… and they deserve to know that Duke Energy is making the climate crisis worse
If another year passes without the public learning that the U.S. fracking boom is a key driver of the climate crisis – especially in the critical short term – humanity’s chances of averting runaway climate and social chaos could shrink to nil. The national and North Carolina press, along with decision-makers, remain focused solely on carbon dioxide (CO2) to the tragic detriment of the millions of people being harmed by accelerating warming.
Last month, two prominent stories badly misstated climate urgency following the talks in Poland. The New York Times indicated that humanity has 35 years to change course before global average temperature reaches the threshold climate scientists warn we must avoid: 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The Associated Press implied we have 80 years.
Both are dead wrong. Data from Jim Hansen’s team show we were already at 1.17 C a year ago. With the rate of warming accelerating, we’re set to hit 1.5 within 4-5 years.
Worse yet, Michael Mann and other leading scientists say that if annual emissions keep growing, we’ll hit a point of no return around 2020, leading to runaway heating, weather extremes and rising seas. Confirming Mann’s warning, Hansen and others say we’re already sure to hit the 1.5 threshold because of past emissions. Drastic reductions must begin right now.
As Hansen, Mann, Duke University’s Drew Shindell and others insist, curbing emissions of unburned methane – a super-heat-trapper – is absolutely essential to avoid unstoppable warming. Shindell, a lead author on last fall’s IPCC report, emphasized that no scenario exists to avoid passing 1.5 degrees without reducing highly potent, short-lived greenhouse gases, of which methane is most abundant.
Methane emissions in recent years have soared, mostly due to the oil and “natural” gas industry, according to NASA. The timing correlates with the U.S. fracking boom and soaring global temperatures since 2014. Who is driving the market for fracked gas? Duke Energy and other entrenched electric utilities that continue to allow the venting of unburned gas – methane – into the air at many points from the well to the power plant.
With very few exceptions, the utility-gas-climate connection remains virtually unreported in the U.S. Meanwhile, Duke Energy touts its reduced use of coal while blocking attention to its massive expansion of fracked gas over the next 15 years. While the public hears only about CO2, fracked gas is even worse than coal for climate because so much is leaked and vented.
N.C. Governor Roy Cooper’s climate initiative is a modest step but actually provides Duke Energy cover by furthering the claim that our state has already cut CO2 by a lot, implying we’re on a good track. The claim hinges on the pretense that methane from fracked gas doesn’t matter, thus that Duke should keep building the hotly contested Atlantic Coast Pipeline, some 24 large gas-fired power plants and other outdated and unneeded infrastructure, such as $16 billion worth of grid “modernization.”
Solar-with-storage is now cheaper than building gas-fired power plants – as many utilities are proving – and can rapidly replace coal and “natural” gas. Duke Energy plans to be only 8 percent renewable in the
Carolinas by 2033 and to continue thwarting the growth of solar, exciting advances in energy storage and other innovations. But few people hear about any of this.
Instead, they hear the heavily advertised “Smarter Energy Future” slogan Duke Energy uses – and see solar panels in TV ads – free from scrutiny.
We simply cannot afford one more year of inattention to Duke’s vast expansion of climate-wrecking fracked gas and the availability of cheaper, renewable solutions. Let’s don’t look back and lament that more people didn’t demand that Duke Energy executives be held accountable, and that they change course while it still matters.