Energy and Fracking Misinformation from Our Friends at NASA

This article appeared on Forbes​.com on December 16, 2011.
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What’s driving President Obama to hold the Keystone XL pipeline hostage? After all, it’s hard to see very much political gain from irritating labor into sitting out next November’s election, and the environmentalists he is pandering to are going to vote for him anyway.

Not only is there very little political gain, he’s also getting some pretty bad advice.

The principal government spokesperson on the scientific merit of the Keystone Pipeline appears to be NASA’s James E. Hansen, the man who lit the bonfire of the global warming vanities way back in 1988. Googling “Hansen Keystone Pipeline” yields about 5.1 million hits. “Holdren Keystone Pipeline,” the president’s (and, in the past, Mitt Romney’s) science advisor (John Holdren), is good for about 74,000.

As a result of his disproportionate influence, it’s high time to have an in‐​depth look at what Hansen advocates.

According to Jim, if the pipeline is built, it would be “game over” on climate change. If the Alberta tar sands oil that passes through the pipeline is combusted, Hansen says that we won’t be able to “to preserve a planet for our children and grandchildren”.

Really? For most of the last 100 million years, the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide concentration has been higher than it is now. Estimates vary on what maximum surface temperatures were reached, but there’s little debate that the angiosperms — the flowering plants that we ultimately depend upon for food — evolved during this time. It shouldn’t surprise anyone, including Hansen, that a warmer world with more carbon dioxide is a greener one. Indeed, NASA’s own satellites have detected this change already.

What about the dreaded rise of sea level? In the last interglacial, which lasted thousands of years, Greenland did not shed all of its ice. But Hansen has testified that it can do that in 100 years, raising sea levels 23 feet. Antarctica began accumulating ice maybe 20 million years ago, and the ice grew in an era of integrated higher temperatures far warmer than anything mere humans could produce.

Hansen’s “game over” is based upon the following interview, with SolveClimateNews last August.

SCN: Can you explain why you have said it’s “game over” on the climate front if the Keystone XL pipeline is built?

JH: President George W. Bush said that the U.S. was addicted to oil…That is the question facing President Obama…

If the United States is buying [Alberta tar sands oil], it surely will be going after oil in the deepest ocean, the Arctic, and shale deposits; and harvesting coal via mountaintop removal and long‐​wall mining. Obama will have decided he is a hopeless addict.

So, according to Dr. Hansen, if we drill for oil around the world, fracture (“frack”) shale deposits (which largely produces natural gas), and mine for coal, the planet is toast. Oh, and the President in an addict.

Just to be fair, let’s see what Hansen says we must and must not do. Here’s the current mix of energy sources for U.S. transportation, manufacturing, and electrical generation, according to the Energy Information Administration:

Over 80% of our energy comes from fossil fuels, which Hansen has said have to be eliminated. What’s to replace them? Nuclear power seems logical, but according to a landmark 2002 article in Science by New York University’s Martin Hoffert, there simply isn’t enough U-235 available to meet our future; in addition, nuclear is not politically popular.

Guess that would leave the “renewables”, but not hydropower, which is also not politically correct. Wood is a nonstarter, as a shift to more of that cuts down forests and increases atmospheric carbon dioxide. The most popular biofuel, ethanol, results in more carbon dioxide emissions than are produced per unit energy by fossil fuels. Solar and wind suffer from nights and inconstancy.

Couple that to the fact that wind power is not very aesthetic. Just ask the hard greenies on Martha’s Vineyard, who rejected it. Add in that solar is the most expensive form of power production (about four times more costly than natural gas) and that it will never power Chicago or any other big northern city in the winter, and you have a dark, cold nation with very few cars.

Wind and solar also require equivalent backup generation to make up for inconstancy. Given that Hansen says that only addicts like the President would frack shale for gas, what is going to supply the backup?

The answer is that there currently is no source, in anything close to sufficient volume

Perhaps Hansen is simply lacking in common sense. Saying that the President is an addict if he does not follow his dictates, shows very little. But, then again, it’s President Obama. Ronald Reagan would have sacked him on the spot.