Energy Independence Means Freedom from Fossil Fuels

Monday, August 26, 2013
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Where we should get our energy — domestically, by fracking in Santa Maria for instance, or by importing it from Canada versus from the Middle East — is a complicated and very real question; but those two choices are not the only ones available. In fact, neither is a good choice anymore, and both are based on 20th-century thinking that no longer cuts it in the world we live in today.

We can’t solve long-term problems with short-term solutions, especially when those solutions make the main problem worse. Fracking, for example, is not the panacea we are being sold: Serious issues exist with the extent of groundwater contamination (important studies are starting to come in) and with the amount of methane the process releases into the atmosphere, an unsolved technological obstacle at the moment. Why, then, are we rushing into it in the United States?

The same question should be asked of the dirty tar sand oil the proposed Keystone XL pipeline would bring from Canada to the Gulf Coast. Is it really about our national security? Or is it rather about exploiting land and people as quickly as possible by the one percenters who run the fossil fuel industry?

Are they going to be the “bridge” fuel to a low-carbon economy, or do they fatally delay what must be done to save us all? Do they really benefit the families and communities where they exist once all the costs to their health, safety, and sense of well-being are added up?

A powerful indictment of the industry and a smart guide to our “energy-economy-climate situation” is Richard Heinberg’s Snake Oil: How Fracking’s False Promise of Plenty Imperils Our Future. Heinberg concludes the book with the sentence: “Everything depends on recognizing the mirage for what it is, and getting on with the project of the century.” This book answers the question whether fracking should be allowed at all on the Central Coast or not. (Short answer: It shouldn’t.)

Surviving on a Warming Planet

Respect for climate science is required in this debate, and 99.99 percent of the people on this planet are better served by political and economic policies based on the science. The local chapter of is working to get the City of Santa Barbara to divest from fossil fuels and to stop fracking in Santa Barbara County (find us at Restoring Earth’s atmosphere to no more than 350 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide (CO2) is regarded as a safe planetary boundary for human life. Unfortunately, we passed 400 ppm in May.

Let’s “do the math,” as Bill McKibben, environmental hero and cofounder of this global climate justice organization, put it in the hot summer of 2012 (a year that turned out to be the hottest in the history of the United States). McKibben’s highly influential piece in Rolling Stone, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math: Three simple numbers that add up to global catastrophe — and that make clear who the real enemy is,” clearly outlines our predicament:

1) The science and all the world’s governments tell us that in order to avoid dangerous and likely catastrophic climate change by 2050, we must limit global warming to no more than 2° Celsius (about 3.6° Fahrenheit);

2) If we want to stay under a 2°C increase yet continue to plan to burn fossil fuels, we may burn roughly 565 gigatons of carbon dioxide;

3) About 2,795 gigatons is “the amount of carbon already contained in the proven coal and oil and gas reserves of the fossil-fuel companies, and the countries (think Venezuela or Kuwait) that act like fossil-fuel companies. In short, it’s the fossil fuel we’re currently planning to burn. And the key point is that this new number — 2,795 — is higher than 565. Five times higher.”

The inescapable conclusion is that 80 percent of the current reserves of all the fossil fuel companies and exporting countries in the world must stay in the ground (mind you, the scientific community reckons that 565 gigatons more carbon emissions gives us only an 80 percent chance of staying under 2 degrees. Question: Would you cross a busy street if you only had an 80 percent chance of making it across alive?).

What we need, if we are to survive our changing climate, is to do away with humanity’s dependence on fossil fuels altogether. True energy independence requires the rapid development and mass production of clean, safe, renewable energy sources. Nuclear is none of those. The horrific costs of George Bush’s cruel and immoral war for Iraqi oil is probably the plainest argument against a future tied to fossil fuels.

Just as the U.S. reoriented its world-leading auto industry to defeat fascism during WWII, we can do the same thing to fight climate change, a far worthier cause than our current war on terror. It’s all the more reason to consider whether our national security would be better served by spending a lot less on the quest for “full spectrum” military dominance and a lot more on a new energy and transportation infrastructure.

