On Tuesday, 28 May, 2019, the United States Department of Energy released a press statement regarding the increase in exports of natural gas from a facility located on Quintana Island, Texas. In the statement, natural gas was referred to as ‘freedom gas’ and ‘molecules of freedom,’ alongside claims that this “furthers this Administration’s commitment to promoting energy security and diversity worldwide,” as stated by U.S. Under Secretary of Energy, Mark W. Menezes. The term came about from Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, who stated earlier in May that “the United States is again delivering a form of freedom to the European continent and rather than in the form of young American soldiers, it’s in the form of liquefied natural gas,” referencing World War II, according to Euractiv. Additionally, with its intention to double liquified natural gas exports by next year, the release claims that the increase will result in the creation of some 3,000 jobs, yet it does not comment on the fact that the positions are in a field that is inherently unsustainable.
The sentiment of the decision is also operating under the assumption that natural gas is a clean energy source. This is a common belief because it burns cleaner than coal – that is, it releases less carbon dioxide when it burns – but it ignores the negative impacts generated from extracting it from the ground using methods including hydraulic fracturing. Better known as fracking, hydraulic fracturing involves injecting fracturing fluid into the earth to make it easier for the gas to escape. During the process, methane gas can escape from the earth into the atmosphere as well as any emissions generated by the equipment used to harvest the gas. Large quantities of water are also used in the operations. It also fractures landscapes, which may result in uninhabitable lands for fauna and flora to survive in and has also been known to infect waters through runoff near the fracking site. This indicates that natural gas is not in fact the clean solution it is touted to be at all. These claims therefore trick people into believing that the Trump Administration cares about the environment, when it has proven many times that it does not, starting with the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement in 2016. Despite its intentions to promote this move as well as the coining of the term ‘freedom gas’ to the American people, it does not have the support that it likely expected, with the Governor of Washington Jay Inslee tweeting: “This has to be a joke (Remember freedom fries?)” According to The New York Times, this is in reference to the Bush Administration’s rebellion against France’s decision not to support the United States’ policies regarding Iraq.
Mr. Trump cited his reasons for withdrawing from the Paris Agreement as that it disadvantaged U.S. business and workers, yet the jobs that he is now creating are not ones that are sustainable for more than a few years. Natural gas is a finite source of energy and many countries are already turning their attention towards more sustainable and renewable sources of energy, such as wind and solar. The administration also rolled back Obama-era climate change legislation focused on vehicle emissions, thus further indicating how little regard it has for the well-being of the planet.
Not making climate change a priority immediately puts the wellbeing of not only the American people at risk, but also the rest of the world. While it may seem like a far off problem, climate change is an issue that needs to be addressed now, as it is already generating effects on the planet. Without taking steps to reverse as well as prevent further destruction of the climate, sea levels will continue to rise, leading to more refugees, resources will continue to grow scarce, weather systems will continue to grow more severe, also leading to an increase in refugees – all resulting in more conflict and overpopulated areas. Promoting and executing an increase in natural gas exports then serves to contribute to further conflict globally, while also contributing to the growing issue of climate change.
By using the word freedom, the administration is choosing its language carefully, knowing that the American people value freedom above most other values. This attempts to convince the American people that the increased exportation of natural gas is a positive for the world, when it is in fact restricting people’s freedoms. It restricts where people are able to live as well as their access to resources such as food and water. Additionally, even though the Department of Energy claims to be providing energy freedom and diversity to the rest of the world, with many countries already transitioning to more sustainable and renewable forms of energy, this seems like it will be ineffective economically for the United States, while also still generating the externalities that come with extracting natural gas. As for lower income countries who are still developing, the United States is providing them with an unsustainable energy source that has the potential to generate much instability and conflict when it runs out or when resources become even more scarce due to climate change.
In order to actually demonstrate a commitment to promoting clean energy as well as avoiding unnecessary conflict, the first step would be to first transfer the money and effort to generating energy sources that are both sustainable and clean, such as wind and solar. A fracking facility in Texas could easily be replaced by solar panels and yield much higher results in the long run due to its sustainability and prime location, which typically receives a lot of sun. This transition, while it certainly would not happen instantaneously, would result in more jobs that are also more sustainable as well as contributing more successfully to the country’s economic prosperity. This increase could then be used to complete infrastructure projects as well as provide aid and assistance to lower income countries to further address the climate change issue.
As a world power, some other countries may also follow suit in a transition to renewable energy if the United States begins to do so, which could result in a much more powerful coalition against climate change. Intellectual and activist Wangari Maathai, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, recognized the intersectionality of peace and environmentalism, among other movements as well. Essentially, promoting peace and environmentalism are not mutually exclusive and actions taken towards one can also result in effects towards the other. In acknowledging this, it is possible to take steps to both reduce conflict as well as the effects of climate change, especially when the latter is regularly creating conflict on both the international and local levels.
If a focus was turned more to solutions that will actually benefit the global community (and specifically the American citizens, since that is what the current administration seems to be most concerned about), rather than solutions that merely give the appearance of providing “clean” energy, much could be done to prevent and reduce conflict as well as ensure that the planet can provide for future generations. By no means is transitioning to renewable energy the only thing that should be done to prevent further damage, but it is a good starting point and will help cease a major contributor to the issue as well as pave the way to make even more positive changes as a result of increased prosperity from the renewable sources. Now is not the time to coin misleading phrases and double the exports of natural gas; now is the time to take action to promote peace and a sustainable environment.