by the Rev. Mac Legerton
Printed in the Fayetteville Observer on Sunday, April 7, 2018.
Most residents and public officials in North Carolina know and agree we need to move our state and nation toward 100 percent clean energy in the near future. There is agreement for many reasons, including the economic, environmental, political, moral, and spiritual reasons. We find that this is not only a major need, it is also a major advantage. Communities, states and nations moving toward a clean energy economy are already reaping huge benefits in job and economic growth that can’t be matched by those in fossil fuel energy.
To reach 100 percent clean energy use in N.C., there are many steps to be considered and taken. The first is to define what clean energy is. The second is to identify and overcome the greatest obstacles. The third is to develop a plan and timeline to reach the goal. The last is actually to make advancements and meet the timeline to achieve it. In a few short years, there will be no denying the need, advantages, and necessity of reaching this goal.
The very first and second step may seem easiest but they are actually the hardest. How to technically and successfully reach this goal and optional plans to meet it are available. We need to choose which types and blend of clean energy to use and what infrastructure to develop. Finally, a responsible and realistic timeline is essential. In the end, success reaching this goal comes down to political will and viability, not technical inability.
What is genuinely clean energy? True clean energy is the use of sources and resources that don’t significantly contribute to global warming. The three major sources of clean energy are solar, wind and geothermal (heat from the earth). This means energy sources that are free of carbon-based and carbon-producing fossil fuels created by human beings. Another more complex definition is being free of “greenhouse” gases produced by humans.
One would assume there would be widespread agreement on such a simple definition. This is not the case. When public officials speak of their commitment to “carbon reduction” and business officials speak of their commitment to a “low-carbon future”, they only identify and refer to carbon dioxide as the problem and source of carbon-based, environmental harm. CO2 is primarily released in massive amounts from the burning of coal, and secondly methane gas. Yes, carbon dioxide is a major problem and was formerly thought to be the fossil fuel mainly contributing to global warming. This is no longer the case.
What we call “natural” gas is actually 90 to 95 percent methane, a blend of carbon and hydrogen (CH4). What we call “natural” gas is only “natural” when we leave it alone in the ground. Since it is mostly methane, we need to call it by its real name and acknowledge that it is a carbon-based fuel source. Scientists, including those with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), now recognize that methane extracted by hydraulic fracturing, piping, pressurizing, storing and burning is the No. 1 source and massive producer of global warming.
The problem with methane is that it traps heat in our earth’s atmosphere at least 80 times more than carbon dioxide does over the first 20 years of methane’s emissions. Prior to the invention of “fracking” and the increased extraction and use of massive amounts of this heat-trapping carbon, methane did not create such a problem for our planet.
In reality, people and public officials have been misinformed and have spread and advanced misinformation about what is actually “unnatural” carbon-based, methane, hydraulically fractured, harmful and highly volatile.
Thus, we come to the predicament of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the need for public information, not misinformation, regarding this most harmful, economically unstable and environmentally volatile of all fossil fuel products.
As I speak with public officials, university professors and civic organizations regarding the proposed pipeline, few have any idea that what is touted as “natural” gas is at least 90 percent methane, that methane is a carbon, and that it is the No. 1 producer of global warming among all fossil fuels. And when I explain that methane gas is not cleaner, greener or cheaper than coal when all its costs and harmful impacts are included, they are shocked and embarrassed.
Why has this information been kept from the public and our public officials? The answer is simple. If it were widely known, no responsible public or business leader would claim they seriously care about the environment while supporting the pipeline. We have allowed the unfounded claim of “jobs” and misrepresentation of this methane gas product as cheap, clean and green to dominate our politics and the political will of elected officials in both of our major political parties.
Fortunately, there is a politically viable and popular solution to our pipeline predicament once we take the next six months to honestly inform and educate the public. The solution is to postpone all work on the proposed pipeline so that we can enter public-private deliberations on: what exactly is clean energy and what is not; how and when can we reach the goal of 100 percent clean energy; what if any “bridge fuel” do we need to achieve this goal and if we do, what fuel is the best to use in transition. The candid truth is that we will never come near 100 percent clean energy if we create a new dependency on the dirtiest, most expensive and less green fossil fuel on the market when all of its harmful costs are taken into consideration.
A suspension and moratorium on all work on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline for one year will provide the space and time we need, as a state, to consider our energy future. It will remove the project from the field of “political football” where it is being used by both parties to seek advantage prior to the November elections. Most important, it will provide us all an opportunity to weigh in on the foremost decision our state has faced over the past 50 years and, most likely, the next 50 years to come.
Rev. Mac Legerton is a member of the Observer’s Community Advisory Board. He lives in Pembroke.