One has to grudgingly admire the sheer chutzpah of some of the fossil fuel propagandists who pen their swill in The Wall Street Journal But then since the Journal itself has a history of peddling such bunkum for its (majority) FOX indulging readers - with a yen for fake news over the real - this is understandable.
In one of the most recent (June 17) iterations,
"Fossil fuels are lifting billions of people out of poverty and in turn improving health"
Well, not really. We learn, for example, that recurrent oil spills in the Niger Delta - and this is just one of the places adversely affected by spills- are now linked with infant deaths. According to The UK Guardian (Nov. 6, 2017):
"Babies in Nigeria are twice as likely to die in the first month of life if their mothers were living near an oil spill before falling pregnant, researchers have found. A new study, the first to link environmental pollution with newborn and child mortality rates in the Niger Delta, shows that oil spills occurring within 10km of a mother’s place of residence doubled neonatal mortality rates and impaired the health of her surviving children.....Regular, uncontrolled spills have been a prominent feature of Nigeria’s oil industry – the nation’s primary source of GDP – since crude was discovered there more than 60 years ago. An estimated 240,000 barrels of crude oil are spilled in the Niger Delta every year, polluting waterways, contaminating crops, and releasing toxic chemicals into the air."
That doesn't sound like a health benefit to me, neither does the prevalence of spills sound like a benefit. And we haven't even begun to list all the spills, contamination of air, soil and water in the fracking states. As per a Denver Post expose from May, 2014, we learned that "716,982 gallons of petroleum chemicals spilled during the past decade have stayed in the ground after the initial cleanup. This has contaminated soil, sometimes spreading into groundwater."
According to the Post (ibid.):
“There's about one gallon of toxic liquid penetrating soil every eight minutes.”
In addition, the Post noted: “drillers churn up 135 to 500 tons of dirt with every new well, some of it soaked with hydrocarbons and laced with potentially toxic minerals and salts.”
Given this, is it any wonder thousands of adults – kids living near frack sites often have severe health complaints, ranging from horrific rashes to bleeding orifices to breathing problems? According to Eugene Kelly, chief of soil and crop science at
“The overall impact of the oil and gas boom is like a death sentence for soil. It could be the next limiting component when we talk about feeding the planet and having a sustainable lifestyle- - because all the good stuff is gone and the soil is being degraded.”
“State data also show that 12.3 percent of the past 1,000 spills (since June 24, 2012) already had contaminated groundwater before companies began cleanups.”
So much for that fossil fuel fantasy! Then there is the newly reported connection to melting permafrost bearing thousands of tons of mercury trapped within. We know - as the frozen soil thaws- this "will have a significant effect on the global mercury cycle", e.g.
"deduced that permafrost regions contain a total of 1700 ± 1000 kilotons of mercury, which is around twice as much as all other soils, the ocean, and the atmosphere combined. About half of that mercury is in the permafrost itself, the subsurface soil that stays frozen year round; the other half is in the overlying active layer, which freezes and thaws seasonally."
The melting of the frozen soils (from continued fossil fuel use) will not deliver a "benefit" but massive added, downstream health costs. As the PT report notes, the frozen soils are thawing and as much as 99% of Arctic permafrost could be gone by the end of the century. How much harm the released mercury inflicts on humans and wildlife will depend on the chemical forms the released Hg takes.. Elemental and ionic mercury are relatively benign compared but methyl mercury, the potent neurotoxin that accumulates in fish, isn't. Also, coal- fired plants are currently the main culprits in mercury emissions and its contamination of food produces serious health risks. (The mercuric ion is one of the strongest thiol-binding agents, and mercury absorbed into the human body attaches to thiol residues in proteins, making it difficult to eliminate from living organisms) One study published in Scientific Reports (May 9, 2017) found that 79 % of vegetable samples and 67 % of grain samples exceeded the safe levels for mercury contamination allowed by the Chinese agricultural authority. There is no reason similar contamination wouldn't be found in U.S. areas near coal-fired plants.
Another daft claim is that "fossil fuel emissions create additional benefits, contributing to the greening of the Earth" - citing a study that found "the global mass of land plants grew 31 % during the 20th century". Failing to note that most (~ 65%) of that mass is from hardy weeds,, such as pig weed and pig thistle that thrive on enhanced CO2 (cf. WSJ, June 4, 2010, p A16, 'Superweeds Trigger New Arms Race'; June 21, 2010, p. D1, 'Least Welcome Sign of Summer') . See e.g.
"The emergence of these super weeds, especially as threats to farm productivity have convinced many farmers they must resort to much more toxic weedicides to get the job done. That includes using such infamous carcinogenic agents as: 2, 4- D, dicamba and paraquat. But critics have warned given the uncontrolled factors afoot, such as ever increasing CO2 concentrations (now tipping at nearly 400 ppm) all that will happen is that even more super weeds will emerge, resistant to even those arch-herbicides. In the second story, attention is on the accelerative growth of poison ivy and the increased tribulations of people (mainly gardeners, but some hikers) coming in contact with its irritant chemical urushiol."
Pigweed - now growing as if on 'afterburners' with CO2 the fuel, These are the plants increasing "green land mass".
