Sunday, September 25, 2016

Green Energy Revolution Folly

President Obama recently set a goal to double renewable power generation in the U.S. by 2020. At the same time, he suggested ending oil company tax breaks and using them, instead, to bolster solar and wind industries. The U.S. government is investing more than $1 trillion in green energy, the so-called "clean" energy alternative, while choking off coal and natural gas production with increasingly onerous regulations.

In their book, Fueling Freedom:  Exposing the Mad War on Energy, authors Stephen Moore and Kathleen Hartnett White argue against the shift to renewables.  Using energy-production statistics and the historic contributions of fossil fuels, they explode the myths promulgated by renewables cheerleaders.  They expose the extensive misinformation on clean energy resources to effectively argue against what they believe would be a disastrous, energy production shift that would have serious lifestyle and geopolitical consequences for Americans.

Promoters of renewable energy sources -- the supposed "low environmental impact" alternative to fossil fuels -- are putting forth a false narrative, Moore and White assert.

Rather than worrying that carbon energy resources are destroying the planet and looking to renewable energy as an alternative, the authors suggest we should celebrate the vast contributions fossil fuels made during the past century, advancing mankind and making our lives safer, more productive and economically and politically secure.  The U.S. has more recoverable energy supplies than any nation on earth, the authors posit.  With fairly recent shale oil and natural gas discoveries and newer technologies of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracking, we are in no danger of running out any time soon.  It should be welcome news, they urge, that the U.S. can be energy independent within the next few years and be the world's dominant energy producer.  Freedom from OPEC manipulations and the potential for millions of jobs that would substantially add to our gross domestic product, benefits our national security and would be a welcome boon to our relatively stagnant economy.

Moore and White explain how the Industrial Revolution, fueled by carbon energy usage, broke through decades of static human existence and brought significant and historic, upward trends for the average person, including a tripling of life expectancy and a 10- to 30-fold increase in per-capita, real income.  Coal and petroleum transformed into energy for mechanical power was the most important energy conversion in industrial civilization.  With coal-powered machines, man was suddenly liberated from the physical limitations of muscle and beasts of burden.  When electricity became available, heat, power and countless household appliances, industrial motors and electronics were developed, generating a second, energy revolution.

Carbon-resource usage (and the invention of the internal combustion engine) brought liberty, mobility and choice, enabling sustained productivity and economic growth, the authors maintain.  Additionally, it revolutionized the science and practice of metallurgy and dramatically transformed textile production.  Previously expensive and tedious to produce, clothing became more affordable and warmer; winter clothing became available.  Today, 60% of global fibers come from fossil fuels.  In addition, fossil fuels played and continue to play an important role in reducing food supply loss by refrigeration, packaging and containers.

The authors marvel at the transformation that took place in a newly industrialized society. Until coal was harnessed on a massive scale, humans were dependent on energy from plants, wood, animals and human muscle, as well as wind and water flows.  The dramatic shift from diffuse and variable flows of energy -- wind and water -- to massive stores of hydrocarbon minerals was a turning point for human progress.  Energy became transportable, controllable, affordable, dense, reliable and versatile.

Fossil fuels have also dramatically benefited agriculture.  The authors detail that U.S. food production has tripled, using 1/3 of the land, 1/3 the labor, and at 1/3 the cost of pre-fossil-fuel agriculture.  In the past, over 50% of the U.S. population was involved in agriculture and food was scarce and expensive.  Today, only 3% of the country's population produces our plentiful food supply.

The economic implications for today's shale revolution are equally extensive, especially if drilling is allowed on federal lands.  The authors estimate tax revenues in the trillions of dollars.  They cite the economic prosperity of North Dakota, with potentially greater oil resources than Saudi Arabia and currently more millionaires per capita than any other state.  The Great Plains state has already surpassed California and Alaska in oil production and is second behind Texas.

The U.S. currently has 50% more oil reserves than in 1950.  Technology and innovation have increased our supply so that we discover new sources faster than we deplete known reserves.  Further, economic efficiencies in extraction, processing and conversion of energy result in less spending for greater energy output and a continuing reduction in the energy infrastructure physical footprint.

