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COP 21 Update – Wednesday, December 9

Some NGO groups with whom we work at the UN co-sponsored a side event featuring some extraordinary speakers: Bill McKibbin, the founder of 350.org, Joaquin Turco of the Argentine Workers’ Central Union, Dr. Sandra Steingraber, a public health biologist from Ecowatch and the author of Living Downstream, and Winonah Hauter of Food and Water Watch in New York.

The panel criticized the characterization of “Natural gas as the bridge fuel to renewable energy,” because we already have renewables and could get to 100% by 2030 if we had the political will. Looking at the methane escaping from fracking, it was noted that methane is a much worse greenhouse gas than is carbon dioxide. Right now there is an accidental methane release in California that will go on for months—if you could see methane it would look worse than the Deep Horizon oil catastrophe. It seems that methane is always being underestimated; the EPA underestimated the amount of methane in Texas shale by a factor of 90%.

Speaking of the deadly brew of toxic chemicals used in fracking fluids, it was noted that sometimes as much as 70% of the wastewater makes it back to the surface. Sometimes it has been used to irrigate crops; at other times it is injected into deep disposal wells, a practice which is associated with earthquakes in many states. Oklahoma is having 5,000 earthquakes a year, compared to under 100. The panelists agreed that “Safe Fracking” is an oxymoron, and that “Fracking jobs are killing jobs” because of the exposure to the toxic chemicals. The irony was noted that California, during the worst drought of its history, is pouring tons of fresh water down holes in the ground and releasing methane gas into the air at the same time it is suffering from wildfires and other effects of climate change. California is the 3rd highest state in oil production.

Mr. McKibbin reminded us that COP21 is the “scoreboard” and not the “game”—and that civil society’s real work begins again after this is over. He suggested that this is the time to increase pressure on vulnerable oil companies like Exxon, as their lies are becoming obvious. A participant in the audience, Dr. Bob Howarth, a specialist in methane chemistry from Cornell, said we cannot just consider carbon when we try to meet a 1.5% level. Controlling methane emissions would get us to that level much sooner.

20151209_025902When asked the reason for her hope, Sandra remembered a day she woke up in her home in New York state to learn that 40% of the land in her town had been leased to fracking companies. They arrived in their white trucks and actually said “The Shale Army has arrived; resistance if futile!” As of now, she says, no New York rock has been fractured. We are like EMTs who have read the Ambulance Manual as we say in answer to the Earth’s question, “Am I going to die?” We answer, “Your injuries are serious but I am not giving up on you.”

Then we went outside and did what civil society does so well—we demonstrated.