David Letterman Takes on Fracking

“If a dumb guy like me understands that things are not the way they were 30 years ago, you would think that dumb guys all over the country would understand that.”
David Letterman putting climate change into perspective

Last week, the King of Late Night signed off for the last time. Don’t get me wrong: I loved Johnny Carson. I even tolerated Jay Leno. But for me, nobody was better than Dave.

I started watching his ill-fated morning show as a teenager back in 1980. Awesome TV show, but wrong target audience. Two years later, he was exactly where he belonged: “Late Night with David Letterman” was on right after “The Tonight Show.” A much grittier and edgier talk show, it appealed to a younger demographic who wanted to see people and pets do stupid tricks, and find out what happens when you drive a steam roller over cans of soda or microwave ovens. It’s now thirty three years later and late night television television has never been the same.

I actually got to see a taping of his show once back in 1994 after he’d already made the move to CBS. I even had a ticket to see another taping this past December, what would have been the last time for me to see him in his element. But alas, Old Man Winter decided to make sure my flight was cancelled due to bad weather. (Darn you global warming and the way you worsen snow storms on the eastern seaboard!)

So please indulge me as I show you a clip of my television hero and his take on fracking. Dave starts out by saying he doesn’t know much about it—and then proceeds to contradict himself completely by describing much more than what the average citizen understands. And in his inimitable style, he still manages to make you laugh while describing something truly awful. Enjoy.

The Simpsons Take On Fracking

“Hydraulic fracturing creates jobs.”
Homer Simpson

You know if a subject makes it to “The Simpsons,” it’s a part of the zeitgeist. This past Sunday, the long-running TV show tackled fracking, touted by many as the “bridge to the future!” It’s true that molecule for molecule, natural gas (also known as methane) generates less carbon dioxide than either coal or oil. But fracking—more properly referred to as hydraulic fracturing—is a means to obtain sources of methane found in shale by injecting various materials under high pressure deep underground causing small fractures which can release trapped methane in the process.

But many dispute the benefits of fracking. It can contaminate water sources underground and pollute air, and of course if methane escapes while it’s being obtained then it can contribute to global warming even more than carbon dioxide does because it’s a much more potent greenhouse gas.

But no one can argue that fracking has an economic role to play. Using our planet’s resources generates revenue, regardless of what it does to our atmosphere or the environment. And if you don’t believe me, perhaps a more important pop icon can convince you of the merits of making money off our planet.

I give you Homer Simpson.

Since When Did Politicians Start Listening to the People?

“It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”
—Sir Winston Churchill

Imagine that: elected officials following the desires of their elected constituents instead of bowing to big corporate lobbyists. But clearly it happens on occasion: the province of Nova Scotia is going to introduce legislation that will ban fracking, this according to their Energy Minister Andrew Younger. As he put it, the Nova Scotian public has “overwhelmingly expressed concern” about fracking, and that government leaders “need to respect that. We need to respect the trust the people have put in us.”

The ban has the potential to be lifted if certain communities ever express an interest in fracking, but unless that happens the will of the people will win out. It only applies to onshore fracking for shale gas, not to any offshore gas production. But Nova Scotia has a lot of onshore fracking potential because it contains the Horton Bluff Shale with an estimated 3.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas available.

So how did this unbelievable bit of democracy happen? An independent review panel spent a total of six months looking into fracking and advised that it shouldn’t happen in Nova Scotia without more research into its impact on health, the environment and the economy. But Younger stated that numerous letters from concerned citizens also helped. (Who’d of thought?) As he put it: Continue reading

How Risky is Fracking?

We came by fossil fuels as a species honestly. Coal, oil and natural gas were easy sources of energy and easily accessed by mining and drilling. But things are different now. Not only have we learned that burning fossil fuels has steadily added greenhouse gases to our atmosphere over centuries—warming our planet and changing our climate in the process—but those fossil fuels we’re so addicted to aren’t as easy to access anymore. We cut off the tops of mountains for coal, drill offshore or cut up ancient Boreal forests in Alberta oil, and seek natural gas in shale deposits through fracking. Riskier and more costly as these efforts are, it’s truly only a matter of time before renewable energy will cost less than fossil fuels, making economic sense as well as environmental sense.

But fracking is touted by many as the solution we should seek as a compromise to keep using fossil fuels while generating less emissions at the same time. It is indeed true that molecule for molecule, natural gas or methane generates less carbon dioxide than either coal or oil. Fracking (more properly referred to as hydraulic fracturing) is a means to obtain sources of methane found in shale by injecting various materials under high pressure deep under ground causing small fractures which can release the trapped natural gas in the process.

But many have debated the benefits of fracking. A recent paper published in Toxicological Sciences outlines how toxicological sciences can help determine what the risks might (or might not) be from fracking. Continue reading

France Goes Green: First a Ban on Fracking, Now a Carbon Tax

“The low carbon economy is at the leading edge of a structural shift now taking place globally.”
William Hague

Last week the French Parliament adopted its budget for next year. And guess what: it includes a carbon tax covering emissions from gasoline, heating oil and coal. The funds generated from this tax—estimated to be about $5.5 billion annually—will be put to good use by increasing renewable energy and will provide tax breaks for both wind and solar power industries.

Carbon pollution will be taxed at a gradual rate, first starting at seven euros (about ten dollars) per tonne emitted during 2014, then rising to 14.5 euros (about twenty dollars) in 2015, and then up to 22 euros (about thirty dollars) in 2016. These measures are part of a larger strategy to reduce emissions in the country. Just two months ago, France put a complete ban on all fracking, cancelling all exploration permits. President Francois Hallande intends to reduce France’s use of fossil fuels by thirty percent by the year 2030 and by 50 percent by 2050. Continue reading