Friday, November 27, 2015

Playing with Fire

I am proud to be a Marylander just for the simple fact that our state is a leader in the fight against climate change.  Maryland's Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act (GGRA) rivals the plans of such progressive states as Switzerland in the rapidity envisioned for reducing emissions to fight global warming.  Since GGRA was enacted in 2009, Maryland has actually reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions faster than required by the plan, which calls for a 25% reduction of the 2006 level of emissions by 2020.  We are now at the point where an update to the plan is needed, as the Act must be reapproved in 2016.

Insofar as the real importance of Maryland's plan is not in drawing down emissions, but in showing other states how it is possible to do so while growing the economy, the GGRA is laudable. I do, however, have my reservations as to motives and the ultimate outcome.  It's not that Maryland is just so small as to have little bearing on global warming, it's that, at this point in the game (and more so in 2020, when other states might begin catching on), we cannot reduce atmospheric CO2 enough, fast enough to avoid catastrophe unless we immediately abandon business as usual (and/or put all our hopes in a "hail Mary" geo-engineering program).  By "business as usual," I include the reliance on economic growth for sustainment of the economy.  A major result of capitalistic, exponential growth is that it drives us deeper into fossil fuel dependence, while these limited resources become ever more expensive and environmentally harmful to extract.

Case in point: the Cove Point LNG export facility.  One of the most frequent concerns raised in public hearings held by the Maryland Climate Change Commission was the amount of GHG that would be induced by the facility's operations. Calculations show that this total would negate more than half of the GHG reduction progress made throughout the state since 2006 when the final results of the GGRA are tallied after 2020.  This effect was not included in the GGRA Plan Update, in spite of public input.  Even if it had, much of the effect would be masked by the fact that a good portion of those emissions are "off-shored," either to other states where the gas is shipped from, or to the end users overseas.

To be fair, it seems that Maryland is not in the least in control of whether the Cove Point expansion takes place. The climate commission considered it to be too much of a hot potato to even address it, and even climate-friendly Governor O'Malley wouldn't challenge it during his term.  This gives me little hope that the District Court of Appeals in Columbia, MD will rule favorably toward the environmental petitioners in their suit to require the FERC to re-evaluate their decision to allow the Cove Point expansion.

It's not that the powers that be really care whether Maryland's economy grows under business-as-usual, it's that they want to continue the bubble economy at the national level as long as possible, at least until it becomes apparent that we have no hope to avoid human extinction other than a "hail Mary" play.

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