As the large, easy reservoirs of fossil fuels are exhausted, the capitalist machine is now scouring the earth in a frenzy to exploit sources that are much more difficult, risky, ecologically damaging, and expensive to extract. Natural gas from coalbed methane, shale, and tight gas sands; oil from tarsands or increasingly deep wells far below the ocean floor; and thin coal seams that are only ‘‘economic’’ for companies to exploit by blowing up whole mountaintops define the new era of fossil fuel extraction.
All of these activities are destroying ever-larger swathes of land, ecosystems, and the communities that depend on them, greatly escalating the global ecological crisis that, if it continues unabated, will make the earth uninhabitable for life as we know it.
Evidence and public awareness of the ecological threats*particularly the use of fossil fuels*have been mounting for some time. But so far, global fossil fuel consumption has only increased, and several forecasts expect substantial rises in energy consumption in the coming decades.
Although the explosion in the availability of environmentally friendly products over the last several years indicates that strong support for non-polluting, renewable energy sources does exist, privateenergy corporations use every means at their disposal to prevent the widespread
adoption of alternatives that would threaten their enormous profits.
Energy corporations and their proponents manipulate the public sphere by engaging in sophisticated propaganda campaigns to both strengthen the perceived need for fossil fuels and confuse public debate by distorting facts about the environmental harm of extracting and burning them.
Energy corporations have also been supremely successful at manipulating the political process, which supports them with massive public subsidies and laws that ensure their profitability while limiting liability for the direct and indirect harm they cause.
Reports of ‘‘peak oil’’ and predictions that we will run out of energy supplies combined with fluctuations in oil prices over the last few years against a backdrop of escalating political instability in the Middle East have stoked fears in the developed world that basic needs for heating and transportation could become prohibitively expensive. At the same time, worldwide discoveries of massive amounts of natural gas, much of it in shale formations, have been announced.
Advanced Resources International, Inc., a U.S.-based research and consulting firm specializing in shale and other unconventional sources of natural gas, describes the ‘‘new understanding of the size and availability’’ of these new gas supplies as a ‘‘paradigm shift’’ that began
quietly in the U.S. a decade ago and is now poised to go global ‘‘with Australia, China and Europe in the lead.’’6 Significant shale gas basins are also noted in Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, Russia, and South America.
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