James Hansen, the founder of modern climate change research, and his colleagues have released a new study on the impacts of climate change. This research shows that, at current levels of internationally agreed CO2 emissions, we only have a few decades left before sea levels rise multiple metres and sink coastal cities. Previous research had concluded it would take much longer.
The paper pulls together the latest research from across the sector and states that scientists have underestimated the pace of climate change. New studies and updated models (based on more robust information) show that we are moving much faster to catastrophe than thought.
This comes alongside the revelation that the fracking industry is having a larger impact on the climate than burning coal. Enough reports have now been published that make it clear the methane being released by “cleaner burning” hydraulic fractured natural gas is actually worse than the old coal-burning power plants.
Natural gas is an industry claiming to release less CO2 than coal when burned. The problem is that the main component of natural gas is methane which turns out to be 84 times worse than CO2 as it contributes to the greenhouse effect. Methane is responsible for 25 per cent of ongoing, human-caused climate change. It is not the burning of natural gas that is causing this, it is that the infrastructure carrying natural gas is extremely old and leaks happen at almost ever pipe connection. Fracking also allows a lot of methane to escape from fractured shale which never ends up in a pipeline in the first place.
While the economic impacts of fracturing have driven economic growth in some more economically depressed areas of the US, they have also pushed the price of oil down to unprecedented levels, impacting the global economy and encouraging people to consume even more oil.
On the broader economic front, oil companies have been going into heavy debt. This means that there is a lot of money being bet on future oil infrastructure projects to produce profits to keep these companies afloat. Capitalists that have their investments in these projects will put a lot of money into lobbying to stop any policy that would limit future extraction. Capitalism continues to put profit ahead of the health of the planet and those living on it.
The only way to deal with the climate change issue fast enough is for states to intervene in the energy markets. But, that can only happen if people out-mobilize industry lobbyists and force the government to clamp down on these dangerous initiatives and instead invest in alternatives to fossil fuels.