Plentiful, Cheap Energy: Pros and Cons — Clifton Ware, Editor-Publisher
The hoopla these days about America’s plentiful oil and natural gas production is fraught with conflicting views, including controversy about the installation of expanded pipelines and upgrading of railroads in the upper midwest to transport tar sands and Bakken oil. But it’s the news about falling oil prices that’s inflating economic concerns, and influencing people’s perceptions about available energy supplies. So here we go—yet again—with a barrage of conflicting economic pronouncements that swings between excessive optimism (spouted by the mainline media and economists) to dire warnings of pending collapse (delivered by dark-green environmentalists and sustainability-oriented futurists).
How about a appropriate transportation metaphor to help us understand more clearly what’s going on? We Americans—with our century-long attachment to automobiles—assume entitlement to drive anywhere we wish, at anytime, and for any reason. So, let’s suppose we’re subject to national policy that requires rationing the amount of gallons each driver can have for personal use, a situation that occurred during WWII, when most goods were rationed, including gasoline).
In this fantasized scenario, each adult driver may be allotted the equivalent of one full tank of gas, which is expected to last for a specified period, from one month to a year. For a compact-sized auto averaging 25 mpg, this would require approximately 18 gallons, which should provide around 450 miles of travel. Assuming each driver will likely give priority to essential transportation needs, such as commuting to work, we can assume he or she will be very careful about driving anywhere for frivolous reasons. In sum, responsible drivers will most likely find effective ways to reduce the amount of auto travel, possibly by carpooling, using public transportation, riding a bike, or even walking whenever convenient.
Now, what if we transpose this fuel-rationing scenario to a larger-scaled operation—an entire city, a state, a region or a nation? If any sized community faces shortages, or even evidence that shortages are very likely at some point, wouldn’t it make sense to adopt a conservation strategy as a first line of defense? Moreover, if prominent energy experts are correct in claiming that “peak oil” is here now (and they probably are), wouldn’t it be wise for everyone to begin seeking ways to stretch out oil supplies as long as possible, thereby allowing a generation or so to effectively bridge from carbon-based fossil energy to renewable sources—if and when they are supported by available essential resources and general economic feasibility.
I think this simple metaphor suffices to make the point that peak-oil supporters have been trying to communicate to the general public over the past decade or so. Unfortunately, there are greedy, short-term thinking, misguided leaders of industry and business who desire only to accumulate more wealth, mostly for the benefit of those who already have too much money and power.
So it’s up to the 99% of poor-to-middle class Americans to send a clear message to the top wealthy 1%. In order that future generations might have access to carbon-based fossil energy sources for long-term use, the current unbridled extraction of natural resources (our primary wealth) must cease. Experience teaches us that the inordinately low oil and gas prices we’re experiencing today are a temporary phenomenon. Prices will eventually rise, perhaps precipitously, simply because we cannot sustain our high-energy, consumption-driven lifestyles without it.
Note: The Energy Section that follows contains articles that relate to the above commentary, particularly the first article listed, which in found on the Resilience website.
ENERGY (Fossil Carbon • Natural Resources • Renewables)
> Resilience: Vast Reserves Of Fossil Fuels Should Be Left Untapped (Alex Kirby). A research team from University College London’s Institute for Sustainable Resources (ISR) says that, in total, a third of global oil reserves, half of the world’s gas and over 80% of its coal reserves should be left untouched for the next 35 years.
> Petroleum Truth Report: The Oil Price Fall: An Explanation In Two Charts (Arthur E. Berman). Oil prices move up and down in response to changes in supply and demand. If the world consumes more oil than it produces, the price goes up. If more oil is produced than the world consumes, the price goes down. Also, QE ended in July 2014, the exact month that oil prices started falling. What a coincidence!
> Forbes: Why Falling Oil Prices Don’t Hurt Demand For Renewable Energy (Victor A. Rojas & Paul Stinson). Now is the time to be building the foundation for a stable energy future protected from the price volatility of fossil fuels. The good news is we’re well on our way. From solar, to wind, and energy storage, we’re reaching tipping points that promise further cost reductions and market acceptance for clean energy technologies.
> New Economics Foundation: Energy Round-Up: Unburnable Oil. The bad news: oil demand is falling partly because Europe has failed to create a lasting recovery, and the Chinese economy is also slowing sharply. The good news is that oil demand is also falling because of dramatic improvements in energy efficiency – spurred by those same high-energy prices – in some surprising places.
