Ideology, Local Impacts, Solar power, Wave power, Wind power

“Dear Aunty, with all this talk of storms and climate change, does shale gas really have a place in our energy mix?”

What a fascinating question, dears, and one that allows me to address the place of shale gas in the wider context of the UKs efforts to reduce emissions of Greenhouse Gases.

The last few weeks have seen intense rainfall affecting parts of the UK, and leading to localised yet significant flooding in some areas – like the Somerset levels – and it hasn’t taken long for the usual suspects at Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace to start telling us these weather patterns are evidence of global climate change.

Now, I’m not a climatologist or a meteorologist, so it’s not for me to say whether this inclement weather is a result of climate change or natural variation in weather patterns over the Atlantic, sweeties, but what is clear is that we need a rational debate about it and one that isn’t politicised or used as a platform for zealots pursuing an unrealistic ‘green’ agenda.

However, if we presuppose that emissions are causing natural climatic variation to become more extreme or unpredictable, and that a significant source of those emissions is the use of fossil fuels to create electricity, it would seem sensible to try and do something about that and shale gas has a valuable role to play in that and so, yes, it has a vital role in our energy mix.

There are several reasons for this: firstly, burning natural gas to generate electricity produces around half the CO2 of coal (which currently supplies almost half of the UKs electricity needs) and so if we can use domestically sourced gas from shale to help us cut back on coal use, that will lower emissions; secondly, cherubs, we currently import a lot of gas from Europe (the transmission of which is energy intensive) and Qatar (which is liquefied for transport by sea in a horribly energy intensive process responsible for significant emissions of its own, before being shipped here in a journey that creates more emissions, whereupon it is re-gasified in another energy intensive process that is responsible for more emissions still) and so domestically sourced shale gas can reduce those imports and their associated emissions; and, thirdly dears, we will continue to need a companion for renewables like wind and solar for times when their output is naturally lower than we really need – such as a still and starry night in midwinter when there’s no wind to drive turbines and it’s dark.

But what we mustn’t do, my loves, is overlook the contribution of other industrial activities around the world that may also be contributing to climate change through the release of Greenhouse Gases. Take beef and dairy farming – known to be responsible for substantial and uncontrolled emissions of methane (a very potent GHG) from belching cattle. Or the production and use of nitrogen rich fertilisers for improving crop yields. Or deforestation to create pasture land for cattle grazing and growing food for a growing population. And many others besides.

Burning fossil fuels is clearly a sizeable contributor to Greenhouse Gas emissions in the environment, but it’s far from being the only villain of the piece and we need concerted action on these other sources too.

Now, let me just make another observation about the notion of cutting back on coal use, sweeties, before Tony Bosworth at FOE comes at me saying that it will only be relevant if the rest of Europe and the world leave their coal in the ground: that may be true to some extent, but groups like FOE regularly argue this about renewables, saying that the UK needs to show leadership and that, in doing so, we’ll encourage other nations to do the same. Why won’t that be the same for a British led shale gas revolution? Why won’t others naturally follow our abandonment of coal in favour of using more gas alongside those renewables?

Finally, pumpkins, let me make one last observation before I leave you to ponder my earlier comments, and that’s about Britain’s contribution to global emissions of Greenhouse Gases and the effects of any reductions we might make here.

Because, you see, we’re no longer the industrial powerhouse we once were and so, in fact, the emissions we’re responsible for are actually quite low when compared to the USA, Brazil, Russia, India and China. Which means that whatever action we take here to reduce them, whether that’s “going all out for shale” or continuing to build renewables capacity (or, most likely and sensibly, both) the resultant drop in those emissions isn’t really going to make a difference at all. Which begs this question: are we perhaps better off making direct foreign investments in other countries to help big emitters to reduce their contribution to global Greenhouse Gas levels rather than driving up the costs of energy here?

Until next time xxx

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