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Fossil Fuels: Warming vs Jobs

CO2 emissions have grown to record levels. Source: UN
Sept. 9, 2014 - Two news stories emerged on major front pages that illustrated the trade-offs of increased fossil fuel production.

The New York Times reported that Ohio's rust belt was enjoying a resurgence of jobs and investment that many sources attributed to the extraction of shale natural gas in the region.

The Washington Post, however, reported on a new UN study that said that 2013 greenhouse emissions, on average, were the highest on record. Carbon dioxide was in the atmosphere at a rate of 396 parts per million, the report said.

Record Gas Emissions

Other greenhouse gases were very prevalent as well, said the report released Sept. 9 by the UN's World Meteorological Organization. Methane was in the atmosphere at a rate of 1823 parts per billion and nitrous oxide at 325.9 ppb.

"These values constitute, respectively, 142%, 253% and 151% of pre-industrial (before 1750) levels," the WMO report said.

These gases and others, such as hydrofluorocarbons, sulfur hexafluoride and perfluorocarbons, are considered main drivers of climate change. They trap in the heat that has radiated from the sun. Normally, the earth's natural systems control the planet's temperature through a carbon cycle, absorbing carbon when the planet becomes too hot and releasing it when becomes too cold. But increasing levels of carbon emissions have disrupted these natural cycles and created conditions of unnatural warmth.

Ocean Acidification

The WMO report also noted that the absorption of carbon into the world's ocean was raising the level of carbonic acid there. Coral bleaching and other effects of ocean acidification are considered serious threats to marine life by oceanographers and biologists.

The WMO report said that ocean's capacity to absorb carbon from the atmosphere was 70% of what it had been in 1750 and noted concern that this capacity could fall to 20% by the end of the twenty-first century.

This rise in ocean acidification is unprecedented in the 300 million-year-old paleological record.

Shale Economics

Despite the effect on the atmosphere, increased shale fuels are helping jobs in Ohio grow, though not to comparably historic levels. The Times reported that the unemployment rate had fallen to 5.7% in July, compared to 13.3% in early 2010.

The Times also referred to a McKinsey Global Institute report of July 2013 that said shale fossil fuels would add 1.7 million jobs nationally by 2020.

That same report said that more than $1.2 trillion in investment would be needed to exploit shale fossil fuels to achieve this level of job growth.

The McKinsey report said "If the United States fully realizes the opportunity, shale energy could revitalize the oil and gas industry, have downstream benefits for energy-intensive manufacturing, and send ripple effects across the economy. "We estimate that it could add 2 to 4 percent ($380 billion to $690 billion) to annual GDP and create up to 1.7 million permanent jobs by 2020. This could be an important source of high-wage employment for workers without college degrees, generating economic activity in parts of the country that have seen little investment in recent decades."

Water Risks Internationally

Carbon emissions are not the only natural resource concern for shale gas. In a September 2014 report about business risks associated with water in shale gas plays, the World Resources Institute noted that about 38% of the areas with shale gas potential experience dry conditions or high water stress level. Also, 40% of the top 20 countries rich in shale natural gas potential face arid or water stress conditions, the report said.

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