Gas prices, oil sands, fracking and the Canadian pipeline have all thrust energy back into the headlines. Politicians posture, eco-alarmists protest and those global warming fanatics continue to predict the end of the world as we know it. If you are tired of the hype and disinformation, if you really want to understand energy—where it comes from, how it works and how much of it the world has—then you need a copy of The Energy Gap. In this follow-on to The Resilient Earth, Hoffman and Simmons address the world's energy questions with the same wit and erudition displayed in their previous work. Even better, in honor of April 15th, tax day in the US, you can now download a copy of The Energy Gap for free from Amazon.
The Resilient Earth Press is happy to bring you an interesting interview with the well known economist Ed Dolan. Courtesy of Oilprice.com, Dolan gives his perspective on oil prices, the prospects for cheap energy, Russia's growing uncertainty and how the natural gas boom is hindering renewable energy efforts. We think you will find a number of thought provoking statements and ideas to ponder in the views expressed in the interview, which appears in its entirety below.
Most Americans have noticed that the price of gasoline at the pump has started to rise again. Gasoline prices have surged 30 cents since mid-July and now average $3.70 a gallon, higher than year-ago levels in 39 states. While some sources have blamed the recent refinery fire in California and others a rise in crude oil prices there is one hidden source of increasing fuel costs few are willing to mention—ethanol. Mandated by Congress to make up 10% of automotive gasoline, ethanol made from corn accounts for a quarter of recent fuel price increases while at the same time contributing to rising food costs and shortages world wide. Not satisfied with this astounding government largess, an unnatural alliance of eco-activists and big agribusiness is lobbying to raise the mandate to 15%. It is time for this blatant government kickback to end.
Maize, called corn in the US, is one of the world's great staple crops. It is consumed directly, fed to food animals, and processed into oil and sweeteners. The US is the largest consumer and producer of corn, growing more than twice as much as next largest producer China. A rise in corn prices causes a rise in food prices in general, and shortages have even caused riots in some countries. As important as corn is to the world's food supply it would seem the height of insanity to convert corn into automotive fuel. Yet last year, for the first time, more of the US corn crop went into the manufacture of ethanol fuel than for livestock feed, corn's traditional main use. About 40% of US corn now goes to ethanol, and though there is serious talk about dropping the $0.45 per gallon government subsidy, ethanol producers remain sanguine about their future. Why? Because the federal government will still mandate the mixing of ethanol with gasoline even if it no longer subsidizes its use directly.
Recently, the 3rd Nobel Laureate Symposium decided to hold a trial, charging humanity with ruining the planet. Based on the so called 9 Planetary Boundaries, a jury of 20 Nobel Laureates sat in judgment while “compelling evidence” was presented showing that “humanity may now be capable of radically altering the remarkable conditions for life on Earth.” The Planetary Boundaries approach was developed by 28 scientists, who estimated that three of the boundaries, climate change, the nitrogen cycle and biodiversity loss, have already been crossed and that several others are all ready in dangerous territory. We have all been charged with transgressing boundaries laid down by a group of scientists most people have never heard of, judged and found guilty by a gaggle of Nobel Prize winners, and been remanded to the UN for punishment. This sham trial does not represent justice but an attempt to place humanity in ecological bondage.
When night falls, many insects come out to feed, often on human food crops. Helping to turn back the pillaging insect hoards is an aerial armada of unsung and unloved heroes—bats. Bats are voracious predators of nocturnal insects, helping to control the populations of many crop and forest pests. Tragically, several migratory tree-dwelling species are being killed in unprecedented numbers by wind turbines across North America. Recent analysis presented in the journal Science suggests that reduced bat populations cause agricultural losses estimated at more than $3.7 billion/year and could rise as high as $53 billion/year if bats are driven to extinction. Oblivious to the carnage being caused by wind turbines, climate change alarmists and green political dupes have continued to push for rapid expansion of wind power. It is time to call a moratorium on wind park construction until a more realistic and less damaging policy can be formulated.
As public concern rises over the safety and ecological soundness of renewable energy sources like solar and wind, the nuclear power industry is quietly ramping up to build new, smaller types of reactors that can be deployed as sealed power units. Russia is moving ahead with plans to locate floating nuclear power plants along its northern coast and a French company has designed a small offshore nuclear power plant called Flexblue. At the same time, efforts by the US Department of Energy's Savannah River Site to host a range of proof-of-concept units from several vendors has run afoul of bureaucratic infighting. Around the world, nuclear power is progressing, while former nuclear technology leader America founders.