And when it comes to jobs, the good news is that clean energy makes the better investment: It creates more jobs than the same amount spent on fossil fuels, it is better for our health and way better for the climate, and this means in turn well-being and a better life for our children and our children’s children. It’s high time that we discard the outmoded paradigm in which economic growth prevails at all costs over the environment (and always pits them against each other in a crisis) and embrace instead the new, more positive and inspiring paradigm of “Prosperity Without Growth” advocated by British climate visionary Tim Jackson.

More Is Not Better

Behind “Prosperity Without Growth” is the idea that we are destroying our planet with a suicidal system that encourages “people to buy things they don’t need, with money they don’t have, to impress people they don’t like,” as Australian environmental activist and scholar Clive Hamilton put it. Contrary to what we are led to believe in this culture, prosperity and happiness are not well correlated with gross national product or carbon footprint. (If they were, we would be more prosperous and happier than we are.) Yet we have the potential to achieve these intangible goods by changing the aims and rules of the game.

And it is doable, even with the rigged game we are all forced to play now. Christian Parenti’s recent piece in Dissent Magazine “A Radical Approach to the Climate Crisis” soberly discusses the true nature of our climate predicament, and an innovative and practicable plan for moving quickly toward a better, greener future. His “Big Green Buy” concept starts from the fact that:

“[F]ederal, state, and local government constitute more than 38 percent of our GDP. In more concrete terms, Uncle Sam owns or leases more than 430,000 buildings (mostly large office buildings) and 650,000 vehicles. (Add state and local government activity, and all those numbers grow by about a third again.) The federal government is the world’s largest consumer of energy and vehicles, and the nation’s largest greenhouse gas emitter … .”

Parenti goes on to point out that Executive Order 13514, which Obama signed in 2009, directed all federal agencies basically to get greener and told federal agencies immediately to start purchasing 95 percent of its goods and services through green-certified programs and achieve a 28 percent greenhouse gas reduction by 2020.

Now, how do we get the government to implement its own order, when we know that Washington has been captured by our real enemy — the fossil-fuel industry? Parenti passes the baton to us at this point: “Far be it from me to say exactly how such movements should be built, other than the way they always have been: by trial and error and with good leadership.” I know of only one sure way: stepping up to the challenge of fighting the defining problem of the 21st century and building the greatest social movement the world has ever seen.

It can be done. We have to muster the hope and energy to get up every day and do it, in ways large and small. The U.S. can show leadership in the most momentous challenge of our lifetimes and leave a legacy to the future that we can all be proud of — if we are brave and loving enough to do it.

John Foran is a professor of Sociology and Environmental Studies at UCSB, codirector of the International Institute of Climate Action and Theory (, and a member of


Independent Discussion Guidelines

you're either on team human, or team lizard/cockroach. If you claim neither, you have contracted the money disease. It afflicts all of us due to the greed of the few and their warriors.

spacey (anonymous profile)
August 26, 2013 at 1:23 p.m. (Suggest removal)

"Important studies are starting to come in". Are you praying that they'll show fracking to be unsafe? Will this be another example of trying to making the science fit the agenda, or do you really want an accurate assessment of the safety of fracking?

How much of a carbon footprint does nuclear energy have? Do natural gas trucks have a future on our roads?

If all you want to hear about in energy creation is wind, solar, electric, then let the liberals in Washington and Sacramento do your thinking for you.

Botany (anonymous profile)
August 26, 2013 at 3:01 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Independent readers may find it helpful and informative to review a half-hour television interview with Chris Wrather and Bob Field, of the Los Alamos and Santa Ynez Valleys, discussing hydraulic fracturing or "fracking."

The interview includes video provided by The Ecologist.

William Smithers

bilwil (anonymous profile)
August 26, 2013 at 3:24 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Professor Foran:

In 2002 I, then a County Council member of the Green Party, and editor of its newsletter, wrote an extensive editorial: "Fiddling While Earth Burns."