By comparison, non-fossil-fuel energy sources -- wood, wind, solar, hydro, geothermal, biomass and nuclear -make up only 15% of the world's total primary energy supply and provide significantly lower energy yield and potential.  For example, the power density -- power per unit of volume -- of natural-gas-fired, electric generation is almost 2,000 times greater than that of wind-generated electricity.  Using ethanol produced from corn to power a vehicle's internal combustion system creates a net energy loss when the energy used in planting, fertilizing, harvesting, distilling and transporting is factored in.  Further, the diversion of 40% of the U.S. corn crop to ethanol, a less efficient fuel than gasoline, has raised corn prices and prompted more farmers to grow corn instead of other vital crops.  Biomass energy production, with its accompanying upticks in tractor and farm vehicle usage and chemicals, reduces the food supply, increases fertilizer and water use, and adds to pollution.  Production of wind, solar and biofuels uses thousands more acres of land than coal, natural gas and nuclear power. According to Jess Ausubel,1 an average wind system uses 460 metric tons of steel and 870 cubic meters of concrete per megawatt. In contrast, a natural gas combined cycle plant uses about three metric tons of steel and twenty-seven cubic meters of concrete.

As for carbon dioxide falsely classified as pollutant, Moore and White remind readers of basic eighth grade science:  Carbon dioxide is essential to plant life, on which all human and animal lives depend for food.  Plants inhale carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen used in human respiration.  Commercial greenhouses actually use elevated levels of CO2 to stimulate plant growth and that plant life flourished during past periods of higher CO2 levels.

The authors criticize the misguided trend to replace our fossil-fuel-based, electric system with wind, solar or biomass.  They argue that green energy can't compete in a free market without bringing scarcity, economic decline, physical suffering and geopolitical crises.  The reliability of renewable energy suffers from weather vagaries whereas coal, natural gas and nuclear power deliver energy precisely as needed.

Moore and White bemoan the political clout of the Environmental Protection Agency and its myriad regulations and question its integrity and usefulness.  They assert that emissions actually began to fall in the 1960s, nearly a decade before the establishment of the EPA.  During the same time as the EPA's anti-industrial "back to nature" philosophy took root, air quality actually improved despite a doubling of fossil fuel use with an accompanying 200% increase in the GDP.

These improvements came from emission reductions and controls made by private business rather than EPA mandates, the authors maintain.  Between 1980 and 2010, airborne sulfur dioxide declined by 89%, carbon monoxide by 82%, nitrogen dioxide by 52%, ozone by 27%, particulate matter by 27% and mercury by 65%.  Over the past few decades, tailpipe emissions declined by more than 90% with miles traveled increasing by 180%.

In recent years, a massive, wind and solar renewables program failed miserably in Europe.  It caused precipitously higher prices and scarcities, prompting hundreds of thousands of families to turn to wood burning in desperation (thus inflating furniture and paper prices) and spurring construction of new coal plants.  The threat of blackouts, unacceptably high utility bills and corporate flight resulting from this renewables program, threatened the very stability of Europe.  Citing Europe's dismal example, Moore and White explain that contrary to the popular exaltation of renewables, a prosperous American future will be driven by abundant, reliable and inexpensive fossil fuels.


UK: Hinkley Point: how not to go nuclear

This costly project could set back the energy revolution we need

On Thursday afternoon, I went upstairs, closed the curtains and had a lie down for a while. Something shocking had happened and I needed a few minutes to recover. The traumatic event? I read an article by George Monbiot and largely agreed with it. Truly, a once-in-a-blue-moonbat moment.

It’s not an experience I am accustomed to. Monbiot has for a decade been the most consistent and high-profile proponent of misanthropic environmentalism in the UK. But here we were in agreement: nuclear power is a good idea and we need more of it, but the deal to build Hinkley Point C is a bad one. A really bad one. So bad, in fact, that it could put future governments off the idea of nuclear power for years to come. Yet, after a pause for reconsideration, the UK prime minister, Theresa May, decided last week to give Hinkley Point the green light.

