When I read a News-Review editorial a few weeks back about the proposed Pacific Connector liquified natural gas pipeline, I recalled a historic article which came out last summer.
“Justin Bieber: Hot, Ready, Legal,” read the cover of Rolling Stone in July 2012, the pop star’s image gazing up with a surly expression. But next to Bieber’s wavy hair was another headline: “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” it said. The latter article changed my life. And if more people read it, it would change the discussion about the Pacific Connector.
“New Math” focuses on three numbers, two of which were revised recently by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The first, 2 degrees Celsius, is the greatest amount of global warming which humanity can “safely” allow. We’ve already warmed the world about 1 degree, and that’s brought a doubling in wildfires (many of which burned in Douglas County this year) among many other problems.
But if we exceed 2 degrees, scientists like Columbia University’s James Hansen tell us that this century will bring unimaginable disasters: Greenland and Antarctica will collapse, sea level will rise by up to 20 feet, and large portions of America will turn into a permanent dust bowl.
At the Copenhagen Climate Conference in December 2009, a few months after Douglas County approved the Pacific Connector to import natural gas, governments representing 87 percent of the world’s population formally recognized 2 degrees as the point of no return for global warming.
The second, 269 billion tons, is the most carbon dioxide (the stuff that comes out of your tailpipe when you burn gasoline) that we can dump into the sky without blowing past 2 degrees.
Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists — from NASA to Stanford and everywhere in between — say that carbon emissions are the main culprit for climate change. And that we can’t stop global warming without stopping such emissions.
But the third, 3 trillion tons, is the amount of carbon locked in the world’s fossil fuel reserves.
If you’re not a math major, I’ll break it down for you: We can only use 10 percent of the oil, coal and natural gas in the world without flooding Bangladesh, New York and the Oregon Coast. And as James Hansen puts it, burning the entirety of those reserves would “make most of the planet uninhabitable by humans.”
Some say gas is cleaner than coal and oil, often referring to it as a “bridge fuel” to a world powered mostly by solar and wind. But natural gas is itself a very potent global-warming pollutant.
And research from Cornell University suggests that leakage from drilling renders gas the worst fuel on earth in terms of climate change. That’s not stopping the oil and gas industry, though, as a new method called “fracking” has unlocked up to 2,170 trillion cubic feet of gas in the U.S. alone — enough to fill more than 42 percent of the world’s 269 billion ton carbon budget (even without leakage).
Nor is it stopping President Obama, who’s essentially cheered this expansion from the sidelines. “We will promote ... gas for electricity production and encourage the development of a global market for gas,” said his administration this June.
And that’s where the story becomes local.
To sell the gas flowing unchecked from American soil, Williams Company and Veresen Energy Inc. have proposed the billion-cubic-foot-a-day Pacific Connector gas pipeline from a hub in Malin to a liquefaction plant in Coos Bay. Before the international community recognized 2 degrees as the limit for climate change, and before much of America’s natural gas boom, the companies secured a permit from Douglas County to build the pipeline to import gas. Now, though, they’re asking the county to modify that permit to allow for export of the fuel.
The Pacific Connector’s construction would require the government to forcibly seize private land in Douglas County, an exercise of power that should obviously be reserved for cases when it serves the greater good. But the Pacific Connector wouldn’t serve the greater good. On the contrary, it would open a spigot for the most dangerous fuel in the world.
Indeed, a News-Review editorial from a few weeks back suggested that state and federal agencies, not local governments, should dictate national energy policy. It would be improper, continued the editorial, for planning commissioners to block the pipeline unless they “find a compelling reason why they were wrong in 2009.” But our federal government has been unwilling to block natural gas development, leaving it to local authorities to do so. And if the consensus of 97 percent of scientists and every respected government on earth (even those promoting natural gas) that we need to keep 90 percent of fossil fuels underground isn’t a “compelling reason,” I don’t know what is.
Alex Loznak is a 16-year-old junior at Roseburg High School who lives on a farm near Elkton. He’s a member of The News-Review’s Truth of Youth panel and the Douglas County Global Warming Coalition. He can be reached at email@example.com.