One of the things that makes America great is our cherished natural treasures. Millions of acres across our beautiful country are public, meaning they belong to us, the American people. But our public lands, many of America’s iconic landscapes, and the waterways that surround them, are under threat from fracking.
The Obama Administration recently proposed new rules for oil and gas fracking on federal lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), including those in the national forest system, and federal lands that are nearby many treasured national parks.
Theodore Roosevelt and Grand Teton National Parks are just two of our treasured public lands threatened by the rapid expansion of oil and natural gas drilling and fracking. A dozen units of our National Parks already have oil and gas operations within them, while 30 units may be threatened in the future with drilling. Nationwide, the BLM estimates that 90 percent of new oil and gas wells on federal land are fracked.
Recent media reports say that the BLM in Colorado will be auctioning off nearly 12,000 acres of public lands for oil and gas drilling and the majority of those acres are located less than 10 miles from Mesa Verde, one of our iconic National Parks. Rocky Mountain National Park is already suffering air quality problems from drilling and fracking on nearby public lands. Southern Utah’s Arches and Canyonlands National Parks are surrounded by public lands targeted by industry.
Our cherished public lands face severe air and water pollution from the fracking boom. The animal and plant species dependent upon those lands face habitat loss. And people living and recreating on or near these public lands suffer many health threats.
BLM's proposed rules are too weak and pave the way for corporate profits at the expense of our American treasures. But we have an opportunity to tell the federal government to take the only real path to protect us and our national treasures. The BLM is seeking public comments on the proposed rules until Aug. 23.
Considering the conduct of companies engaged in fracking, the weakness of the government bureaucracies charged with regulating this industry, the cascade of new information and disclosures about the health and environmental perils associated with this extraction method, Waterkeeper Alliance has concluded that fracked gas is not the solution for our energy problems.
Instead of reducing our dependence on coal and leading us to a renewable energy future, the fracking industry threatens our health and environment, accelerates climate change, and presents the single greatest impediment to a long-term sustainable energy future.
Fracked gas and its illusions of cheap and “clean” energy threaten to lead us to carbon dependence for the next century, causing irreparable damage to our climate and imposing immoral costs to our children. The only way to ensure our transition to renewables and healthy future is to start saying no to the fracking industry with a unified voice.
Join Waterkeeper Alliance by adding your name to the list of citizens who want to tell President Obama and the Bureau of Land Management to ban fracking on public land.
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A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
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