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Extending the Fossil Fuel Era, One Trick at a Time


99% of the United States’ supply of hydrogen is sourced from fossil fuels such coal. Thus the monetization never ends.

By Thomas Neuburger


I want to present a group of data points and let you conclude what you will. I’ve already concluded what I will — it’s in the headline. But please be the judge yourself. (And be sure to stay for the video at the end. You won't regret it.)


Every civilization collapses


The first data point is a truism. Consider this, from Michael Klare, writing in The Nation:


“In his 2005 bestseller Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, geographer Jared Diamond focused on past civilizations that confronted severe climate shocks, either adapting and surviving or failing to adapt and disintegrating. Among those were the Puebloan culture of Chaco Canyon, N.M., the ancient Mayan civilization of Mesoamerica, and the Viking settlers of Greenland. Such societies, having achieved great success, imploded when their governing elites failed to adopt new survival mechanisms to face radically changing climate conditions.


“Bear in mind that, for their time and place, the societies Diamond studied supported large, sophisticated populations. Pueblo Bonito, a six-story structure in Chaco Canyon, contained up to 600 rooms, making it the largest building in North America until the first skyscrapers rose in New York some 800 years later. Mayan civilization is believed to have supported a population of more than 10 million people at its peak between 250 and 900 A.D., while the Norse Greenlanders established a distinctively European society around 1000 A.D. in the middle of a frozen wasteland. Still, in the end, each collapsed utterly and their inhabitants either died of starvation, slaughtered each other, or migrated elsewhere, leaving nothing but ruins behind.


“The question today is: Will our own elites perform any better than the rulers of Chaco Canyon, the Mayan heartland, and Viking Greenland? [emphasis mine]


And the climate connection: “As Diamond argues, each of those civilizations arose in a period of relatively benign climate conditions, when temperatures were moderate and food and water supplies adequate. In each case, however, the climate shifted wrenchingly, bringing persistent drought or, in Greenland’s case, much colder temperatures. Although no contemporary written records remain to tell us how the ruling elites responded, the archaeological evidence suggests that they persisted in their traditional ways until disintegration became unavoidable.”


Keep the bolded question in mind; it’s the reason I quoted the passage.


Will our own elites perform any better than the rulers of Chaco Canyon, the Mayan heartland, and Viking Greenland?


Let’s take a look.


Fracking extends the Fossil Fuel Era


The following 2018 video, though superficially dry, is actually quite accessible. It walks you through four charts, Each one matters; each is easy to understand.



Chart 1 appears at 4:12 in the clip. It shows the history of natural gas production in the United States, beginning with the dominance of onshore production, followed by the dominance of offshore production, followed by what should have been decline. Fracking saved the industry.



Chart 2 appears in a couple of forms. Let’s look at this, starting with the discussion at 5:30 in the clip. It shows what the exploitation of fracking did to the wind industry.



Chart 3 is discussed starting at 6:57. It shows, first, predictions of global warming under several scenarios from a paper published in 2012, followed by subsequent actual global warming (added red dots) over the prediction period.


The highest red dot is an extrapolation. I shows that 2 degrees warming arrives in the 2030s.



Chart 4 is discussed at 10:80. It shows the future of shale gas (fracking) development. The colored area shows gas produced per day. The dots show the number of wells producing that gas.



The main point of this video, however, appears at 3:41, where the speaker lists the '“unintended consequences” of shale gas production:

  • Elongation of the fossil fuel era (illustrated by charts 1 and 4)

  • Depression of renewable energy supply (illustrated by chart 2)

  • Worsening of climate change (illustrated by chart 3)

My question:


Is the elongation of the fossil fuel era an “unintended consequence” of our response to global warming, or the whole point?


Hold that thought as we continue.


Will a Hydrogen Economy save us?


The latest godsend, if you believe the mainstream press, is energy from the burning of hydrogen. The formula you normally see is this:


2H2 + O2 → 2H2O


though in the real world, one with a nitrogen-rich atmosphere, the following is more common:


H2 + O2 + N2 → H2O + NOx


Oxides of nitrogen (NOx) are sources of smog and acid rain. They also damage the stratospheric ozone layer. So less than perfect already.


Hydrogen is a greenhouse gas


Even so, you’ll note there’s no carbon in those equations. So is the shiny new hydrogen economy likely to save us? Short answer: No. From a 2022 European Geosciences Union paper, “Climate consequences of hydrogen emissions,” we learn (emphases mine):


“Given the urgency to decarbonize global energy systems, governments and industry are moving ahead with efforts to increase deployment of hydrogen technologies, infrastructure, and applications at an unprecedented pace, including USD billions in national incentives and direct investments. While zero- and low-carbon hydrogen hold great promise to help solve some of the world's most pressing energy challenges, hydrogen is also an indirect greenhouse gas whose warming impact is both widely overlooked and underestimated. This is largely because hydrogen's atmospheric warming effects are short-lived – lasting only a couple decades – but standard methods for characterizing climate impacts of gases consider only the long-term effect from a one-time pulse of emissions.”