I had been alerted to Climate Change through an earlier article by Bill McKibben in the New York Review of Books which elaborated on the Third Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

That editorial quoted former Vice President Al Gore: "The minimum that is scientifically necessary [to combat global warming] far exceeds the maximum that is politically feasible."

I also then quoted from the Third Assessment that, to save the planet from the fate we are presenting to future generations, we must cut back our production of carbon dioxide 60%-80%. Eleven years later, we know we have only steadily increased the global emissions of this product of fossil fuel consumption.

While I totally support the thrust of your article here, it appears tragically certain to me that Al Gore's prediction has been the accurate one. The "tipping point," beyond which there's no going back, has been, or soon will be, reached.

I'm glad I won't be alive to experience the full range of consequences that will fall on everyone living on the planet.

William Smithers


bilwil (anonymous profile)
August 26, 2013 at 4:11 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Should we all do ourselves in now Bill?

Botany (anonymous profile)
August 26, 2013 at 5:11 p.m. (Suggest removal)


You have free will as to what to do with yourself. Personally, I won't mind if you take an "out." You contribute nothing factually-based here and, as is common, hide your sneers behind anonymity.

William Smithers

bilwil (anonymous profile)
August 26, 2013 at 6:22 p.m. (Suggest removal)


Even the industry admits its got issues; up to 5% of cement casings fail within year one & up to 50% (maybe more) fail within 30 years and they don't have a solution right now. Maybe they can lower the ratio but they cannot control for all human or mechanical malfunction -there will always be leaks/spills. Inevitable.

Geologists have known for 50 years that injecting fluids underground increases pressure on seismic faults, inducing small earthquakes & clusters of small quakes. This is in areas NOT otherwise seismically active & applies to injection of frack waste water too. It's not very comforting in earthquake country. Putting pressure on stressed faults will hasten the big one. No thank you.

Then there is dynamic triggering:
wherein larger quakes across the globe can trigger moderate quakes far away. Citing the OKlahoma 5.7 and several others

Recent study from American Chemical Society:
which found levels of contaminants such as arsenic, selenium, strontium & total dissolved solids (TDS) exceeded the E PAs Drinking Water Maximum Contaminant Limit (MCL) in wells within close proximity to gas extraction activity & at higher levels than reference areas. Methanol & ethanol were also detected. "The spatial patterns in their data suggest that elevated constituent levels could be due to a variety of factors including mobilization of natural constituents,( as a result of the drilling) hydrogeochemical changes from lowering of the water table, or industrial accidents such as faulty gas well casings. "

Recent news on EPA cover up of the drinking water test results in Dimock, Parker TX and Pavilion WY

"EPA PowerPoint presentation obtained by the Tribune/Los Angeles Times Washington Bureau, staff members warned their superiors that several wells had been contaminated with methane &substances such as manganese & arsenic, most likely because of local natural gas production.

The presentation, based on data collected over 4 1/2 years at 11 wells around Dimock, concluded that "methane and other gases released during drilling (including air from the drilling) apparently cause significant damage to the water quality." The presentation also concluded that "methane is at significantly higher concentrations in the aquifers after gas drilling and perhaps as a result of fracking [hydraulic fracturing] and other gas well work." "

Similarly, in March 2012, the EPA closed an investigation of methane in drinking water in Parker County, Texas, although the geologist hired by the regulator confirmed that the methane was from gas production.

In late June, the EPA dropped a study of possible contamination of drinking water in Pavillion, Wyo., despite its earlier findings of carcinogens, hydrocarbons and other contaminants in the water"

Why would anyone with kids not opt for clean renewables?

morgainele (anonymous profile)
August 26, 2013 at 6:57 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Fossil fuels have raised us from lizard/cockroach type living to "team Human" living spacey. It's self-loathing lib-dems like yourself that continue to use and burn petroleum while telling everyone else not to - or that they should at least pay for your hipster version of the future with 5-10x energy costs.

