The piece is excerpted from the new book Snake Oil: How Fracking's False Promise of Plenty Imperils Our Future.
For the past decade I’ve been a participant in a high-stakes energy policy debate -- writing books, giving lectures, and appearing on radio and television to point out how downright dumb it is for America to continue relying on fossil fuels. Oil, coal, and natural gas are finite and depleting, and burning them changes Earth’s climate and compromises our future.
In the past two or three years this debate has reached a significant turning point. Evidence that climate change is real and caused by human activity has become irrefutable, and serious climate impacts (such as the melting of the Arctic ice cap) have begun appearing sooner, and with greater severity, than had been forecast. Yet at the same time, the notion that fossil fuels are supply-constrained has gone from being generally dismissed, to being partially accepted, to being vociferously dismissed. The increasingly dire climate story has achieved widespread (though still insufficient) coverage, but the puzzling reversals of public perception regarding fossil fuel scarcity or abundance have received little analysis outside the specialist literature. Yet claims of abundance are being used by the fossil fuel industry to change the public conversation about energy and climate, especially in the United States, from one of “How shall we reduce our carbon emissions?” to “How shall we spend our new-found energy wealth?”
This is an insidious and misleading tactic. The abundance argument is based not so much on solid data (though oil and gas production figures have indeed surged in the United States) as on exaggerations about future production potential, and on a pattern of denial regarding steep costs to the environment and human health.