The growth of these super-weeds was brought home to us at the beginning of summer when we found three wildly sprouting pig thistle variants in our front (xeriscaped) yard. The weeds can't be just pulled up without growing back. Further, a neighbor's yard now features 4 of these nearly six feet in height. The experts we recruited to get rid of our green invaders insisted the only way was to use 2,4- D dicamba and advised us to remain inside while the spraying was done. Now, after two saturations, the pig thistle shows no sign of death, or even deterioration, Yeah, we ought to he thankful for the "increased mass of land plants". Not!
The authors, unable to stop themselves from spreading malarkey, then scribble:
"Further, if fossil fuels are responsible for significant warming during the 20th century, then they should also be credited with reducing deaths due to cold weather"
Failing to note such deaths are minimal compared to deaths from exceedingly hot weather, i.e. heat waves - which will increase in frequency and intensity as CO2 concentration ramps up.(As per a Brown University study). Most of the dreck that "cold kills more than heat" arose from a specious statistical study making use of an "optimum temperature" index for 384 cities around the globe that in fact introduced subjective selection effects, skewing the balance toward cold death. Also tossing the study into the research dumpster is the fact that it ignored the most heat wave prone regions, i.e. no countries from the Middle East or Africa were represented.
Anyone who's ever taken a statistics course- or used it in serious research - would have concluded this purported CDC study is next to useless and certainly not to be invoked as any kind of serious fact claiming fossil fuel benefits. After all, the entire globe is affected by CO2 increase from fossil fuel burning, not just the subset of cities for this study!
The WSJ authors are correct that fossil fuels enable most of us (at least in the developed West) to get on in a "high energy civilization based on fossil fuels". But this dire condition has manifested because of our very inability to control our global population and dependence on high energy industrial (and massively polluting) processes. As long as the nature of our societies continues to be energy intensive, i.e. invested in high entropy, concentrated energy use (including for continual weapons development), then we will be playing 'catch up' in terms of alternatives able to fill the normal energy use gap. This is something I've addressed before in a number of posts since 2010.
According to The Physicist's Desk Reference (Table C, p. 187, Energy Generation by Type) the projections for the most energy-intense uses (aggressive consumption category, I) for all forms of solar, geothermal and wind add up to only 6 exajoules (EJ) by 2020. This compares to 24 EJ for oil (including kerogen), 16 for coal, 9 for natural gas and 6 for nuclear. Thus, ALL the usual "green" alternatives" are projected to barely add up to what nuclear will deliver on its own, and we've already shunned nuclear though we shouldn't have if the intention was to retain some basis for higher energy consumption, see e.g.
Hence, to realistically phase out fossil fuels we need to not only restrict and curb their use but also add nuclear into the "bridge" source mix - preferably enough to eventually trump natural gas as well. (Which releases methane, another greenhouse gas, into the environment).
Meanwhile, exacerbating the problem of finding and implementing adequate (aggressive consumption) fuel -energy sources is the continually increasing population. Global energy consumption rose from barely 21 EJ in 1900, to 318 EJ in 1988, to close to 435 EJ today. Solar, geothermal + wind by the end of this year, will therefore have contributed only a minuscule fraction.
But this is exactly why the rate of increase in global population per year needs to be reduced if we're able to get ahead in the energy consumption game! In other words, the added total alternative energy benefit is exactly lost because we added an extra percentage of humans to consume the benefit! This is why the economists proposing increased global population to enhance GDP are shooting themselves in the foot.
This is why Albert Bartlett, University of Colorado physicist, has noted that "people who believe in the continual possibility of growth are the modern day equivalent of the flat earthers". The reason is that the flat Earth of yore would have extended infinitely in all directions - thereby providing the means for unlimited resources, energy - and space to grow. But our actual planet is spherical, hence finite in volume and self limiting. No indefinite growth is possible on a small, spherical world nor do we have the latitude to pollute it with abandon - including pumping CO2 into the atmosphere with fossil fuel burning.
Bast and Ferrara conclude their propaganda piece by claiming advocates of alternative energy sources "omit or diminish many of these fossil fuel benefits when calculating fossil fuels' social cost"
Actually, we are keenly aware of only one "benefit"; Fossil fuels are indeed needed - given our lack of foresight and planning (including population control) , to sustain (for the time being) an anomalous civilization much too energy intense for its size and scale. As Jay Hanson (www.dieoff.org) pointedly notes:
“The fact that our society can‘t survive on alternative energy should come as no surprise, because only an idiot would believe that windmills and solar panels can run bulldozers, elevators, steel mills, glass factories, electric heat, air conditioning, aircraft, automobiles, etc., AND still have enough energy left over to support a corrupt political system, armies, etc."
Matt Savinar (Life After the Oil Crash) has shown that NONE of the alter-sources usually cited: from methane hydrates, from coal, from geothermal hot dry rock technology, from natural gas, from oil shales and tar sands, from secondary recovery of existing oil fields, and so on- will do squat to totally replace the energy now being consumed for our entire infrastructure, from powering a military-industrial complex with umpteen bombers, and now missile defense, plus more tanks for occupations and wars, not to mention sustaining growth in industries, new computers, maintaining the electrical power grid and building new nuclear reactors.
Given this losing energy -growth wicket. it is only a matter of time before reality sets in. At that point the game, the jig, will indeed be up. Hanson, in his original blogs for his website, forecast a mass die off, similar to what befell the Easter Islanders - who also didn't learn to limit their numbers, e.g.
Will we? Supposedly the smartest species in the cosmos? Time will tell, but if we don't shape up, as opposed to being blinded by propaganda, the judgment of nature will be remorseless.