I propse that you and the author of this article see what it's like to live 1 year on 1/5th of the fossil fuel and it's products vs. what you do today.

Instead you'll go the usual lib-dem route with name-calling, tantrums and irrational, half-baked thoughts.

If you want to reduce carbon output, support regulated-capitalism, which solves these problems sustainably over the long run while simultaneously increasing the opportunity pie and lifting more people out of poverty and disease than any other systerm ever in the history of the planet.

willy88 (anonymous profile)
August 26, 2013 at 8:58 p.m. (Suggest removal)

And you have contributed what Bill? Aside from your activism in the green party and the Al Gore quotations, what substantive facts have you contributed here?

Botany (anonymous profile)
August 26, 2013 at 9:25 p.m. (Suggest removal)

"name-calling, tantrums and irrational, half-baked thoughts." Wow, that sums up your post succinctly.

tabatha (anonymous profile)
August 26, 2013 at 11:02 p.m. (Suggest removal)

To whom it may concern:

The half-hour television interview with Chris Wrather and Bob Field discussing hydraulic fracturing or "fracking," referenced above, which I encourage all to see, was hosted, researched and broadcast by me via TV Santa Barbara. IThe Ecologist video included was edited by me to an appropriate length for that show with permission of that publication.)

The 3 1/2 page 2002 editorial "Fiddling While Earth Burns," referenced above, was researched and written by me, and 11 years ago presented to a local audience the warnings of the International Panel On Climate Control. re Global Warming. Obviously only a fragment of its content was presented here.

False statements re fracking by the unknown person "willy88" have been specified elsewhere in this journal.

William Smithers

bilwil (anonymous profile)
August 27, 2013 at 12:35 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Should we all do ourselves in now Bill?

Botany (anonymous profile)
August 26, 2013 at 5:11 p.m.

Why are you asking ME? I haven't even contributed one comment to this thread.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
August 27, 2013 at 5:46 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I am glad that China and India are on board as well...

Will someone please tell me what we have to do differently to develop magic, portable, energy sources? Seriously. Do no tell me how we need to do it or that we have solved big problems before. If you understand physics and can make a case for how to do this please comment. Fortunately, you will soon become a trillionaire as the rest of the world has been waiting for this Holy Grail.

A bunch of us, including bc, KV, botany and the like are going to corner the market on horses in the tri county area. I'll be shopping for stables on lower and upper State today.
Hey guys, this will be kinda like permanently living in summer camp! Way Cool!

italiansurg (anonymous profile)
August 27, 2013 at 7:10 a.m. (Suggest removal)

native2sb (anonymous profile)
August 27, 2013 at 1:51 p.m. (Suggest removal)

While I won't discard the importance of calling attention to how we in the U.S. can play a positive role in the world ecological scenario, Italiansurg is on target to bring up India and China's roles in this picture. What is thought of as progress over there, is considered irresponsible over here.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
August 27, 2013 at 2:18 p.m. (Suggest removal)

The solution exists, but fear stands in the way.

native2sb (anonymous profile)
August 27, 2013 at 2:20 p.m. (Suggest removal)

"True energy independence requires the rapid development and mass production of clean, safe, renewable energy sources. Nuclear is none of those."


The sun is nuclear as well as the core or the earth. Nuclear energy is renewable, results in fewer deaths than all other energy sources, and produces less toxic waste than the production of solar panels.

native2sb (anonymous profile)
August 27, 2013 at 2:33 p.m. (Suggest removal)

The contribution of actors such as William Smithers to an understanding of global warming is as important as their contributions to photovoltaic semiconductor physics, although his level of technical and scientific knowledge is critical in enabling the success of ridiculous propaganda such as the 9-11 Commission Report.
If you only look for anthropogenic causes, that's all you'll find.

14noscams (anonymous profile)
August 27, 2013 at 3:37 p.m. (Suggest removal)


"...India and China's roles in this picture. What is thought of as progress over there, is considered irresponsible over here."

