Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Sustainable Fossil Fuels

Here’s a link to a summary of an interesting new book: Sustainable Fossil Fuels: The Unusual Suspect in the Quest for Clean and Enduring Energy (scroll down if there’s no image there). Admittedly, I only gave it a quick scan (gimme a break, I’m in the middle of a thesis here), but it looks like a decent read.

Despite the controversial sounding tone of the title, it seems to say that fossil fuels can play a role in a sustainable future, and that they will have to play a role in the interim. From our perspective, that’s certainly not hard to imagine – as long as SP 1 isn’t violated (substances from the Earth’s crust aren’t systematically increasing in concentration), then we’re all good in terms of CO2 (not counting the increases in concentration we’ve already created, but I’m just talking about looking forward right now) – the author points to CO2 capture and sequestration to take care of that. He says coal will last 800 years, before that I’d only heard 200, but the point is the same – not a short-term concern on the supply side for fossil fuels. Of course the sustainable use of fossils would have to be done in a way that doesn’t violate SP 3 (degradation by physical means) and he addresses this fact.

So the main point – that fossil fuels shouldn’t be forced out prematurely – is well taken. First, I would say I don’t think that’s much of a concern at this stage in the game. Second, it seems to follow the old “either / or” mentality, implying that we need to predict if fossils, or renewables, or nuclear will be the answer. Third, the perspective still seems a bit narrow – and ironically so – as the summary states…

Deliberately diverting from this lowest cost path by prematurely forcing fossil fuels out of the energy supply mix may not mean as much for wealthy countries, but for the poorer people on this planet this arbitrary requirement would divert critical resources that could otherwise be devoted to essential investments in clean water, health care, disease prevention, education, basic infrastructure, security, improved governance and biodiversity preservation.

... but fails to acknowledge that many of these SP 4 (capacity to meet basic needs) violations stem from the extraction and use of fossil fuels. Anyway, I just wanted to throw it out there – it highlights some of the confusion and trade-offs, controversy and challenges of the transition to a sustainable future – and I’m not contradicting it, but just trying to show how a whole-system perspective can help make some sense of it all. Stay going…

4 comments:

GreenGOP said...

I would agree - fossil fuels will inevitably remain a part of our energy supply for the foreseeable future. The key is to incorporate new technologies to begin a gradual reduction in fossil fuel use over the coming decades.

Craig said...

Many say we will see $3.50/gal this summer. If you factor in Iran, who knows how high it could go. Everyone knows America MUST get off the oil. After September 11, 2001 I expected our President to call on Americans to GET OFF THE OIL. I was expecting a speech like the one JFK gave that motivated us to reach for the moon. As you know, this never happened. Eventually I realized that the only way this is going to happen is for us to do it ourselves. To that end I created this idea and have been trying to make it a reality..

The EPA is offering a research grant opportunity that I believe is a perfect fit for this idea. I have sent an e-mail to a hand picked list of university professors who have experience with government research projects. I’m looking to form a research team to apply for the EPA grant, conduct a social-economic experiment and surveys to determine to what extent the American public will support it, project the economic potential of WPH, and identify logistical, social and political obstacles as well as opportunities.

All government grants are awarded based on merit of the proposed research. I believe WPH has merit but your help is needed to verify it. You can help by posting your feedback. Let the professors and the EPA know what you think about WPH. Do you think this idea is worth pursuing? We need to know if Americans will support a plan like this.

Do you have any ideas to improve the plan?

Share any and all of your thoughts.

Tell your friends and family about this Blog post and ask them to post their thoughts on WPH

http://wepayhalf.org

Thank you

Craig

corndog said...

Craig, I really like the idea of a non-profit to foster renewables, however the offer to "pay half" may be unnecessary.

I say this because flex-fuel vehicles are being sold, even where ethanol is unavailable. One million this year, and approximately two million next year, from GM, Daimler-Chrysler, and Ford alone. As Georges pointed out, this will create demand, and the profit motive will provide the supply. Perhaps your organization can move things more quickly, but what is going to happen is going to happen.

I also agree with Georges that as long as oil bubbles out of the ground it will play a role in our energy future. What renewables will do, however, is provide an alternative liquid fuel for consumers, such that OPEC can be neutralized, brought to heel by comptetition from another source.

Imagine the day when OPEC meets in Vienna to lower production, and the next day MILLIONS of consumers world-wide switch to another fuel. They depend on their production cuts to increase the price per-barrel, and this would no longer occur, at some level of market penetration by renewables (My guess...30%).

So, renewables do not have to replace all of our petroleum usage in order to give us cheap oil, renewables and oil will battle each other for market share, WITH PRICE, and the flex-fuel empowered consumer will rule.

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