December 2016

Sifting & Winnowing

Volume 7, Number 4

by Audrey Newcomb

Étude de Mer             Claude Monet

The sea study in Monet’s 1881 painting has the same
mighty grandeur as oceans do now, except today’s
oceans are being modified by human-induced climate
change. The ice that covers Antarctica’s methane
gas is thinning. When it bursts, more frequent
and more severe storms, floods, and droughts
will be upon us. Melting Arctic permafrost (stored
frozen soil) acidifies oceans, harming phytoplankton,
and on up the marine food chain. Greenland’s
4-times-bigger-than-California ice sheet melt will
send sea levels up 20 feet.
The atmosphere and ocean have been absorbing
greenhouse gases at faster rates since fracking
began in 2005. Fracked gas and tar sands, the last
remnants of gas and oil, are the hardest and most
costly to extract. Industry knows about limited
amounts and limited time; it is also aware of the
“carbon bubble,” meaning the difference between
the values investors place on stocks and what the
stocks are actually worth. Investors back fossil fuel
reserves for short-term gains without addressing
long-term risks of fossil fuel emissions which
threaten the global economy. Industry wants to
prolong the bubble, which accounts for the rush to
frack everywhere before the bubble bursts.
Infrastructure buildup such as pipelines and liquid
natural gas export stations serve to add an aura of
permanence to short-term stocks to convince investors that fossil fuel investments are long-term.
That’s nonsense, of course, since these companies
have always been short-term operators that take
chances and over-borrow. If the new cabinet, almost
all climate change deniers with ties to fossil
fuels, proceed as planned, the bubble might be extended temporarily. But it is utter madness to gamble with the economy, the climate, and our lives.
Alternatively, we could increase the resilience of
global markets by what is called “bold-but-predictable
pacing,” in acting to promote renewable energy.
That would deflate the carbon bubble without
bursting it, thus avoiding both financial disaster
and ecological catastrophe. We already know what
is needed by taking advantage of plummeting solar
and wind technology costs, and switching to
sustainable approaches to farming, forestry, and
urban planning, for starters. A building boom creating
clean jobs would counteract the sending jobs overseas problem we continue to face. Whatever
we do or don’t do, the Earth will not die. It will
simply follow the laws of physics, as it always has.
However, if our actions cause the Earth to become
uninhabitable, then surviving on it can no longer be
considered a possibility.