Some Straight Talk About Energy

(#318 ) — Maybe we can agree that it is good to know where you are before setting out on new ventures.

Planet earth is going through the 6th Great Period of Extinction.  That is the consensus scientific conclusion from every field of inquiry.  The word “great” is important.  There have already been at least 14 periods of rapid extinction as well as 5 other great periods of extinction where rates of loss to biotic life are 100 or more times the rate in other rapid periods of extinction.

What’s the difference about today’s world that we live in?  Until 200 years ago, the photochemical processes of photosynthesis kept up and exceeded the need for Earth’s health.  For 50 years already, we have overshot that essential point in planetary physical governance.  For 165,000 years, carbon levels have never been above 315.  Today, carbon levels are approaching 400.

Every 12 years the human population grows by 1 billion people.  3 billion people living without connection to the world of electric consumption aspire to have the same benefits that we enjoy.  For this to happen, the United States population and the rest of the world would have to live the same energy usage of people in Equa-torial Guinea.  This is not going to happen.

The problem isn’t lack of energy stocks in the United States.  We have enough coal to last for 1000 more years.  Similar deposits in Germany and many other countries match these coal deposits. Coal can produce all the energy that oil provides. The United States is not running out of oil either.  Estimates range from 200 to 400 years of oil exists.  Natural gas deposits are constantly being discovered. These energy sources could eliminate the annual $500,000,000,000 import of oil. The United States could be a net exporter of energy.  Following this path would greatly accelerate the pace of species extinction on planet earth.

The solution to fixing the planetary crisis starts with acceptance that it is real, includes everyone and that we can build a new energy system. The German state of Bavaria has the cloudiest climate on earth yet twice the solar electric power as Australia, the sunniest place on earth.  Richer than the United States in coal deposits, Germany has decided not to burn its coal but to leave it in the ground.  It has also decided to eliminate all nuclear power plants.  To supply energy needs from nuclear power would require the building of a new nuclear plant every 1.5 days for the next 200 years.  Every 50 years, nuclear power plants must be decommissioned so this technology is not a possible solution and has proven to be exceedingly dangerous.

A second starting point is recognition that the main problem is not energy shortage or cost, but climate change.  Climate change impacts are beginning to accelerate and even current levels are overwhelming budgets and causing major shift in funding priorities.  Within a few decades, entire infrastructures for transportation and housing may be rendered unworkable.  Human health demise will increase above the current catastrophe that has not yet been measured or understood.

Sullivan County can generate tremendous economic progress by getting serious about investing in new energy technologies. Next week’s column will specific how a new partnership with our sun and water resources can deliver energy solutions that are not harmful to human prosperity and longevity.

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