Bill, I just wanted to point out that America *was* that "irresponsible"--unfortunately, such stages of industrial growth are more dangerous to the 'health of the planet', the later they come along in time.

Aside, I have a question: Isn't America likely to be the largest consumer of goods and services that are sourced in the Indo-China area? Would that not then make us culpable in the consumption of resources, and accompanying pollution, that comes from there?

equus_posteriori (anonymous profile)
August 28, 2013 at 12:27 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Of course that makes us culpable. How do you propose that we legally change that? Isolationism and economic ruin?
The lack of efficiency of solar panels, when combined with the inability to store that energy in an efficient, portable and earth friendly way still remains a death knell to clean energy. The world has been spending 100's of billions of dollars trying to solve this to no avail. The only reason that you even have wildly impractical electric cars that are economically beyond the reach of most people and have comical range is due to the economics of portable computing devices. Lithium batteries and their extrapolations did not come from some type of Manhattan Project on clean energy. There is enormous funding and research in this area but the physics still get in the way in the short term.
Some of us would take the green nuts more seriously if they had
supported a bridge strategy of natural gas which would decrease emissions, relieve us from dependence on the vile middle east, supported high paying jobs for Americans, provide portable BTU's, and kept our economy going without a glitch.

italiansurg (anonymous profile)
August 28, 2013 at 2:18 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Based on the example of the 1970 Pinto, we should ban motor vehicles.
Likewise, based on the example of 1970's reactor technology, we are obsoleting nuclear power.
Nuclear reactors are the one and only solution to global warming. If you took the 3 trillion dollars that was used to bail out the real estate bubble and built contemporary nuclear power plants, the problem would have already been solved.
I think perhaps we must be suffering from an even greater problem; the epidemic of autism that seems to have engulfed this entire country.

native2sb (anonymous profile)
August 28, 2013 at 8:02 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Catholic Online interviewed Roy Spencer last week. Spencer is a climate scientist at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, and one of the few climate scientists who is considered a 'sceptic'. Like virtually all climate scientists, he acknowledges that humans are causing some global warming; however, Spencer is one of very few climate scientists who believe the human contribution to global warming is too small to worry about.

In the interview, Spencer repeated a great many long-debunked climate myths, which I have examined individually in a recent blog post at Skeptical Science. It was very disappointing to see a climate scientist respond to simple climate questions with factually and often glaringly wrong answers. It's something you would expect to see from a climate contrarian blogger, but any climate scientist should be able to do much better.

If you want to read both sides of the story, google "Roy Spencer debunked". I don't think he is very credible. His website looks amateurish.

tabatha (anonymous profile)
August 28, 2013 at 8:33 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Germany just broke its monthly solar power generation record once again. In July, the grey-skied country logged 5.1 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity from solar power, slightly better than the 5 TWh of electricity generated by wind turbines it produced in January.

As Inhabitat points out, “The accomplishment proves once again that a lack of sunshine is no obstacle to scaling up solar energy — and if the Teutons can produce record amounts of solar power under grey skies, then the potential for countries with sunnier weather and more land mass (like the United States) is limitless.”

This recent milestone is one of many for the country that stands head and shoulders above the rest of the world in its rapid embrace of solar energy. As a point of comparison, Clean Technica notes,

In terms of total solar power capacity per capita, Germany crushes every other country. At the end of 2012, it had approximately 400 MW of solar power capacity per million people, considerably more than #2 Italy at 267 MW per million people, #3 Belgium at 254 MW per million people, and #4 Czech Republic at 204 MW per million, and #5 Greece at 143 MW per million people. The US came it at #20 with about 25 MW per million people.

tabatha (anonymous profile)
August 28, 2013 at 8:36 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Germany also added 4GW of coal fired plants in recent months:

Coal based power generation is up 4% in the first half of the year:

Overall, power from coal rose from 43% to 52% in the same period:

native2sb (anonymous profile)
August 29, 2013 at 9:47 a.m. (Suggest removal)

That's impossible native; you mean the industrial giant of Europe is not willing to cripple it's own economy? How dare you bring up coal. I thought they just shut down all of the factories in the north all winter.
I'm thinking northern Sweden should go solar. They'd have two or three hours a day to get things done in the winter; should do wonders for their already high alcoholism rate.

italiansurg (anonymous profile)
August 29, 2013 at 3:14 p.m. (Suggest removal)

In a PDF published last month, consultants from Pöyry tell the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) not to expect any more coal plant projects after the current ones are completed.

