Archive for the ‘Energy’ Category

Can we do without nuclear power?

October 29, 2014

A lot of smart people think it is possible to eliminate or drastically reduce the use of fossil fuels while also eliminating nuclear power.  Maybe they’re right, but I don’t see it.

Presently New York’s electrical generating capacity is about one-third coal and oil, one-third natural gas, one-sixth nuclear power and most of the rest hydroelectric power.  Only about 3 percent is wind energy, and there is tiny plant powered by biomass.

nuclearplant1The burning of coal and oil, especially coal, creates greenhouse gasses, so ideally we’d eliminate coal and minimize oil.

Natural gas, in contrast, burns cleanly, which is why it is promoted as a “transition” fuel.  But unburned natural gas (methane) is one of the worst greenhouse gasses, and fracking releases methane into the atmosphere.  Fracked natural gas doesn’t help the climate, but, without fracking, natural gas would be scarce and expensive.

All the good hydroelectric sites in New York are already used, so there’s little potential to increase hydro.  So you would have to step up production of wind energy by a factor of 25 or more.

I don’t see how it is possible do do without nuclear power and still maintain a dependable electricity supply.  I think nuclear power is a dangerous technology which nevertheless can be operated safely, provided the industry uses the best practices and the best technology.

This would mean phasing out existing U.S. nuclear power plants, most of which are past their scheduled decommissioning dates and some of which are located on earthquake fault zones, and building a new generation of nuclear power plants using the newest and best technology.

I will change my mind about this if Germany is able to stick to its moratorium on nuclear power without increasing its use of coal-fired and oil-fired power.  But as I see it, nuclear and coal are the only alternatives for increasing electric power generation.

The United States happens to have ample supplies of coal at current rates of use, as does China, but coal is the worst fuel in terms of effects on human health, the environment and climate change.  Maybe someday the USA and China can invent a way to burn coal cleanly, but otherwise I see no alternative to nuclear.

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Can Europe keep the lights on this winter? by Mark Gilbert for Bloomberg View.  [added 10/30/14].  Another example of the problem of trying to do without both fossil fuels and nuclear power.

Paying the bill to stop climate change

October 28, 2014

This Moyers & Company broadcast was aired about a year ago.

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Naomi Klein’s THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING: Capitalism vs The Climate has convinced me that, in order to maintain a habitable planet, it’s necessary to limit and maybe eliminate the burning of coal, oil and gas, and that energy companies will never do this unless they are forced to do so.

What I’m not convinced of is that it is possible to painlessly transition to some green utopia, in which everybody’s material standard of living is the same as it is now, except for a small group of plutocrats.

naomi-klein.book0coverMy house is heated with natural gas, and my gas bills lately have been low, due to an abundance of gas supplied by hydraulic fracturing (of which I disapprove).   My car runs on gasoline, and the computer on which I write this post is powered by electricity.

Over the years I’ve read books by Lester R. Brown, George Monbiot , and Al Gore making the case that with smart technology, I can heat my house with solar energy and better insulation, I can ride a streetcar that is almost as convenient as a private automobile, and that electricity can be provided by windmills, solar panels, other innovative sources of energy and a smart electrical grid that eliminates waste in the system.

I don’t have the knowledge to question their proposals on technical grounds.  I agree with Arthur C. Clarke—that the only way to test the limits of the possible is to venture a little way into the impossible.   And the alternative to trying is to accept the “long emergency” foretold by James Howard Kunstler.

But even at best, the transition will cost enormous sums of money.  Who would pay?  Naomi Klein says that rich people in rich countries should pay, especially countries that enjoy a high level of consumption based on fossil fuels.   This means first and foremost the USA.

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Blockadia: the climate fight’s new front

October 25, 2014

The fight against global warming consists of many local struggles that, at first glance, don’t have anything to do with climate change.

These struggles include resistance to hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, to the Alberta tar sands industry and the Keystone XL pipeline, to deep ocean oil drilling and to other destructive practices by oil, gas and coal companies.

Such destructive practices are necessary to keep the fossil fuel companies in business because all the easy-to-get oil, gas and coal has been used up.  And greenhouse gas emissions will decrease only when oil and gas drilling and coal mining decrease.

naomi-klein.book0coverNaomi Klein in her book, THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING: Capitalism vs The Climate, reported on how these scattered local resistance movements are coming to realize they are part of a common cause.

In just one chapter, she touched on protests in Greece, Rumania, Canada’s New Brunswick, England’s Sussex, Inner Mongolia, Australia, Texas, France, Ecuador, Nigeria, West Virginia, South Dakota, North America’s Pacific Northwest and Quebec—all related directly or indirectly to stopping fossil fuel operations that would produce greenhouse gasses.

