Monday, February 18, 2013

Shale Oil - Good News?

The BBC uncritically re-reports PWC's assessment that "Shale oil production could boost the world economy by up to $2.7tn (£1.7tn) by 2035".

Unfortunately, sucking more oil and gas out of the ground and burning it has some well-documented negative consequences for the world economy, in the form of climate change.

 Consider that Hurricane Sandy is estimated to have resulted in $75bn worth of property damage. And that is without considering the human cost.

If we don't throttle back our fossil-fuel use, we can look forward to many more Sandys. That, by the way, is fact, unless you are of the philosophical position that facts don't actually exist. No scientific body of national or international standing maintains a formal opinion dissenting from any of the main conclusions of the IPCC on global warming. The relatives of the 285 people who lost their lives in Sandy would be able to sue someone if their deaths were a result of recklessness or negligence, but because the effects of burning fossil fuels are completely externalized, they can't. Our grandchildren won't be able to sue the shale oil industry or anyone else for the state in which they leave the planet.

Sandy was just one extreme weather event in one country in one year. In 2012, we can also count, among many others, droughts in the US, record temperatures leading to bush fires in Australia, a super-typhoon in Indonesia that killed over 1000 people and destroyed or damaged over 200,000 homes, and the wettest year in England on record. While we can't attribute every extreme weather event to climate change, a rising number of these events is exactly what the science predicts.

The serious danger is that shale oil, far from boosting the economy, will actually deal it a serious blow once the effects of an increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events attributable to climate change is factored in.

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