Over the past two years, Renewables International has repeatedly argued that there will be no shift to coal power as a result of the nuclear phaseout. So it’s nice to see that other independent analysts see things the same way.

In their presentation to the UK government (PDF), researchers at Pöyry say there are three main reasons for the “apparent surge” in new coal plant construction, which is “due to highly unusual historic reasons”: a favorable market environment in 2007/2008; excess carbon allowances; and an “inability or reluctance of developers to cancel projects” when circumstances changed.

I had already written about the first two and am pleased to hear someone argue the third point. But going forward, the researchers say “there will be no major new unabated coal or date night projects in Germany for the foreseeable future beyond those currently under construction.”

Germany has a target of 35 percent renewable power by 2020, rising to 85 percent by 2050 – meaning that 65 percent of its power supply will be conventional in 2020, and the country will still have 15 percent conventional power by mid-century. Obviously, Germany needs to build some new conventional power plants to reach even that ambitious goal for renewables.

Perspective. Context. For those who can comprehend.
(Note it takes about 6 years to build a coal plant.)

tabatha (anonymous profile)
August 29, 2013 at 3:34 p.m. (Suggest removal)

A federal report is blaming a spill of hydraulic fracturing fluids for harming a fish population in a small stream in southeastern Kentucky.

We have options:
It's not a matter of technological ability, its political will

morgainele (anonymous profile)
August 29, 2013 at 5:07 p.m. (Suggest removal)

We can wait. Just don't buy any property below the blue line and you'll be fine. Warm weather is nice.

native2sb (anonymous profile)
August 29, 2013 at 7:29 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Here's the report. It has a nice map of the flooded areas and also shows bluffs at risk of sliding. Print it out and take it with you when you go house shopping.

native2sb (anonymous profile)
August 29, 2013 at 7:43 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Gosh Morgain, a single spill of frac fluids due to carelessness is reason to ban an entire source of energy.

Does this mean solar should be banned too?

Botany (anonymous profile)
August 29, 2013 at 9:16 p.m. (Suggest removal)


Natural gas is a carbon based fuel. The byproduct is CO2.

native2sb (anonymous profile)
August 30, 2013 at 12:03 p.m. (Suggest removal)

We all know that native; less pollution, no middle east, runs in current engines, existing infrastructure. How is that bad?
Forget renewable energy, I'm holding out for the all pervasive perpetual motion machine that will fit in my hand. We can do it!

Yes Botany! Ban all things that can have any downside including antibiotics, belts used as nooses, aspirin, and high heeled shoes, just for starters.

italiansurg (anonymous profile)
August 30, 2013 at 1:40 p.m. (Suggest removal)

actually italian, the science is out that the process of extracting natural gas is more polluting than driving. I propse that willy take a piece of his own advice. Must be cool living in the past with all that black and white. Signed: the hipster living in the future, aka spacey.

spacey (anonymous profile)
September 1, 2013 at 1:11 a.m. (Suggest removal)

That science, as a broad stroke, does not exist spacey. There are indeed conditions where this is true but this is not the rule across all NG fracking. It was true that the first compact florescent light bulbs actually took more energy to manufacture and distribute than they saved bu the green nuts still argued they were saving the planet with those $20 fiascoes.

italiansurg (anonymous profile)
September 1, 2013 at 6:27 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Here's what happens when you start shutting down nuclear:

native2sb (anonymous profile)
September 20, 2013 at 12:32 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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