> Oil Price: Big Oil Going On The Offensive (Michael Klare). Increasingly grim economic pressures, growing popular resistance, and the efforts of government regulators have all shocked the carbon-based energy industry. Oil prices are falling, institutions are divesting from their carbon stocks, voters are placing curbs on hydro-fracking, and delegates at the U.N. climate conference in Peru have agreed to impose substantial restrictions on global carbon emissions.
ENVIRONMENT (Natural Resources • Wildlife • Climate)
> Common Dreams: For The Planet And Future Generations, New Congress May Be Most Dangerous Yet (Wenonah Hauter). Under the likely leadership of Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), expect the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee “to intensify its bullying of environmentalists.”
> ENSIA: Envision 2050: The Future Of Protected Areas (David Doody). The idea of setting aside areas of land and water to be protected against human activities has become a staple of the conservation movement. But with that movement itself at a crossroads, it’s worth exploring just what protected areas will look like in the future.
> On Earth: 2014 Broke The Heat Record. Will 2015 Crush It Again? (Susan Cossier). Since 1997, we’ve seen the 15 hottest years on record; we haven’t had a month of below-average global temperatures in 29 years; and a record cold month hasn’t frozen us solid in a century. The previous recorded hottest year was 2010, and 2015 may turn out to be another contender for the title.
ECONOMY (Finances • Global • Local)
> Our Finite World: Oil And The Economy: Where Are We Headed In 2015-16? (Gail Tverberg). Some first-layer bad effects of low oil prices are: increased debt defaults; rising interest rates; rising unemployment; increased recession; decreased oil supply; disruption in oil-exporting markets; defaults on derivatives; continued low oil prices; drop in stock market prices; drop in market value of bonds; and changes in international associations. Is this enough?
> Common Dreams: Why The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement Is A Pending Disaster (Robert Reich). Drafted mostly by corporate and Wall Street lobbyists, the TPP provides less protection for consumers, workers, small investors, and the environment. In other words, the TPP is a Trojan horse in a global race to the bottom, giving big corporations and Wall Street banks a way to eliminate any and all laws and regulations that get in the way of their profits.
> CASSE-The Daly News: Crossroads On Global Infrastructure (Brent Blackwelder). We are at a critical moment where two approaches to infrastructure are diverging. The infrastructure path of a true cost economy can lead to smaller-scale, smarter infrastructure and a healthier earth. The proposed path of the G-20 and World Bank, on the other hand, will replicate and intensify numerous unsustainable projects and cause human civilization to exceed the carrying capacity of the earth.
> The New York Times: Job Growth Looks Great; Wage Growth, Less So (Neil Irwin). This is all excellent news for the people holding one of the 2.95 million jobs that did not exist at the beginning of 2014 (the strongest year of job growth since 1999). And the numbers do nothing to throw cold water on the idea that the recovery has shifted into a higher gear in recent months. But forgive us for a moment of less than sunny optimism on this front.
EXPECTATIONS-ENLIGHTENMENT (Ideas • Knowledge • Psychology • Beliefs)
> The Archdruid Report: A Camp Amid The Ruins (J. M. Greer). Understanding the concept of sustainability simply requires a willingness to recognize that if something is unsustainable, sooner or later it won’t be sustained. Of course what can’t be sustained at this point is the collection of wildly extravagant energy- and resource-intensive habits that used to pass for a normal lifestyle in the world’s industrial nations, and has recently become just a little less normal than it used to be.
> Monitor: Adapting To A Warmer World (Kirsten Weir). Scientists agree that as the atmosphere continues to warm, extreme weather will happen more frequently and become more severe. Now a group of mental health professionals (International Transformational Resilience Coalition-ITRC) has come together to develop policies and programs to help individuals and communities prepare for the inevitable psychosocial aspects of that threat and to help them achieve wellbeing.
> Resilience: Lives Not Our Own (Tom Butler). The competing urges of the wild and the domestic live within us, and are likely to persist within the conservation movement until humanity embraces a land ethic that both places the wellbeing of the entire biotic community first and renounces the idea that Earth is a resource colony for humanity. Do we have the wisdom to exercise humility and restraint, to choose membership over Lordship? Lives not our own hang in the balance.
> Resource Insights: The Central Contradiction In The Modern Outlook: ‘Planet Of The Apes’ vs ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (Kurt Cobb). When talking about the perils of climate change or resource depletion, soil degradation or fisheries collapse, water pollution or nuclear waste–how annoying it is to have one listener respond dismissively, “They’ll figure something out. They always have.”
