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February 15 – A couple of interesting articles in the February 9 edition of the Cincinnati Enquirer. The first one, on page A4, headlined “New agency to report on climate risks.” The article, written by the Associated Press (no authors’ names provided), begins by enumerating the various threats posed by climate change, and then states that Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and NOAA’s Jane Lubchenco announced the formation of the innocuously named Climate Service. Talk about bland. The reason the Commerce Department is involved is that they regulate the wind power industry and coastal fisheries, both of which will rely upon the new agency for long-range forecasts. Other sectors of the economy that will benefit from the new agency’s formation include farming and public health, according to the article. Coastal community planning was also listed. There is then a reiteration of the recently released finding that the last decade has been the warmest since the government began keeping track.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the article is the assertion by Lubchenco that coastal community planning will rely upon the new Climate Service. Indeed it will!

Would you plan to expand a community that was already slated to be under water in fifty years? Wouldn’t it be fascinating to know how New York City is planning to deal with the rising ocean level? That, in turn, makes me wonder: would communities benefit from a united response to this problem? In other words, information sharing, the pooling of ideas that respond to various scenarios, evacuation options, the role boats and boat owners will play in numerous situations, the role of the Coast Guard, etc. Will the new agency take on the responsibility of acting as a clearinghouse for information, or will that fall to someone else, with the Climate Service acting only as a provider of information? Coastal community planning really is a huge topic, especially since no one knows where the “new” coastline will be.

The second article, on page A6, is headlined “Blast unlikely to slow gas plant development.” Back to natural gas. The story of the explosion at the plant, in which five people were killed, was covered by news outlets for several days. This particular article says that this accident was the latest in a series of deadly accidents involving natural gas. In this instance, at a plant in Middletown, Connecticut, workers were purging gas lines of air. The U.S. Chemical Safety Board has voted to approve new safety recommendations for the purging process. Toward the end of the story, I find the following two paragraphs:

”Gas is used to make about a fifth of the nation’s electricity. That’s expected to grow to 26 percent by 2018 as older, coal-fired plants are retired.

There are 35 gas-fired power plants in the U.S. either under construction or built but not yet operational.”

The article concludes with the authors pointing out that all fossil fuels carry the risk of exploding. (The Associated Press is also responsible for this article, written by Mark Williams and Mike Baker.)

I am beginning to understand why there was not an immediate stampede in the direction of natural gas use when we realized there was trouble brewing vis-à-vis global warming. We still have much to learn with regard to handling natural gas safely. This reality, coupled with whatever environmental damage occurs while procuring it, seems to make natural gas a less-than-perfect alternative to oil and coal, though probably still preferable to either of them. The operative term, the key to an understanding of gas’s role in all of this, could well be “transitional.” Fossil fuels are the problem, and must always be viewed as such, or we’ll lose our way. Even one with lower carbon output, like natural gas, can only be of use to us in the short term, because of the excessive levels of carbon already in the air and water. It’s encouraging to read that coal-fired plants are being replaced, or will be, by plants that pollute less.

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