Recreating our way out of Global Warming?

Although bread and butter conservation groups like the National Wildlife Federation are lauding her outdoor credentials, the idea of Sally Jewell, the current CEO of REI, as the next Secretary of the Interior raises serious questions over whether the Obama Administration has any sense at all about how to confront our nation’s mounting energy and climate crisis.

Don’t get me wrong; the Interior Department manages more than 1/5 of the land in the United States, making the Agency the top provider of outdoor recreation opportunities.  In this regard, Sally Jewell is a stellar candidate when it comes to advancing appreciation and protection of the Interior Department’s outside world.  After all, as CEO of REI (that’s Recreational Equipment, Inc.), she’s shown that outdoor recreation is not only good for the environment, but good for business.

But recreation isn’t all that the Interior Department does.  It’s a sliver of what it does.

In fact, at its heart, the Interior Department is an energy agency.  Overseeing all federally owned coal, oil, and natural gas, Interior is an energy juggernaut, and most of that energy is fossil fuel-based.  Consider that nearly 60% of all coal burned in the U.S. and more than a third of all oil and gas produced in nation comes from federal reserves (and that’s not even taking into account the fact that Interior’s Office of Surface Mining oversees virtually 100% of all coal mining in the nation, and that Interior’s Bureau of Land Management authorizes scads of private and state oil and gas drilling on its lands).

Interior isn’t just a fossil fuel peddler, it’s a fossil fuel overlord, making it one of the most influential and important government agencies when it comes to energy policy in the U.S.

It also makes the Interior Department one of the most important agencies when it comes to confronting the effects of global warming, which is being fueled by greenhouse gas emissions from coal, oil, and gas.  After all, but for Interior’s approval, much of our fossil fuels would not be produced for consumption, making the Agency one of the largest contributors to our nation’s overwhelming greenhouse gas footprint.

Put another way, in the face of global warming and its disastrous effects on our environment and economy, including extreme weather, drought, deforestation, and rising air pollution, the Interior Department is on the most wanted list of those responsible.

Which is why Sally Jewell’s nomination for Interior Secretary is a shock.  Here is an agency that stands to play a critical role in transitioning our nation to clean energy, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, and meaningfully addressing the threat of global warming.  And what does the President do?  He nominates an outdoor enthusiast who refused to take a stand on climate change for fear of upsetting customers with a “broad array of political views.”

To be fair, the President asserted she is an “expert” on energy and climate issues.  However, the only relevant “expertise” seems to be a stint as an oil company engineer.  Cutting through the rhetoric, it seems apparent that her appointment stems from her support for outdoor recreation initiatives, not any leadership on solving our nations’ climate and energy challenges.

Despite the hullabaloo over the President’s renewed commitment to confronting global warming, his appointment of Sally Jewell as Interior Secretary seems to send the signal that we should expect more business as usual.

That’s disturbing.  Although Interior has made much about its efforts to develop 10,000 megawatts of renewable energy on public lands, its most recent coal leasing decisions alone will fuel more than 300,000 megawatts of fossil fuel energy generation.

To say things are lopsided, as former Interior Secretary, Bruce Babbitt, commented, would be an understatement.

Fundamentally, we can’t continue on a path that is wholly dependent on coal, oil, and natural gas, and expect to have any chance of reversing, or at least stabilizing, the effects of global warming.  This means the Interior Department must make transitioning away from fossil fuels a number one priority.  Given her background and the rhetoric around her nomination, it seems extremely unlikely that priorities will shift at all at Interior if Sally Jewell is confirmed.

With the latest Secretary of Interior nomination, it seems we can expect great conservation initiatives, collaboration with recreational interests, and perhaps greater protection for lands and wildlife in the U.S.  It seems unlikely that with Sally Jewell, we can expect any change when it comes to leading our nation forward on clean energy and in truly confronting the climate crisis.

3 thoughts on “Recreating our way out of Global Warming?

  1. The “energy crisis” we face is our dependence on foreign suppliers of oil, in particular the Middle East. It is not a free market and it is killing our economy.

    We need to convert to domestic sources of natural gas and oil as a first step. If we really want to use less carbon based fuels, we need to become richer such that we can eventually afford wind, solar, batteries for electric cars, etc. Many of these technologies are improved but as a practical point cannot replace more convential sources of energy (in the near term) and most of them are far too expensive (wind excepted).

    Energy independence will help us in that regard. From a practical point of view, we should encourage nearly all new domestic energy projects as they can help us achieve this goal. For example, the more natural gas based electrical power we have the more wind projects we can bring on line (because natural gas electrical power can offset wind power intermittency).

    Applying near term carbon reduction goals in the Western US would be dubious at best. We have a lot more work to do if we really want to choose to regulate carbon emissions effectively. Climate models and other climate predictions are far from validated at this point. There is a lot of correlation information out theer but correlation does not equal causation. This article speaks of “Global Warming” but most people now talk of “Climate Change”. How do we separate natural causes of “Climate Change” with natural ones? If these questions are not addressed we have a “ready, fire, aim” approach instead of a much smarter “ready, aim, fire” approach. We should let energy development occur and reap the benefits of energy independence while continuing to attempt to better understand carbon emission effects on “Climate Change”, if any.

    • 1. “Climate models and other climate predictions are far from validated at this point… We should let energy development occur and reap the benefits of energy independence while continuing to attempt to better understand carbon emission effects on “Climate Change”, if any.”

      According to a unanimous UN report by the International Panel on Climate Change released September 27th and considered the benchmark on the topic, climate scientists are 95% confident that humans are responsible for at least “half of the observed increase in global average surface temperatures since the 1950s.”

