In this issue:
- Learning from policy victories in Colorado and beyond
- The Human Flourishing Project: Nutrition (part 2)
Learning from policy victories in Colorado and beyond
Three major anti-energy proposals were voted down yesterday, including Colorado’s shale energy semi-ban, Proposition 112. That’s good news for the industry–and for the millions of Americans who would have been harmed by these policies.
Most news analysts attributed the results to massive spending by the oil and gas industry. The assumption is that people could not have possibly been persuaded that these were bad policies, but must have been duped by deep-pocketed propaganda campaigns.
That’s a biased assumption–but it’s also somewhat understandable. When my team and I were researching my article “Proposition 112–Not Fracking–Threatens Coloradans’ Health,” we noticed that opponents of Prop 112 did a good job of portraying it as a partial ban, but:
- Opponents of shale were taking the high ground on health.
- Opponents of shale were coming across as more rigorous than shale supporters.
I asked my colleague Don Watkins to share some of his thoughts.
From Don Watkins:
As I was helping research Alex’s article on Proposition 112, my reaction to reading both sides’ arguments was: “If I hadn’t read The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, I would definitely think Proposition 112 supporters have a much stronger case.”
Whereas Proposition 112 opponents focused almost solely on the economic and employment costs of the measure, Proposition 112 supporters addressed those and many other impacts relevant to human flourishing, above all the health impacts. And their arguments seemed rigorous, at least on the surface, citing ostensibly compelling facts and studies.
Take the chief advocate of Proposition 112, the group Colorado Rising. Their website made the case that fracking threatens Coloradans’ health, safety, and climate, and they had seemingly powerful refutations of all the major claims of Proposition 112 opponents.
For example, this is some of what the organization said about the health impacts of fracking:
Here are some examples of serious health impacts of fracking operations near neighborhoods:
- Of the more than 1200 peer reviewed studies on fracking, impacts 85% show harms for nearby residents.
- A recent study showed there is an 800% increase in cancer for people living near oil and gas wells.
- A study of 1.1 million babies show a 25% increase in babies born below 5.5 lbs.
- Toxic chemicals found in fracking are shown to lead to miscarriages and birth defects.
- People who lived closer to a large number or bigger active natural gas wells were significantly more likely –1.5 to four times more likely – to suffer asthma attacks.
Here are some examples of how fracking has already compromised the safety of our air and water supplies:
- The oil and gas industry averages nearly 2 spills a day in Colorado, with more than 1,100 spills reported in Colorado between 2015 and 2018.
- Fracking uses and average of 5 million gallons of water per frack. It’s estimated that since shale fracking began in 2005 Colorado has permanently destroyed more than 2 trillion gallons of water.
- Many of Colorado’s front range counties were recently given an “F” air quality rating by the American Lung Association.
- Studies show 55% of Colorado’s ozone pollution is caused by oil and gas development.
The chief opponent of Proposition 112 was Protect Colorado. They offered a few brief talking points that in many cases did not address the arguments and counter-arguments of fracking opponents. And this was the sum total of what they said about the health risks of fracking:
Q: Does fracking pollute the air?
A: Numerous federal, state and local laws regulate fracking to minimize its impact on the environment. Coupled with advancements in oil and natural gas technology, fracking is helping curb air pollution. Here’s how:
Clean-burning natural gas from fracking helped curb U.S. carbon emissions to 20-year lows in 2013.
In February 2014, Governor Hickenlooper announced groundbreaking standards for methane emissions—making Colorado’s air regulations the strictest in the nation.
For a full list of air regulations see here.
(Source: EIA; 2013; Colorado.gov, 2014)
Fossil fuel supporters can and should do better. We should help concerned citizens gain an accurate understanding of the impacts of fossil fuels–and fossil fuel restrictions–on human flourishing.
That means giving them an even-handed, truly rigorous presentation of the benefits and risks so they can understand the irreplaceable value of fossil fuels: not just their economic benefits, but their overwhelmingly positive impact on every area of human flourishing.
We should celebrate yesterday’s energy victories. But we should also improve our persuasive abilities so that we can ensure more victories in the future.
The Human Flourishing Project: Nutrition (part 2)
On the latest episode of The Human Flourishing Project I discuss how to understand the essentials of expert claims and expert disagreements through “reverse outlining.” At the end of the show, I invite listeners to create their own “reverse outlines” of content they like. You can submit your reverse outline (and read my Ultimate Outline guide) at tinyurl.com/hfpnutrition.
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