Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Energy and Its Opponents

NASA "scientist" (the quotes are on purpose--he shifted from serious scientist to advocate years ago) has been arrested along with actress Darryl Hannah and others for obstructing traffic in a protest against coal power. Hansen is upset about global warming and its potentiallly catastrophic effects on the planet (ignoring the catastrophic effects brought about by another Ice Age).

We need a little rationality on the energy debate, which we are unlikely to get, because the two "sides" of the issue are at serious cross-purposes:

  1. Global warming is happening! It's serious, deadly, and we need to act NOW to prevent an even greater catastrophe!
  2. Climates are changing all the time via "weather." Why don't we collect more data before we make a bad decision that does more harm than good?
Then there's the fact that global climate change advocates' solutions for the problem lead inevitably to a contracting of the Western way of life. Consider their treatment of the primary forms of energy used today:

  1. Petroleum: A finite resource that is the primary creator of pollution and global warming.
  2. Nuclear: Too dangerous due to potential meltdowns (even though Three Mile Island, the worst nuclear power accident in American history, never hurt a single human being).
  3. Coal: It's "dirty," and must be eliminated.
  4. Natural gas: A finite resource, essentially a form of petroleum, and so must be subject to restrictions or rationing.
  5. Hydroelectric: Dams can drown or destroy animal and plant habitats (human habitats are conveniently ignored).
  6. Ground-based solar: Ideal (even though it produces less than 1% of U.S. energy needs and is essentially useless on cloudy days, at night, and at higher latitudes with lower amounts of sunlight).
  7. Geothermal: Okay (but limited to places where geothermal vents are present).
  8. Wind: Ideal (even though the wind doesn't blow all the time, and if we want to keep our economy functioning at the current levels, we'd need hundreds of thousands of them--oh, and where are we going to get the energy and petrochemicals necessary to manufacture these windmills?).

These sources haven't been used yet, but protests can't be far away...

  1. Space-based solar power: No organized lobby against SBSP, though I can imagine it will be objected to on public safety and military grounds ("It could be used as a weapon to fry people!").
  2. Helium-3 fusion: Another energy source so far lacking an enemy. However, it is nuclear power (you know--like that sun that's providing solar power?), and so must be evil, even if it hasn't been accomplished yet.
  3. Tide and Ocean-thermal electric conversion (OTEC): Tidal energy hasn't gotten a lot of attention, but would probably get negative points for cluttering up rich people's beachfront property. OTEC would require very large, oil derrick-like structures over the deep places in the ocean. You run a cable down to the cold regions of the deep ocean, and the temperature difference creates a potential difference, and thus electrical current. No doubt these structures would be protested for being ugly in the middle of nowhere.

Anyhow, I can only assume that those who protest all useful energy production must have a death wish. The internet takes energy. Creating plastic computers (you know: Macs) requires energy and petrochemicals. Creating high-productivity fertilizers to improve crop productivity and feed the hungry millions of the world requires energy. Creating new pharmaceuticals to keep everyone healthy requires energy plus complex chemistry, often found in petrochemicals. CAT scans, MRIs, and other medical wonders require energy to operate and energy to manufacture. Coffee makers require energy to manufacture and operate. Even bicycles and basic garden tools require energy to be produced--energy often provided by hydrocarbons (aka petroleum). Trucks, trains, and aircraft require fuel to transport necessary goods to stores.

We cannot cut ALL of the high-density energy resources from our economy, or millions, nay, billions of human beings will starve for lack of food, transportation, and medicine. The upcoming "cap and trade" legislation is simply a tax on energy, and it will hurt everybody in the name of a cause that has yet to close its scientific case. When are we going to say "Enough!"?


James Aach said...

You're doing the math on actual energy supply vs. demand, which is the first disqualifier if you want to participate in the current energy debate.

You might find this an interesting, inside look at one of those wacky power sources you listed.

Laura said...

Ah Bart, you crack me up.

I don't know how this will all play out in the court of public opinion. But I do hope to someday power my own house with my own private solar panel system. In Florida! :)