      2. “There is a lot of correlation information out theer but correlation does not equal causation. This article speaks of “Global Warming” but most people now talk of “Climate Change”.

      Climate change is a newer and more accurate term for the man-made phenomenon because it speaks of not only the irreversible increase in average global temperatures but also:

      + the increase in storms documented to be larger, more frequent, more intense and more destructive (due to higher SST’s – sea surface temperatures – that “pump” more energy into storms, increased water vapor from these higher SST’s that causes greater precipitation and increased flooding, and sea level rise that makes storm surges more destructive to coastal areas – often densely populated, as in New York),

      + the documented changes in rainfall patterns (deserts become drier as other places experience heavier precipitation, etc.),

      + and the various chain reactions scientifically attributed to the above, such as the loss of natural habitats and species loss (wildlife unable to adapt to new conditions), the increased spread of malaria due to malaria-carrying-insects’ ability to thrive in areas that used to be too cool, etc.

      3. “We need to convert to domestic sources of natural gas and oil as a first step. If we really want to use less carbon based fuels, we need to become richer such that we can eventually afford wind, solar, batteries for electric cars, etc. Many of these technologies are improved but as a practical point cannot replace more convential sources of energy (in the near term) and most of them are far too expensive (wind excepted).”

      Renewable energy investments would benefit the economy by creating American jobs (unlike conventional electricity generation technologies, renewable energy technology is labor-intensive) and relying on indigenous resources, keeping the dollars produced within the US. According to the Wisconsin Energy Bureau, investments in renewable technology create three times as many jobs as the same level of spending on fossil fuels. “For states and municipalities with insufficient conventional energy reserves, there is a simple trade-off: import fossil fuels from out-of-area suppliers, which means exporting energy dollars … or develop indigenous renewable resources, which creates jobs for local workers in the construction, operation, and maintenance of nonfossil power plants and associated industries.” (quote: Dollars of Sense, produced by the US Department of Energy).

      Often, renewable resources make more sense economically because they create more tax revenue than traditional fossil-fuel energy souces. Wind power is only one of various economically feasible and environmentally sound energy sources: others include geothermal energy, photovoltaics (electricity from sunlight), solar thermal (electricity collected in troughs from the heat of the sun), electricity from biomass, and countless ways of benefiting from passive energy.

      4. “How do we separate natural causes of “Climate Change” with natural ones? If these questions are not addressed we have a “ready, fire, aim” approach instead of a much smarter “ready, aim, fire” approach.”

      If you mean to ask “How do we separate anthropogenic (human-caused) causes of climate change from natural ones?”, then congratulate yourself on asking an important question and consider the facts. Natural climate change occurs in a cyclical fashion; the climate has long ago left the normal cycle path. The intensity and rapidity of change, as evidenced in ice mass loss, pattern changes, ocean acidification, plant and species migration, isotopic signature of CO2, changes in atmospheric composition, and many other phenomena can only be associated with human influence and greenhouse gas emissions. Their warming properties are ell established, and greenhouse gas concentrations have increased most significantly in the last 50 years, when human activity and population has grown fastest.

      According to the UN IPCC report mentioned earlier, ending all carbon dioxide emissions today would still result in effects that could linger for “hundreds, if not thousands, of years”. Certain changes may already be irreversible. According to the report, “Many aspects of climate change will persist for centuries even if concentrations of greenhouse gases are stabilized. This represents a multicentury commitment created by human activities today.”

      And in an official statement released shortly thereafter, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said:

      “Those who deny the science or choose excuses over action are playing with fire,” he said. “Once again, the science grows clearer, the case grows more compelling, and the costs of inaction grow beyond anything that anyone with conscience or common sense should be willing to even contemplate.”

      Indeed, the failure to address these facts and continue the use of fossil-fuels – domestic or international – is to develop an apathetic blindness to the consequences of our unsustainable lifestyles and energy dependences, and to fire away without aim at the future of our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren – and, as we see – our great (times 35+) grandchildren.

      (For further understanding on how climate change is manmade, please see a more extensive explanation and very accessible online resource provided by the Open Source Systems, Science, Solutions Foundation found at the link below.)

      http://ossfoundation.us/projects/environment/global-warming/human-caused

      Other links:

      http://www.nrel.gov/docs/legosti/fy97/20505.pdf

      http://qz.com/129122/the-worlds-best-scientists-agree-on-our-current-path-global-warming-is-irreversible-and-getting-worse/

      • 5. “We need to convert to domestic sources of natural gas and oil as a first step. If we really want to use less carbon based fuels, we need to become richer such that we can eventually afford wind, solar, batteries for electric cars, etc.”

        In fact, investing in renewable resources would make us richer: indigenous and labor-intensive, renewable energy technologies create jobs, increase earnings, and help keep dolllars within the community. Rather than converting outlying energy needs to domestic sources of fossil fuels, communities should follow the more cost and energy-efficient path: to invest in resources even closer to home that nourish local economies (rather than deplete it with imported fossil fuels.) and develop new, sustainable industries for long-term economic growth. Renewable resource technologies also have a myriad of indirect benefits, such a reduced health and environmental costs, stemming from lower environmental impact, ad a gradual decrease in foreign resources that deplete local economies.

        Correction: from the 4th paragraph above, I’m sorry: “irreversible” should have been “partly irreversible”: even after carbon emissions have dropped to zero, the climate will stabilize at a warmer global average temperature than healthy for centuries to come. However, we can attempt to mitigate the effects of global warming but trying to bring down the average parts per million of CO2 and other fossil fuels in the atmosphere through carbon capture, carbon sequestering, reforestation, etc.

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