Nuclear power has made a comeback largely because of the obsession with greenhouse-gas emissions. Renewables are still relatively expensive compared with burning fossil fuels (though getting cheaper as technology improves), but they are also intermittent. Solar, obviously, only works during the day and produces less energy when it is cloudy. Wind works both day and night, but only when the wind blows. Renewables are thus both intermittent and unpredictable. As a result, both solar and wind need to be backed up by gas-powered stations – but running such stations on a start-stop basis to fill in the gaps is expensive, too.

Nuclear is comparable with renewables in terms of greenhouse-gas emissions, but it is at least reliable. In fact, since fuel costs are relatively low and capital costs are high, the best thing to do is to run nuclear power stations flat out, providing ‘base load’ to the electricity network. Nuclear isn’t so good at adapting to the ups and downs of electricity demand as gas, but it could still provide a big chunk of Britain’s energy needs.

But building nuclear power stations is an expensive, long-term project – just the kind of thing Britain seems to be bad at. To persuade √Člectricit√© de France (EdF) to build Hinkley Point C, the government was forced, to echo a line from Nye Bevan, to stuff their mouths with gold. In the case of Hinkley Point, that meant guaranteeing EdF a high price for the electricity it would produce: £92.50 per megawatt-hour (MWh), index-linked to inflation, plus providing billions in loan guarantees.

Even when the deal was struck, the price for EdF’s electricity looked steep. Now it looks embarrassing. The justification for the price was that gas prices were expected to rise sharply, making the effective subsidy to EdF look relatively small – about £6 billion over the lifetime of the plant. Now, with gas prices having fallen, that subsidy could be as high as £30 billion.

That might be justified for a well-established and reliable technology. But the reactor design proposed by EdF has been around for quite some time – and is still yet to produce any electricity. The first such project, in Finland, commenced in 2005. Between constant design changes, technical problems and difficulties with Finnish regulators, the project has run massively over budget and won’t become operational until at least 2018. Similar problems have dogged the plant in Flamanville in France, started in 2007, which again might only produce power at the end of 2018. But, if anything, the problems at Flamanville are even worse, leading to suggestions that the plant might be scrapped.

And to put the tin lid on things, the Hinkley Point project has put such a strain on EdF’s creaking finances that the plant will now be one-third funded by the Chinese, who signed up on the expectation of being able to build plants of their own at Bradwell and Sizewell in years to come. It was security concerns about this Chinese involvement that apparently led to Theresa May’s decision to review the project. The result has been that the UK government will in future take a stake in such projects to ensure that ownership is fully transparent. In truth, May and her advisers may have been looking for a way out of the deal. In the end, politics prevailed over economics.

To sum up: Hinkley Point C is a power station that the UK government no longer wants to pay for, the French company building it doesn’t want to build, the Chinese partners are only supporting in order to build their own power plants in the future, and which may never get built if the technological and engineering problems can’t be solved. But the UK government doesn’t want to offend the French with Brexit negotiations imminent, nor does it want to annoy the Chinese when trade deals might be needed in the future. The French are desperately trying to save face by refusing to admit that their nuclear technology isn’t going to work. So everyone ploughs on. Politics has trumped common sense.

If our first attempt in decades at building a nuclear plant ends in complete farce – and it is quite possible it will – it would surely make it very difficult to win support for nuclear power plants in the future. Which is very bad news, because nuclear power offers the possibility of producing the huge quantities of energy we need to transform our world. Here’s where I disagree with Monbiot: he wants nuclear power to reduce humanity’s ‘footprint’ on the world; I want nuclear power to create the possibility of massively increasing that footprint. That’s something renewables are unlikely to be able to do in the UK, unless we are prepared to turn our countryside and coastline into an ugly monoculture of wind turbines.

