Anyone who’s watched the Republican Party over the past few years realizes that there are a lot of them who deny the existence of climate change. From Senator Coburn’s report on it – which turns out to have other problems, particularly with the cherry picked analysis – to various oil and gas companies running campaigns, there’s a lot of effort being spent to debunk the scientific consensus. What the climate change deniers overlook is another very real problem. That is, that cheap, easily produced oil, natural gas, and coal are running out, or will do so within the next century Which in a cold-hearted analysis, neatly solves the problem of human-generated carbon dioxide production. It’ll be reduced because there won’t be enough cheap fossil fuels to burn or use as fuel.
While that might “solve” the carbon emissions problem, the other problems that result from that will be severe.
The problems we are seeing today in terms of recession and reduced credit availability are precisely the kinds of impacts we would expect to see from oil flow that does not meet society’s needs at an acceptably low price. While one cannot prove that our current economic problems are mostly related to the oil situation, it is hard to believe that the relationship could be happenstance. Even the crazy build-up in mortgage loans prior to the collapse may have been a way of disguising the real lack of growth in the economy, as world oil production stalled.
That’s oil, but natural gas can be substituted, right? We have plenty, if you listen to various gas companies – but they don’t tell everything:
Many people now believe that the United States has an abundant natural gas supply that will last for 100 years. While it is true that the resource base is large and that approximately one-third is from shale gas, it is not 100 years of supply at current consumption levels. The Potential Gas Committee’s (PGC) June 2009 report estimated that the U.S. has 1,836 Tcf of technically recoverable gas resources. Technically recoverable resources are different than commercially viable reserves. Nonetheless, a more careful reading of the PGC report reveals that the probable estimate is 441 Tcf and the shale gas component is about 150 Tcf (Figure 5). That resource represents a lot of gas but, at 23 Tcf of annual consumption, it is about seven years of supply, assuming that this was the only gas available. Based on production to date, it is likely that the commercial component of this resource is between 50 and 75 Tcf assuming a $7.00/Mcf gas price.
We’ve been told that there’s plenty of coal – I used to hear a figure of “400 years” thrown around – but the outlook is not much better:
The ultimately recoverable resources (URR) estimates used in the scenarios ranged from 700 Gt to 1243 Gt. The model indicates that worldwide coal production will peak between 2010 and 2048 on a mass basis and between 2011 and 2047 on an energy basis. The Best Guess scenario, assumed a URR of 1144 Gt and peaks in 2034 on a mass basis, and in 2026 on an energy basis
The three major fossil fuels that power our – and the world’s – current economy are not going to be readily available or, most importantly, cheap. They aren’t going to run out, but the cost of using them will rise drastically as the easily extracted resources run out. The remainder will cost far more to extract, and new supplies will not replace the old in terms of the need. That is the point the climate change deniers are overlooking.
In other words, the solutions being proposed for climate change turn out to be the solutions to another looming problem. “Green” technology, renewable energy, alternatives – all of the things that are talked about in the context of climate change also serve as solutions in the context of fossil fuel depletion. The climate change deniers have a complementary group that denies the idea that we’ll run out of fossil fuels, and as usual, they’re ignoring the data. But they’re still delaying progress, and it’s going to have an impact on our economy:
The people who are saying we don’t want to change are holding a view that when a new technology comes along it’s going to displace an old technology. The people whose business depends on old technology might get nervous. They can adapt and innovate or fight the change. That used to work when we weren’t so interconnected. In this new very flat world of multinational corporations, virtually all of western Europe, Japan, Korea, China are saying, “This is our future.” If we don’t go in this direction, we will be importing many of the technologies we could be exporting. I just installed an on-demand water heater and there were no American manufacturers. There were Korean, Japanese, European manufacturers. Kind of scary.
Yes, it is scary. It’s not just the “wild-eyed liberal treehuggers” who are saying things like this. Even some conservative Republicans are worried:
“We’re here with important decisions to be made. I’d also suggest to my free enterprise colleagues, especially conservatives here, whether you think it’s all a “bunch of hooey” that we’ve talked about in this committee, the Chinese don’t, and they plan on eating our lunch in this next century. They plan on innovating around these problems, and selling to us and the rest of the world the technology to lead the 21′st century. So we may just press the “pause” button here for several years, but China is pressing the “fast forward” button.”
That is the challenge ahead. There is no single technology which is going to be “the answer,” it’s much more likely to be a package of technology, infrastructure, and cultural changes. The time to start examining them – and trying – is now. Some will fail, some will work, some will need improvement. That’s the reality, and it’s important for this country’s future. At the same time, we need to avoid the more extreme rhetoric. People have been inundated with “worst case” scenarios since the ’70′s, and as each failed to come true – or weren’t as bad as had been “predicted” - they became skeptical of those claims. Regardless, there is a real problem, and that needs to be made clear. Climate change is a reality. It doesn’t matter if they deny it, because there’s another issue looming, and both can be solved using the same thing.