy, Chesapeake Energy, Continental Resources, Chenier Energy and EOG Resources, were truly the path finders in this process called fracking. They led the US to become more energy independent, yet in so doing, understated or overlooked the risks that came with those rewards.

As I read this entertaining book, I found myself convinced of a preconceived notion, that the main mission of these guys was to make a lot of money, as well as proving others wrong. Some even took delight that their hypothesis was true, even if they had not benefitted as greatly as the company that bought out their rights. Yet, what I also found this lust for money also was an Achilles Heel, and there seemed to be less consideration of what fracking was doing to the environment. They were more content to let the problems be handled by someone else and often belittled the complaints and complainers.

Zuckerman addresses these concerns from the frackers viewpoint earlier in the book, yet does devote an Afterword to the environmental risks that are real. But, before doing so, he notes that George Mitchell, late in life continued to buck convention. Per Zuckerman, Mitchell “gave millions to research clean energy even as he, along with his son and Joe Greenberg, invested in a new shale formation in Canada.” But the quote that interests me most, is by Mitchell who responds to those who contend how safe fracking is:

“Fracking can be handled if they watch and patrol the wildcat guys. They don’t give a damn about anything; the industry has to band together to stop isolated incidents.”

This dovetails nicely with a well-worn phrase I gleaned early on. Even if fracking were safe, it is only as safe as its worst operator. Mitchell, the father of fracking is more than acknowledging the bad operators. His son Todd, who was also in business with his father, said “his father’s work will have had a negative impact on the world if it forestalls progress on renewable energy, instead of giving innovators time to improve wind, solar and other cleaner energy sources.”

Let me close with an even-handed quote from Zuckerman, which frames the issue, yet also notes a caution. He answers the question “Is fracking as bad as activists say, and what will its impact be as drillers continue to pursue energy from shale and other rock formations?” His conclusion is as follows:

“The short answer: Fracking has created less harm than the most vociferous critics claim, but more damage than the energy industry contends. And, it may be years before the full consequences of the drilling and fracking are clear.”

With my reading I would agree with both of these sentences, yet not place the fulcrum in the middle of the scale. I would be more on the side of vociferous critics as the evidence continues to mount and as non-industry scientists are revealing issues. The massive water usage, the seepage of the poisonous slickwater fracking fluid into the environment, the particles that are blasted into the atmosphere which are causing breathing difficulty, and the degradation to the surrounding environment just to get vehicles and equipment into frack are compelling arguments by themselves.

But, the great caution in his last sentence is where we need to focus. “And, it may be years before the full consequences of the drilling and fracking are clear.”This is the bane of any environmental group fighting for people and the environment. Oftentimes, it takes years for the true damage to be seen and felt. Some show up in shorter order, yet when the companies making the money do not want to stop a mission, they can afford to fight people who cannot clearly make a connection. The developers want to settle with each complaint at minimal outlay and move on. Unfortunately, the people exposed to the problem, remain in harm’s way.

The Precautionary Principle – revisiting a relevant post from 2012

We are at a crossroads in our country and on our planet. We must all become better stewards with the environment and address these issues today and in the future. The business side of energy retrieval and production along side the development of mass-produced products made out of or enhanced by petro-chemicals have placed our planet in a precarious position. For the longest time, these industries have been able to delay addressing issues citing the data is not conclusive or shows causality. Proof or true causality oftentimes takes thirty years or more. In the interim, the data can show a high correlation that an activity is leading to a problem. For those who did not take statistics, correlation means things rise and fall together.

In the US, we place the burden of proof on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and like agencies who govern other areas of commerce. Other countries have a variation of the EPA.  In some countries that burden resides with the developer to show that something is not toxic or harmful to others. Several scientists and concerned citizens got together at Wingspread in Canada to discuss these issues. One of the tenets of that meeting can be summed up by a statement made by Bradford Hill, a medical statistician and inventor of the randomized clinical trial, back in 1965:

“All scientific work is incomplete – whether it be observational or experimental. All scientific work is liable to be upset or modified by advancing knowledge. That does not confer upon us a freedom to ignore the knowledge we already have or postpone the action that it appears to demand at a given time.”

In short, we should not wait to do something later if the evidence is telling us something is amiss now. With toxic chemicals, for example, if you wait to fully prove something is bad, the damage is already done. Especially when you are dealing with children who are still developing and breathe in more than adults.

The group at Wingspread developed the following Precautionary Principle

“When an activity raises threat of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context, the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof.”

“The process of applying the Precautionary Principle must be open, informed and democratic and must include potentially affected parties. It must also involve an examination of the full range of alternatives, including no action,” noted Dr. Sandra Steingraber in her book “Living Downstream – An Ecologist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment.” In this book and her second book called “Raising Elijah” she notes industry has tended to stiff arm science to continue to conduct practices that are harmful to the environment and people. The democratic process she references is hard to conduct, when so much money is at stake.

If I have not scared you enough, I am reading a book now called “Water – The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power and Civilization” by Steven Solomon. If you like history, you will love this book. I have not finished it, so I don’t know the ultimate punch line. Yet, through history it has been shown that great civilizations have risen and fallen by their ability to manage the water and sewage supply. The data he has shown thus far is very compelling. Water is our dearest resource next to air. Without either, we cannot survive on this planet. If we do not protect what is happening to either we are destined to fail as country, planet and people.

I use fracking as a good case in point. The data is highly correlated that fracking leads to toxins in the water and air of the surrounding area. Yet, I believe and have said this in letters to the editor and to politicians, set that aside for now. Fracking takes a huge amount of water out of the water supply and it cannot go back as it is poisoned with the fracking chemicals. We can ill-afford to waste our water on this environmentally destroying  retrieval process. Water is very dear and the droughts and fights over water supply will continue to show this. The developers say the same things they have said for years on other issues – you cannot prove there is a causal relationship between fracking and the toxins. Yet, we can prove you are taking a lot of drinking, bathing and sewage water away from people. And, the data is very compelling on the toxins as well.

This brings us back to the Precautionary Principle. We should reverse the equation. OK, Mr. Developer, since you want to make a ton of money and pay off people to frack beneath their land, YOU prove that fracking is NOT toxic to people or environment before you dig one hole. You prove that this is the best use of our dear water supply. And, you keep testing after you start digging. I have known many developers in my day and the last thing they want to do is hold off on doing something. They want to make their money and leave the problems for someone else. If we reverse the equation, they will have to do more homework beforehand and throughout. That is a good thing.

The dilemma we face as a planet is there is a lot of money to be had in developing energy and chemical products from fossil fuels. As a result, the industry supports a lot of politicians with a lot of money and lobbying efforts. Yet, we must diminish our reliance on fossil fuels, we must understand the impact of petro-chemicals on our environment and people and we must put the burden of proof that an activity is not harmful on the purveyor of that activity beforehand and throughout. In the meantime, if anyone says we should do away with the EPA, for you, me and our children, tell them that is the dumbest idea you have ever heard and would be poor stewardship of our planet. Please help advocate the Precautionary Principle as well.