Whether it is the current nuclear-fission technology, thorium-based reactors, new nuclear-waste-gobbling designs or even the holy grail itself – nuclear fusion – it is only such concentrated power sources that could really transform the world. Let’s hope that Hinkley Point C does get built and does produce electricity, as promised. At least we could write it off as an expensive mistake, learn some lessons from the process, and then get on with the job of building cost-effective nuclear stations for the future.


Obama Directs Federal Agencies to Consider Climate Change As a National Security Issue

In a Sept. 21 memo to his department heads, President Obama instructed all federal departments and agencies to consider the impact of climate change on national security.

Obama states that it is the policy of the U.S. government to ensure that current and anticipated impacts of climate change be "identified and considered" in developing national security doctrine, policies and plans.

"Climate change poses a significant and growing threat to national security, both at home and abroad," the memo says. Those threats, according to Obama, include flooding, drought, heat waves, intense precipitation, pest outbreaks, disease, and electricity problems, all of which can "affect economic prosperity, public health and safety, and international stability."

Obama also says those anticipated climate change issues could adversely affect military readiness; negatively affect military facilities and training; increase demands for federal support to civil defense authorities,; and increase the need to maintain international stability and provide humanitarian assistance needs.

He has directed his national security and science/technology chiefs to chair an interagency working group to study climate-related impacts on national security and develop plans to deal with those impacts.

The working group will include high-ranking officials from the Departments of State, Treasury, Defense, Justice, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Transportation, Energy, Homeland Security, Agency for International Development, NASA, Director of National Intelligence, U.S. Mission to the U.N., Office of Management and Budget, Council on Environmental Quality, Millennium Change Corporation, and "any other agencies or offices as designated by the co-chairs."

Among other things, this bureaucratic working group will "develop recommendations for climate and social science data...that support or should be considered in the development of national security doctrine, policy, and plans."

The working group will create data repositories, climate modeling, and simulation and projection capabilities.

The presidential memo lays out a total 17 action points for the working group, all of them premised on the notion that human-caused climate change is indisputable fact.

The working group has been given 90 days to develop an action plan, which must include "specific objectives, milestones, timelines, and identification of agencies responsible for completion of all actions described therein."

And the working group has 150 days to "develop implementation plans" for the action plans. (Some of those implementation plans may be classified because they deal with national security.)

Section 7 of the presidential memo defines various terms, such as climate, climate change, climate modeling, and "fragility."

"'Fragility' refers to a condition that results from a dysfunctional relationship between state and society and the extent to which that relationship fails to produce policy outcomes that are considered effective or legitimate." (Considered "effective and legitimate" by the government, apparently.)

"'Resilience'" refers to the ability to anticipate, prepare for, and adapt to changing conditions and to withstand, respond to, and recover rapidly from disruptions.


Cutting Through the Doom and Gloom: We’re Nature’s Caretakers, Not Undertakers

One environmentalist says if we want to actually help the planet, we humans need to get over ourselves

Imagine a team of paleontologists eons from now, excavating the remains of ancient life. “Aha!” says one, holding up a finger stained with petroleum grease. “Look here,” says another, brandishing a petrified Coca-Cola bottle. “Yes, this confirms it,” remarks a third, holding up a fossilized chicken bone. “This layer is Anthropocene.”

That’s precisely the scene one group of experts seemed to have in mind at this summer’s meeting of the International Geological Congress. The group’s chair, a professor at the University of Leicester, argued that human beings have so profoundly altered our planet that we have entered a new geologic era. The so-called “Anthropocene,” or “era of man,” will be easy to recognize in future rock layers by its distinctive strata of garbage, radioactive fallout, carbon pollution, and yes—chicken bones. At least, that’s what these scientists claim.

And there’s another marker of the Anthropocene: a so-called “Sixth Extinction.” The current die-off of species at the hands of human beings is so severe, say some scientists, that it’s comparable to the extinction of the dinosaurs and other major die-offs in Earth’s history.

“Nature is dead,” we might paraphrase Nietzsche, “and we have killed her.” But is this bleak picture of our relationship with all other life really accurate? Are we really entering the geologic era of man?