She and others call this alliance “Blockadia”.   Unlike some of the big, established environmental organizations, the grass-roots protesters do not limit themselves to lawsuits and political lobbying.  They engage in nonviolent direct action, the kind of mass defiance that Gene Sharp advocated.   These movements, more than the lobbying and lawsuits of the Big Green environmental organizations, will determine the future climate, she wrote.

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A liveable climate and its enemies

October 23, 2014

Here are links, with transcripts, to the complete Sept. 18, 2014 interview.

Naomi Klein on the Need for a New Economic Model to Address Ecological Crisis.

Naomi Klein on the People’s Climate March and the Global Grassroots Movement Fighting Fossil Fuels.

Naomi Klein on Motherhood, Geoengineering, Climate Debt and the Fossil Fuel Divestment Movement.

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Naomi Klein thinks that, if governments had taken action in the 1990s to curb greenhouse gas emissions to control climate change, it could have been accomplished without drastic upheavals in society or in people’s lives..

Unfortunately another movement arose at the same time, a movement to remove restrictions on corporate activity, and this movement has proved more powerful than the climate movement.   The corporate movement has produced privatization, deregulation, repeal of anti-trust laws and a strong and enforceable body of international law to block environmental regulation and subsidies of renewal energy.

naomi-klein.book0coverThe first chapter of Klein’s new book, THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING: Capitalism vs the Climate, is about how the real objection of climate change deniers is their realization that climate change, if real, would mean an end to free enterprise as they know it.  She said they’re right.

Our economy is based on what Klein calls extractivism—the idea that there can be unlimited economic growth based on the burning of a limited amount of coal, oil and gas.

This is a process that will someday end in and of itself, when it is no longer feasible to dig out what little fossil fuels remain.  We the people can’t afford to wait until that happens, because emissions from burning fossil fuels will have heated up the planet to the point where it is barely liveable.  But moving away from extractivism is easier said than done.

An end to extractivism would require, first of all, the repeal of international trade treaties such as NAFTA and the World Trade Organization treaty that allow corporations to challenge national laws that favor local industry or interfere with the international movement of goods and services.

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Naomi Klein’s new climate change book

October 22, 2014

Naomi KleinWe know that we are trapped within an economic system that has it backwards; it behaves as if there is no end to what is actually finite (clean water, fossil fuels and the atmospheric space to absorb their emissions) while insisting there are strict and immovable limits to what is actually quite flexible: the financial resources that human institutions manufacture, and that, if imagined differently, could build the kind of caring society that we need.

==Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything

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Naomi Klein’s brilliant new book, THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING: Capitalism vs the Climate, underlines two important things I had not quite realized.

The first is that the built-in financial incentives of the fossil fuel corporations, or capitalism generally, make it impossible for corporate executives to do anything on their own that would limit the greenhouse gasses that cause climate change.

The second is that many seemingly unrelated struggles against abuses by fossil fuel companies, or abuses by corporations generally, tie in with fighting climate change.

hoax-cop15When native Americans fight to have Indian treaties recognized in law, when small towns in upstate New York pass ordinances against hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, when ranchers and Indians protest the Keystone XL pipeline, when other protestors object to corporate trade treaties such as NAFTA, when Occupy Wall Street protesters advocate economic democracy—all these things help other people in danger from the increase in droughts, floods and violent storms.

I confess that I did not see these connections, or did not fully realize their significance, until I read this book.  I had thought of the question of climate change as primarily a question of how and how much I and other people are willing to reduce their material standard of living, or give up hope of increasing their material standard of living, so that future generations will have a decent planet to live on.

This is a real and important question, but it is not the only question.  As Naomi Klein points out, the well-being livelihoods of many people are threatened by continuing on the present course.   That is because the era of easily-available oil, gas and coal is long gone, and the methods of extracting them—deep water ocean drilling, tar sands, fracking, mountaintop removal—are increasingly costly, dangerous and destructive.

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Europe’s alternative to Putin’s oil and gas

October 20, 2014

gasSupplyAndDemand

Map: Global Research

Dependence of key European nations on imports of Russian oil and gas puts the European Union in weak position in relation to Vladimir Putin.

One way to get out of that position of weakness is to end the sanctions against Iran, and import Iranian oil and gas.  In the longer run, Europe would benefit from a new gas pipeline from Iran to Europe.

The European Union has no conflict of interests with Iran.  It is following the lead of the United States.  As far as that goes, the United States has no conflict of interests with Iran.  We Americans are merely nursing old resentments and following the lead of Israel and Saudi Arabia.

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Breaking Europe’s Putin addiction by Amir Handjani for Al Jazeera.