So atmospheric hydrogen is indeed a greenhouse gas, though indirect; its effect is just shorter-lived than atmospheric CO2. Also, it leaks.


“[T]his long-term framing masks a much stronger warming potency in the near to medium term. This is of concern because hydrogen is a small molecule known to easily leak into the atmosphere, and the total amount of emissions (e.g., leakage, venting, and purging) from existing hydrogen systems is unknown. Therefore, the effectiveness of hydrogen as a decarbonization strategy, especially over timescales of several decades, remains unclear.”


Most hydrogen is produced using coal and other fossil fuels


Hydrogen’s questionable usefulness as a decarbonizing strategy hasn’t stopped massive investment in it. If you know how it’s produced, you can see why fossil fuels makers are promoting it (emphasis mine):


“Hydrogen fuel can be made in a number of different ways, often referred to by associated colors. Green hydrogen, for example, refers to hydrogen produced from water, exclusively by using other renewable energy sources such as wind or solar energy to power the process. Gray and blue hydrogen refers to hydrogen produced from methane, using any form of energy to power the process.


“Producing green hydrogen has no direct greenhouse gas emissions. But gray and blue hydrogen production creates carbon dioxide (a planet-warming greenhouse gas) as a by-product, which is then either released into the atmosphere (in the case of gray hydrogen) or captured and stored (in the case of blue hydrogen).


Black hydrogen is the least environmentally friendly form and refers to a process that uses coal to power hydrogen production. Currently, 99% of the United States’ supply of hydrogen is sourced from fossil fuels such coal, according to the DOE.


“Environmental advocates nationwide have pushed back against gray and blue hydrogen projects, since sourcing the necessary methane to produce the hydrogen could provide revenue for fossil fuel companies, and since the production process creates carbon dioxide, which contributes to harmful climate warming.


“Instead, environmental advocates tend to support green hydrogen, which is produced only with renewable energy.”


If the goal is to extend the fossil fuel industry as far into the future as possible, hydrogen is key. The industry can sell the output (hydrogen power) as “climate-friendly” while continuing to monetize the decidedly unfriendly sources used to create it, like coal (black hydrogen) and methane (blue and gray hydrogen).


Labeling methane-produced hydrogen “blue” was especially brilliant.


Biden administration is building out hydrogen infrastructure



Investing in American Infrastructure and Manufacturing is a key part of Bidenomics and the President’s Investing in America agenda.


“Today, President Biden and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm are announcing seven regional clean hydrogen hubs that were selected to receive $7 billion in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding to accelerate the domestic market for low-cost, clean hydrogen.”



The hydrogen bottom line – a massive distraction


As Jane Patton points out at Common Dreams:


“Hydrogen is dangerous, partly because it distracts from the real climate solutions we so desperately need. The world's best climate scientists have been clear that to maintain a livable planet, we must phase out fossil fuels and transition to truly renewable energy now. Hydrogen hubs take us in the opposite direction by further embedding us in the fossil fuel economy.”


A distraction indeed, and a lucrative one.


Et tu, Canada?


Which brings us back to our initial questions:


Is the elongation of the fossil fuel era an “unintended consequence” of our response to global warming, or the whole point?


and


Will our own elites perform any better than the rulers of Chaco Canyon, the Mayan heartland, and Viking Greenland?


What do you think?


To help with the answers, I’ll close with a light-hearted video. Before you watch, though, consider the use of of the words “our response” in the first question above. It suggests two further questions:


Are we really really in control of “our response” to global warming? If not, what should we do?


And now for the video. Have fun watching. They certainly had fun making it. (NSFW, though very home-office friendly.)







2 Comments


Guest
Nov 08, 2023

question:

does anyone else think that one of the reasons that the money forbids your pussy democraps** (not that they'd have a ball to do anything anyway) from actually fixing ANY problem currently afflicting the shithole... is because they want y'all far more concerned about earning a living or keeping your kids safe or maintaining your body autonomy or being able to get health care... than the ongoing climate apocalypse?


If that's even a small consideration... isn't it lucky for the money that y'all are dumber than shit and are incapable of compartmentalize that which is annoying from that which shall be lethal?

(except the potential lethality of guns or being denied health care by finances or insurance companies seeking…


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Guest
Nov 07, 2023

1) that vid is fucking hilarious... and ominous... and true. and as bad as it makes canada out to be... our own beloved shithole is worse by 2 - infinity orders of magnitude. But they are both made so because voters make them so. so... there's that.

2) I don't believe that the anthropocene epoch is being elongated for any reason other than pure, unbridled greed. The corporations who sell energy are simply extracting the cheapest possible source (fossil fuels), given a massive infrastructure that they've built up since the 19th century. Their ONLY goal is to profit the mostest and fastest they can.

3) since our government is fully owned and operated by the money, OF FUCKING COURSE the…


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