Let’s not flatter ourselves, says environmentalist and author Stewart Brand. In a recent essay at Aeon, Brand argues that notions like the “Anthropocene” and the “sixth extinction” aren’t just wrong. They’re a recipe for panic and paralysis when it comes to protecting our still-beautiful and wild Earth.

“Viewing every conservation issue through the lens of extinction threat is simplistic and usually irrelevant,” Brand writes. “Worse, it introduces an emotional charge that makes the problem seem cosmic and overwhelming rather than local and solvable.”

If doctors talked to their patients the way most environmentalists talk to the public, they’d begin every session by saying, “Well, you’re dying. Let’s see if we can do anything to slow that down a little.”

Brand argues that the “lazy romanticism about impending doom” undergirding notions like the “Anthropocene” and the “sixth extinction” is a “formula for hopelessness,” and therefore, failure.

Instead he offers a dose of reality: Almost all of the most recent extinctions have taken place on tiny ocean islands. And those species, while worth mourning, were of almost no ecological importance to the majority of the planet.

Meanwhile, stories like the recovery of the giant panda, which was recently removed from the endangered species list, show that when we focus on incremental and local solutions, humans can undo much of our own damage.

This idea that nature is “extremely fragile or already hopelessly broken” isn’t remotely the case, Brand writes. Nature is resilient, and if given the chance, it will rebound with remarkable speed.

It turns out our understanding of ourselves and our place in the environment is crucial to preserving that environment. We’re caretakers, not undertakers. And naming geologic eras after ourselves does nothing to preserve or tend the world over which God has placed us as stewards.

Will future paleontologists identify our era by its abundant chicken bones? Well, maybe. But if we cut the doom and gloom and see our relationship with nature accurately, they may just find plentiful evidence of pandas, as well.


Powering countries, empowering people

Affordable energy brings jobs, improved living standards and pursuit of happiness  

Paul Driessen

For 16 years, in a scene out of pre-industrial America, Thabo Molubi and his partner made furniture in South Africa’s outback, known locally as the “veld.” Lacking even a stream to turn a water wheel and machinery, they depended solely on hand and foot power. But then an electrical line reached the area.

The two installed lights, and power saws and drills. Their productivity increased fourfold. They hired local workers to make, sell and ship more tables and chairs, of better quality, at higher prices, to local and far away customers. Workers had more money to spend, thereby benefitting still more families.

Living standards climbed, as families bought lights, refrigerators, televisions, computers and other technologies that many Americans and Europeans simply take for granted. The community was propelled into the modern era, entrepreneurial spirits were unleashed, new businesses opened, and newly employed and connected families joined the global economy.

People benefited even on the very edge of the newly electrified area. Bheki Vilakazi opened a small shop so people could charge their cell phones before heading into the veld, where rapid communication can mean life or death in the event of an accident, automobile breakdown or encounter with wild animals.

Two hundred miles away, near Tzaneen, other South African entrepreneurs realized their soil and tropical climate produced superb bananas. After their rural area got electricity, they launched the Du Roi Nursery and banana cloning laboratory, where scientists develop superior quality, disease-free seedlings that are placed in gel in sealed containers and shipped all over Africa and other parts of the world.

Educated in a rural school only through tenth grade, Jane Ramothwala was a hotel maid before becoming a general nursery worker with the company. Over the ensuing decades, she worked hard to learn every facet of business operations, taught herself English, and took adult training and education courses – eventually attaining the position of manager for the company’s plant laboratory.

She now earns five times more than she did previously. During that time, the lab grew from 800,000 plants to 10 million, and today the laboratory, nursery and shipment center provide employment for several college graduates and 45 workers with limited educations. Their lives have been transformed, many have built modern homes, and their children have far brighter futures than anyone could have dreamed of a mere generation ago.

Access to electricity, Jane says, “has had a huge impact on the quality of life for many families in rural parts of Limpopo Province.” It has improved her and her neighbors’ lifestyles, learning opportunities and access to information many times over.