The Alpha Ventus Wind Park is the first of its kind: a deep water wind farm in the stormy North Sea. It is composed of 12 turbines that together will generate 60MW of electrical power. When fully operational, the farm will be able to power 50,000 households. But barely two months after the ceremony opening Germany’s first deep water wind farm, six of the newly installed wind turbines were idle. This was not due to a lack of wind but because of gearbox damage: two turbines had to be replaced entirely, the other four repaired on site. Problems with Alpha Ventus highlight a series of poor decisions—a precipitous move to shut down working nuclear plants, rampant installation of solar cells, and a headlong rush into offshore wind generation among them—that could well have Germany facing blackouts in the not too distant future.
Al Gore, the high prophet of ecological doom, has stunned the climate change faithful by recanting his support for ethanol fuel. Now he tells us that supporting corn based subsidies was a mistake and that it had more to do with his desire to cultivate farm votes in the 2000 presidential election than with what was good for the environment. This announcement comes at a time when the US Congress has an opportunity to set things right. The current $0.45 per gallon tax credit for adding ethanol to gasoline automatically expires December 31, and all senators and congressmen need to do is nothing. Continue to dither and taxpayers will save six billion dollars plus the air will be cleaner. Unfortunately, the corn ethanol lobby has its hooks well planted in the US Congress, including many Republicans who supposedly have seen the light of spending reduction. Will Congress betray the people yet again?
In the November 12, 2010, issue of Science a number of news focus articles decry the results of the 2010 US elections and the possible impact those results may have on the fight against global warming. Staff reporters for the AAAS flagship journal are all atwitter about the evil Republicans coming back into power, and they are not alone. Reportedly, many researchers fear the worst after the Republican victory at the polls produced a 25-plus-seat majority in the House of Representatives and reduced the Democrats' hold on the Senate. The $20 billion for scientific research that was part of the $787 billion stimulus package may have been the high water mark for government funding during the Obama administration.
Through generous subsidies from the US government, secured by corn-belt politicians, 25% of America's corn (maize) crop is turned into ethanol for use in automobiles. Ignoring the negative impact this has on food production, agricultural runoff and land use, there is new talk of raising government mandated fuel mixture proportions to use even more ethanol. At the same time, the idea of turning farm and forest wastes into "cellulosic" ethanol, a biofuel to power cars and trucks continues to languish. Because of the ongoing economic slump, a plentiful supply of ethanol made from corn, and uncertainty among policymakers, companies have delayed plans to build commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plants, some canceling them altogether. Evidently, even the hundreds of millions of dollars on offer from the Department of Energy (DOE) are not enough to lure investors to participate in this latest biofuel boondoggle. Industry understands what biofuel advocates do not—biofuels make no sense in terms of energy policy: neither environmentally nor economically. Instead of propping up wasteful and nonviable biofuel schemes, Congress should stop all biofuel subsidies and kill all ongoing ethanol projects.
With the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico emboldening all the denizens of the eco-underground, some voices are once again calling for increased production of biofuels—ethanol and biodiesel—and accelerated research into clean coal. Ignoring the fact that biofuels take as much energy to produce as they provide and that they are only competitive with heavy government subsidies, biofuel boosters are again trying to sell their snake-oil to the public. But the single most damning aspect of biofuel production is the exorbitant amount of water it takes to cook-up a gallon of the stuff. Now it appears that the other great energy scam, clean coal, will also increase water usage—by a whopping 80%. With the world facing a real water crisis in the near future, the last thing any government should be doing is wasting their citizens' money on are “green” energy scams that are really just subsidies for coal companies and big agribusiness conglomerates.
Across the southeastern US, the nitrogen-fixing legume Pueraria montana, more commonly known as kudzu, has been an impossible to eradicate invader for decades. While its direct impact on native ecosystems is highly visible—a smothering green blanket that swallows up shrubs, trees and even houses—what is not as apparent is kudzu's effect on the atmosphere. Its spread has the potential to raise ozone levels by increasing nitric oxide (NO) emissions from soils by as much as 100%. Since NO is a potent greenhouse gas, the spread of the pesky vine could be a contributing factor to climate change. That's right: kudzu causes global warming!
Experts predict that, over the long term, food security can't be achieved without energy security. Add in mechanization, storage, and transport and the energy impact of a typical meal in industrialized nations is many times the amount of energy the meal's consumer derives. Recently, researchers have been taking a close look at just how much energy it takes to produce even seemingly similar foods. The conclusion: Food choices can have a significant impact on energy use in agriculture, and by extension, on greenhouse gas emissions as well. Beef lovers beware! As the world diverts more of its grain harvests into meat production, some scientists are taking a closer look at more environmentally friendly sources of protein, including insects.
There is another contender in the alternate energy, renewable fuels sweepstakes that combines aspects of solar energy and biofuels. Most solar technologies are aimed at producing electricity, but a new class of solar chemical reactors aims to make liquid fuels from air, water, and sunshine. This could, in theory, provide a carbon neutral replacement for liquid fossil fuels. The catch? The process is costly and unlikely ever to compete with gasoline produced from fossil fuels without a punishing tax on carbon emissions.