How much shale oil and gas is there, really?

October 13, 2014

Click to enlarge.

Source: Bloomberg News.

Shale drillers are a lot more optimistic about potential oil and gas when they talk to shareholders than when they report to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.  Why?

Hint:  The SEC can prosecute for false statements.  Shareholders have to sue.

 

Going to war for oil doesn’t make any sense

October 9, 2014

infographic.ime.oil.gas

One of the justifications for going to war in the Middle East is to make sure we Americans have access to oil.

During the run-up to the 1991 Gulf War, Secretary of State James Baker said the issue was “jobs, jobs, jobs.”  He didn’t explain, but what I and other Americans took him to mean that if Saddam Hussein cut us off from the oil of Kuwait, our industrial machine would falter.

But there was no danger of that happening.  Saddam Hussein was perfectly happy to sell Iraq’s oil, and would have been perfectly happy to sell Kuwait’s oil.

oilcorridorThe oil-producing nations have just as much need to sell their oil as the oil-consuming nations have to buy it.

U.S. interventions in the Middle East have reduced American access to oil, not secured it.  The sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s, the continuing sanctions against Iran and the new sanctions against Russia have been intended to prevent these nations from selling their oil and natural gas.  The invasion of Iraq destroyed much of that nation’s oil-producing capability, which is only now recovering.

All this made oil and gas prices higher, not lower.

The only time U.S. access to Middle East oil was cut off was during the OPEC oil embargo of 1973.  But the embargo was broken without military action.  It was broken by the international oil companies who sold the oil to whoever wanted to buy it.  [1]

Since then there has never been another threat to U.S. oil imports.  The most strongly anti-American leaders, Libya’s Qaddafi and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, never refused to do business with the United States.  Politics was one thing; business, another.

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China, the USA and the world’s oil and gas

July 30, 2014
us energy independence jones map

China’s oil imports. Click to enlarge.

The other day I read that China has overtaken the USA as the world’s largest oil importer.  Earlier I read that China has overtaken the USA as the world’s largest market for automobiles.  As the world uses up easy-to-get oil, there will be conflict between the USA and China to get what’s left.

Notice this is just OPEC oil, not total oil importsChina needs access to the world’s oil and gas if it is to raise the material standard of living of its people.  But the USA needs access to the world’s oil and gas if it is to maintain what we call the American standard of living.

What this means is that, unlike with the situation between the USA and Russia, there is a real conflict of interest between the Chinese people and the American people.  The world may not have enough fossil fuels to satisfy the desires of both.

China has one of the world’s largest reserves of coal and one of the world’s largest coal industries.  It is a leader in developing solar energy technology, although this as yet serves only a tiny fraction of its energy needs.  China has extended pipelines into central Asia, and recently signed an agreement to build a new oil and gas pipeline into Russia.

0912ChinaSeaTerritory2The quest for energy explains China’s disputes with Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and other countries over control of islands in the East China Sea and South China Sea.  Control of these islands not only gives China control over offshore oil and gas.  It enables China to protect its shipping from the Persian Gulf.

Access to oil is a vital interest of the USA.  The Carter Doctrine, back in 1980, said that access to the Persian Gulf was a vital interest of the United States, meaning the U.S. would go to war if necessary to protect it.  The first President Bush said in 1991 was the Gulf War was about “jobs, jobs, jobs,” which meant “oil, oil, oil.”

In recent years, the United States has increased domestic energy production, with fracking and offshore oil drilling (both of which President Obama strongly supports).   But this doesn’t mean the USA doesn’t need imports.  Seeming inconsistencies in current U.S. policy in the Middle East make sense if you think of U.S. policy as a quest for oil rather than a quest for democracy.

The world’s easy-to-get oil and gas have been used up and competition for the rest of the world’s oil is bound to become more intense.  The European Union, in its need for oil and gas, may find itself in conflict with both the USA and China.

I don’t see any obvious way to resolve this.  It would be good if the world’s energy-importing countries could reach an agreement based on compromise.  It would be good if the world could switch to renewable energy.  But I don’t see either one happening anytime soon, and to the extent that either compromise or renewables are feasible, it might entail a more frugal way of life than most North Americans (myself included) would be willing to accept.

LINK

 Whose Oil Will Quench China’s Thirst? by Chris Dalby for Oil Price and Naked Capitalism.

The interdependence of Russia and Europe

July 28, 2014

Europe Russia oil gas pipelines map chart

More Signs of Doubt in Europe About the Costs of Siding With Ukraine by Yves Smith for Naked Capitalism.

The Beginning of an End of the Trans-Atlantic Alliance by Mark from Ireland for Ian Welsh.

Hat tip for the map to Vox.


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