These scenes are being repeated all around the world, from Nigeria and Kenya, to Chile, Peru, China, India, Indonesia and dozens of other countries. Thousands of other communities, millions of other families, want the same opportunities. But for now many must continue to live without electricity, or have it only sporadically and unpredictably a few hours each week.

Across the globe, nearly three billion people – almost half the world’s population – still lack regular, reliable electricity. Nearly 1.3 billion people have no access to electricity.

In sub-Saharan Africa, over 600 million people – almost twice the population of the United States, and 70% of the region’s population – still have no or only limited, sporadic electricity. Over 80% of its inhabitants still relies on wood, dung and charcoal fires for most or all of their heating and cooking needs, resulting in extensive smoke and pollution in their homes and villages.

In India, more than 300 million people (almost as many as in Mexico and the United States) still have no electricity at all; tens of millions more have it only a few hours a day.

Countless people in these communities live in abject poverty, often on just a few dollars a day. Sub-Saharan Africa’s per capita income is roughly $1 per day, Zambia-born economist Dambisa Moyo writes, giving it the highest proportion of poor families in the world.

Mothers in these communities spend hours every day bent over open fires, their babies strapped on their backs, breathing poisonous fumes day after day. Many are struck down by debilitating and often fatal lung diseases. Their homes, schools, shops, clinics and hospitals lack the most rudimentary electricity-based technologies: lights, refrigerators, radios, televisions, computers and safe running water.

Their mud-and-thatch, cinderblock and other traditional houses allow flies and mosquitoes to zoom in, feast on human blood, and infect victims with malaria and other killer diseases. Women and children must walk miles, carrying untreated water that swarms with bacteria and parasites that cause cholera, diarrhea and river blindness. Unrefrigerated food spoils rapidly, causing still more intestinal diseases.

Hundreds of millions get horribly sick and five million die every year from lung and intestinal diseases, due to breathing smoke from open fires and not having refrigeration, clean water and safe food.

When the sun goes down, their lives largely shut down, except to the extent that they can work or study by candlelight, flashlight or kerosene lamp.

The environmental costs are equally high. Rwanda’s gorilla habitats are being turned into charcoal, to fuel cooking fires. In Zambia and elsewhere, entrepreneurs harvest trees by the thousands along highways, turning forest habitats into grasslands, and selling logs to motorists heading back to their non-electrified homes in rural areas and even large sections of cities.

As quickly as rich-country charities hold plant-a-tree fund raisers, people around the world cut trees for essential cooking and heating.

Unless reliable, affordable electricity comes, it will be like this for decades to come. Little by little, acre by acre, forest habitats will become grasslands, or simply be swept away by rains and winds. And people will remain trapped by poverty, misery, disease and premature death.

That unsustainable human and ecological destruction can be reversed, just as it was in the United States. A vital part of the solution is power plants that come equipped with steadily improving pollution controls – and burn coal or natural gas that packs hundreds of times more energy per pound than wood or dung or plant-based biofuels.

“Access to the benefits that come with ample energy trumps concerns about their tiny contribution of greenhouse gas emissions,” New York Times columnist Andrew Revkin observed in his DotEarth blog. Africa sits on vast deposits of coal, natural gas and liquid condensates that are largely ignored or simply burned as unwanted byproducts, as companies produce crude oil. Can someone find a business model that can lead to capturing, instead of flaring, those “orphan fuels,” he wondered.

Ultimately, the energy, environmental, climate change and economic debate is about two things:

Whether the world’s poor will take their rightful places among the Earth’s healthy and prosperous people – or must give up their hopes and dreams, because of misplaced health and environmental concerns.

And whether poor countries, communities and families will determine their own futures – or the decisions will be made for them by politicians and activists who use phony environmental disaster claims to justify treaties, laws, regulations and policies that limit or deny access to dependable, affordable electricity and other modern, life-saving technologies … thereby perpetuating poverty, disease and premature death.

Paul Driessen is senior policy analyst for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (, and author of Eco-Imperialism: Green power - Black death and other books on environmental issues.



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