EQUALITY (Equity • Health • Social Concerns)
> Common Dreams: ‘Everything Is Awesome’? Not So Much For Middle Class, Says Warren (Deirdre Fulton). According to Warren, “For tens of millions of working families who are the backbone of this country, this economy isn’t working. These families are working harder than ever, but they can’t get ahead. Opportunity is slipping away. Many feel like the game is rigged against them—and they are right. The game is rigged against them.”
> Alternet: 5 Studies That Show How Wealth Warps Your Soul (Zaid Jilani). In his essay, Michael Lewis, writes: “The problem is caused by the inequality itself: It triggers a chemical reaction in the privileged few. It tilts their brains. It causes them to be less likely to care about anyone but themselves or to experience the moral sentiments needed to be a decent citizen.”
> Common Dreams: Amid Time Of Soaring Inequality, Rich Say: The Poor Have It Easy (Andrea Germanos). Oxfam International’s Winnie Byanyima says political leaders will ignore inequality at their own peril.
ENGAGEMENT (Goals • Activism • Solutions)
> TED Talk: Navi Radjou: Creative Problem-Solving In The Face Of Extreme Limits. Pioneer entrepreneurs in emerging markets have figured out how to get spectacular value from limited resources, and the practice of “jugaad,” (frugal innovation) has now caught on globally. Peppering his talk with examples of human ingenuity at work, Radjou shares three principles for doing more with less.
> Common Dreams: Consumer Self-Defense: 12 Ways To Drive GMOs And Roundup Off The Market (Ronnie Cummins). Contrary to what some in the biotech industry and the media claim, genetic engineering of plants is not the same thing as selective breeding, or hybridization. Genetic modification involves inserting foreign genetic material (DNA) into an organism. Selective breeding does not.
> Food Tank: 10 Ways To Support The Next Generation Of Farmers. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average age of farmers has steadily increased over the last 30 years. The (USDA) reports that half of all current farmers are likely to retire in the next decade, leaving a large gap for the next generation to fill. Fortunately, a new wave of food pioneers, mostly from non-farming backgrounds, is turning to careers in agriculture, and facing a fair share of hurdles to overcome.
> Alternet: Not Going Vegetarian, But Cutting Down On Meat? There’s A Name For That (Martha Rosenberg). Reducetarianism is “an identity, community, and movement that’s composed of individuals who are committed to eating less meat–red meat, poultry, seafood, and the flesh of any other animal,” (See website).
> ENSIA: Suburban Sprawl Doesn’t Have To Be Ecologically Devastating (Sarah Jane Keller). As development gobbles up open space, conservationists take a fresh look at subdivisions with biodiversity in mind.
> Geek.com: New Wind Turbine Looks Like A Tree, Generates Power Silently. A French company is trying to change the concept of monolithic wind turbines with a apparatus called the Wind Tree. As you might guess, it’s an array of wind power turbines in the shape of a tree, and several of them will be deployed in Paris this coming March as a test.
EVENTS AND INFORMATION
> Report—Sustainability Education Forum: Last Saturday 11 persons participated in stimulating discussions related to current sustainability topics, led by 3 persons presenting special articles and book reviews. 2 Macalester College sustainability majors attended, and they accepted our invitation to discuss their sustainability activities and potential career opportunities at a future meeting. Next SEF: Saturday, March 14, 2:30-4:30 p.m., at the St. Anthony Village Library. Please place this date on your calendar and let me know if you will attend.
> Minnesota Environmental Partnership: Minnesota’s Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment Fifth Anniversary Celebration and Forum, Thurs., Jan.15, 2015, Noon to 6 p.m. (program begins at 12:30) Minneapolis Marriott Northwest, 7025 Northland Drive North, Brooklyn Park, MN 55428 Fee: $10.To register click here.
> Nativity Lutheran Church-‘Pop Tops’: What Is Sustainability, And Why Do We Need It? Clifton and Bettye Ware, presenters. Nativity Lutheran Church, St. Anthony Village, Silver Lake Rd., Sun., Jan. 18, 9-10 a.m., Fellowship Hall.
> Eastside Food Co-op: Movie Night—Fed Up (The film the food industry doesn’t want you to see), Thurs., Jan. 22, 6:30 p.m., EFC Granite Studio. Free; RSVP firstname.lastname@example.org or 612-843-5409
> Dakota County Citizens’ Climate Lobby: Meet and Greet, Thurs., Jan. 22, 6-9pm, JoJos Rise and Wine Café, 12501 Nicollet Avenue, Burnsville, MN. Info: Deborah Nelson (952-250-3320; email@example.com)