There’s some tough choices we face as a nation as we struggle to create job growth and find sustainable energy sources to keep our economy moving. For some of us the choice is a no-brainer.
We are at a point where our traditional sources of energy – coal and oil – are not only shrinking as finite sources will, but in our efforts to meet growing demand it takes greater efforts to remove them from their buried locations in the earth and below the seas, effecting rising costs while their toxic agents pollute our air and water. They also contribute to the green house effect that is global warming. We clearly need to find a substitute for these sources if we are to advance our civilization and prevent the disastrous consequences of increased CO2 in our atmosphere.
On the other hand the renewable sources that can meet this challenge have yet to be developed to a level that can handle the current payloads and steady supplies that coal and oil give us. The infrastructure for 21st century energy sources of wind, solar, geo-thermal, wave, hydro-power and bio-mass are only now being developed but confront obstacles posed by the fossil fuel industry and to a small degree, some environmentalist.
Current figures show that these renewable sources of energy provide only about 13% to the nation’s energy grid. Logistics of delivery capabilities and storage are still not at a level that can supply large amounts during peak demand periods of very hot and very cold weather. But these problems and conditions are surmountable once we get the nation and our political leaders behind this effort.
The other issue that confronts us as we work towards converting dirty, limited sources of energy to cleaner, renewable ones is how this conversion process will impact consumers and jobs. An economic transition this massive in scope cannot happen over-night and will to some degree disrupt markets that impact jobs and prices. The question that isn’t being presented cogently to the public is to what degree this conversion will negatively affect us and for how long. Let’s see if we can put a little light on this in as brief a statement as possible.
Rates of oil production around the globe have already been cut simply because of growing global demands. Some of the world’s “best paid, most widely respected geologists, physicists, bankers, and investors in the world” have already concluded that “peak oil” has been reached and we will start seeing further rates of production dropping in short order. Increased shortfalls not only from limited supplies but from “above-ground factors” like wars, terrorism and massive climate change conditions of drought and floods will further effect production and could conceivably cut the total supply by 50% within the next few years, according to Jeff Vail, a Colorado business litigation attorney who writes frequently on systems theory, complexity, and geopolitics, and is actively involved with The Institute for the Study of Energy and Our Future.
Coal, the more abundant base supply of energy in the U.S. is also scheduled to peak soon. Data supplied by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Energy Information Administration (EIA) show the U.S. coal reserves could peak as early as 2032 and by the end of this century our coal-producing capacity will be nil in terms of need. Similar outcomes are in store for our natural gas supplies. This means we have at best a generation to be on-line to supply our children and grand-children with ready sources of energy if they are to live in a world that comes anywhere close to our heydays of the last century.
But in so doing what will happen to the jobs in the coal, oil and natural gas industries. Well despite the bogus shrill by industry friendly politicians, these jobs will disappear anyway by default because their product is disappearing. To create an overly scary scenario that job losses will occur because the EPA or some other federal agency is over-regulating the fossil fuel industry is a red herring that is promoted by industry executives trying to hold on to one of the most profitable businesses in history.
They know that return of investment (ROI) will increase as supplies dwindle and they are not ready to forgo this increase in their wealth to simply prepare for our future needs. Thus they have paid millions to corporate-friendly scientist and politicians to spread an alarming message of increased fuel prices and job losses resulting from anything that blocks their path to achieve financial excesses. Exxon/Mobil, Koch Industries and their political lobby front, the American Petroleum Institute (API) have initiated well-orchestrated campaigns to undermine the science that not only challenges their fear-mongering about jobs and price increases but also to subvert the science that speaks to climate change effected by man-made conditions attributable to fossil fuel use.
Today, the Republican controlled House Energy and Commerce Committee headed by Fred Upton will challenge the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases via the Clean Air Act, with many already swearing to neuter the agency to prevent what they feel will “cost jobs and raise prices on consumer goods”. No doubt the industry will have to pass on expenses to consumers to improve their facilities that currently contaminate our air and drinking water as well as add to anthropogenic global warming. To offset these price increases some industries will eliminate jobs, not a popular action in lieu of our current unemployment crisis.
But such needed changes are essential to the health and economic well-being of our future and our children’s future. The sacrifices that have to be made now will be paid back in spades down the short road of recovery. As senior fellow of the World Resources Institute Ruth Greenspan Bell points out here:
“When EPA promulgates regulations, industry often expresses concern that the regulations will cause extreme economic hardship. Now this argument is being made regarding EPA regulation of carbon pollution using existing legal authorities like the Clean Air Act.
In fact, there is extensive literature showing that the costs of environmental regulations are more than offset by a broad range of economic, public health and jobs-related benefits. Additionally, initial cost estimates are consistently found to be exaggerated. Economists and researchers who have compared actual costs with initial projections report that regulations generally end up costing far less than the dire predictions from industry and even, as an RFF study shows below cost projections by the Environmental Protection Agency.
As I mentioned earlier, the renewable sources that can meet our future energy needs have yet to be developed but this is in part due to the obstructionist efforts of oil and coal friendly legislators who constantly block needed funding and tax incentives to promote green technology. The GOP Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Hal Rogers, recently announced a partial list of spending cuts they will be presenting for consideration.
In it is a request to cut $899 million from the office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy whose total 2009 budget was only about $1.2 billion. The mission of this agency is to “develop and deploy renewable energy sources and conversion technologies, as well as identify efficiency best practices, regulations and technologies that collectively strengthens our economy, protects the environment and increases national security.”
With an eye to the past rather than the future, the U.S. is lagging behind China and the EU to find ways to overcome our dependency on fossil fuels and stave off the dire consequences that our current energy policy is taking us. The last thing we need are cuts in areas that promote development of clean, renewable energy if we are to remain competitive in world markets.
Despite the efforts of pro-oil and coal forces, the public is clearly ready to fully restore America’s economic strength by making long-term investments that will lead to new jobs and new industries that renewable sources will provide. We can only hope that common sense and foresight will ultimately affect our representatives in the U.S. Congress
- Why Energy Companies Invest Next to Nothing in Innovation (treehugger.com)
- Martin ChÃ¡vez: The Clean Energy Road to 2035 Paved by the Hard Work of Local Governments (huffingtonpost.com)
- Plans for 150 New Coal Plants Scrapped (yubanet.com)