The scientific journal Nature recently published an article showing that real-life data is overtaking even worst-case projections regarding climate change. In other words, things are getting bad even faster than we could have imagined.
Just four months ago, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels hit the long-feared milestone, 400 parts per million. Levels have not been this high in at least 3 million years. We are in danger of going the way of the dinosaur.
Sandra Steingraber, the biologist and author of “ Raising Elijah,” calls it an environmental holocaust, comparing our time to Nazi Germany, when “good Germans” stood by and watched the atrocities happen rather than stepping up and fighting for what was right. Steingraber’s father fought in World War II, and in her family she was taught never to be a “good German.”
Because of her fierce devotion to a sustainable planet, earlier this year, Steingraber sat for eight days in a jail cell while spring took bloom around her home in Trumansburg, N.Y. She and her fellow activists were charged with trespassing for an act of civil disobedience against the fracking industry.
Here is how fracked gas is obtained: Workers drill a horizontal hole a mile long, deep under the earth, and pump millions of gallons of highly pressurized water mixed with sand and chemicals — some of them known carcinogens — through the hole. With the help of explosives, that toxic brew shatters the shale, releasing the natural gas within.
Those millions of gallons of water, forever toxic, can never be used again. And the problem is that sometimes fracking chemicals find their way into aquifers, creeks and rivers, and eventually into the drinking water of the surrounding communities. (If you want to see a man light his tap water on fire, rent the riveting documentary “Gasland.”)
A bill was just passed in Maine that sets the stage to build a new, taxpayer-funded pipeline to bring fracked natural gas from Steingraber’s neck of the woods all the way to Maine, pushing our state toward an increased dependence on natural gas. I called a representative of Unitel, the company that supplies natural gas to my house, and asked how much of our gas already comes from fracked sources. She told me the company has no way to know.
I’m pretty sure that means our hands aren’t clean here in Maine, 300 miles north of the Marcellus Shale. Unless people stand with Steingraber and other activists, fracking will not be stopped, and our water and our air will be in even greater peril than they already are.
Another major ecologic threat is the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, which would run from Canada all the way to the Texas Gulf coast. Enbridge Inc., one of the world’s largest oil pipeline companies, is exploring a plan to use an existing conventional pipeline to send tar sands oil through Canada to South Portland, where it would be loaded into tankers in Portland Harbor.
Tar sands oil, a mixture of clay, crude oil and sand, is more corrosive, more toxic and much harder to clean up than conventional oil. Big Oil is trying to convince our voters and legislators that tar sands are safe, but the mess of recent spills in Arkansas, Missouri, Michigan and Montana show us that they are not. In fact, Enbridge has a long history of oil spills — hundreds in the last decade, including one in Michigan’s Kalamazoo River in 2010 that released more than 840,000 gallons of sludge, causing health problems for area residents and widespread damage to the ecosystem.
And tar sands are terrible for the climate, with significantly higher emissions of the pollution that causes global warming than conventional oil. Big Oil’s push for tar sands is a national issue that touches us right here in Maine, and we can do something about that.
A number of organizations are fighting for us, but they need our help. Let Steingraber, mother of two, be an inspiration to us all. Please reach out to any of the following organizations:
Ask how you can help. Give time; give money. And stay informed.
Climate change is here. Now, what are we going to do about it? Maine’s future must be found in clean energy. Nothing less than the future of our planet is at stake.
Jennifer Lunden is an environmental writer, a mental health counselor, and the founder and executive director of The Center for Creative Healing in Portland.