Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Fracking geopolitical foundations

What to make of the findings in the recent International Energy Agency report that the US will become the largest energy producer in the world in 5 years? As Kelly McParland suggests, at once it completely rearranges the global power structure.

Leaving aside for others the fairly important question of "is it true?", since I'm ill-equipped to fact-check the IEA and NYT on this, I feel like this kind of solidifies the timeline we're working with before the planet becomes too disastrously hot. We don't have to worry about "peak oil" ever again, but thanks to environmentally-problematic hydraulic fracturing, we now we have to worry that "no more than one-third of already proven reserves of fossil fuels can be burned by 2050 if the world is to prevent global warming exceeding the danger point of 2C".

So, ok, we have a target date about 40 years in the future - is that enough time to prevent the worst effects of global warming, and can we even do it? I'm inclined to believe we've passed a tipping point and the rise of the middle class in India, China and Brazil means we're going to have a really hard time stopping carbon emission increases for the foreseeable future - those nations are going to be legitimately angry to be denied the use of cheap fuel and plastics we've had for decades, because we used it all up - so we'd better get working on some good mitigation strategies.

Ultimately, I'm not that confident we're going to be able to mitigate our way out of the coming climactic disaster, so we're going to just have to adapt and suffer. We as a society will have to come to terms with the guilt unleashed by watching millions of people around the world die from the effects of the pollution we released into the atmosphere. If history is any guide, the people who suffer the most will most likely be poor, since the rich can afford to move away from unsafe coastlines and ensure a steady supply of fresh water. And the karmic injustice will be doubled, as those who pay the highest price will have been those who used the fewest resources.

That will hopefully turn out to be overly pessimistic, and if we're lucky, we'll make enough progress on mitigation strategies fast enough to avert the worst catastrophes. But if Sandy is going to keep happening to coastline after coastline, and we have more droughts like we had this summer (the worst in 25 years!), and the freaking coffee bean is going to be extinct soon - well, I don't know how much faith I have in engineers who aren't able to rely on the juice of nature's sweetest fruit.

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