Aubrey McClendon's Legacy Serves as Another Warning That the Age of Oil Barons Must End
Just moments after posting a scathing comment to Facebook regarding former Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon's indictment Tuesday by the Department of Justice on conspiracy charges, I read news of his shocking death in a car accident. I didn't know McClendon personally, but he is indeed a legend in the story of the fracking boom. So much so I dedicated an entire chapter of my forthcoming book Frackopoly to him. And in the light of news of his death my scathing assessment of him may seem uncharitable to those unfamiliar with his record.
Ex-Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon died in a car crash one day after being indicted: https://t.co/sCROABynHp https://t.co/Vc9cBatPH3— CNN International (@CNN International)1457006040.0
The fact is, McClendon was a contemporary oil baron who at times excelled at high stakes financial gambling. When he was on a roll making billions, it came at the expense of the planet and people—whether it was the leaseholders he allegedly conspired against, the communities that fracking harmed or the impacts on our global climate. His story, from start to finish, is a tragedy all around.
But he's just one figure in the system that has helped bring about a boom in fracking, the continued reliance on fossil fuels and a system of market-based schemes masquerading as environmental “solutions" and being pushed by vested interests. The story I tell in Frackopoly doesn't end or begin at McClendon, but he's a major piece of the contemporary story of fracking and only the latest in a long line of oil and gas industry profiteers that have existed since the heyday of John D. Rockefeller.
McClendon said in a statement Tuesday, in regard to his indictment, that he was being singled out. One thing is for sure: he was right that this type of collusion in the oil industry goes on all the time. As I wrote in my original Facebook post, the real scandal about his conspiracy charge is how much this kind of behavior is tolerated without any investigation or concern—and has been for decades. As a result of McClendon's aggressive and irresponsible business practices, he had many enemies and so I do believe that his death should be thoroughly investigated.
No matter what, it is time to take back our democracy from billionaires that control major industries like oil and gas and whose influence spreads far and wide to create policies that keep us hooked on what they're selling. That's the story in Frackopoly that I do believe I was able to tell adequately, even if McClendon's story ended abruptly after the book went to print. His legacy should serve as another warning that the age of oil barons must end and that we must take energy policy back from billionaires as if our life depended on it—because it does.
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One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
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A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
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