Commentary: “Energy Overdevelopment”

by Duane Nichols on August 3, 2013

Post Carbon Institute

“Energy Overdevelopment”

By S. Tom Bond, Retired Chemist and Resident Farmer, Lewis County, WV, August 3, 2013

At the recent Water and Wellness Conference at Buckhannon this author received a copy of the large format book “Energy – Overdevelopment and the delusion of endless growth.” Put out by the Post Carbon Institute, it examines in detail the folly of modern energy production. It has wonderful, large pictures from all over the world and articles by many experts in energy and environment.

David Murphy, in the article “A Tour of the Energy Terrain” points out the role of complete avoidance of the precautionary principle and of the resulting effect of the law of unintended consequences in reaching our present precarious position: energy versus environment. This position hasn’t been reached by careful, conservative (in the older sense) progress. The world has been driven into it by the constant rush for short-term profit.

A detailed discussion of the characteristics of each form of energy production now used occupies several chapters, addressing advantages and disadvantages of each. Coal stands out because of its production of carbon dioxide and many airborne contaminants. “Clean coal” is little more than a warm dream. Ethanol also is a standout because of its exceedingly low energy return compared to the energy used to produce it, all the subsidies it receives, and competition with food production. It is purely a political creature.

Loss of energy in transport from the place of production to place of use is emphasized. There is a chapter on micropower, generation at or near the point of use. For example rooftop production is as effective as central production because of transmission losses. Electrical energy is lost by heating the wires used to move it. Likewise, oil is lost by moving it from the point of production, to refining and on to the point of use, for example.

In “Drill, Baby, Drill,” David Hughes points out that “Oil accumulated over a period of 500 million years. If we assume that 3 trillion barrels of oil will eventually be recovered and burned (the most common estimate), this means that roughly fourteen and a half thousand year’s worth of preserved fossilized sunshine is consumed each day at the current global consumption rate of 87 million barrels a day. Today 84% of the average world’s citizens energy is provided by fossil fuels, with most of the balance provided by nuclear and large hydropower.”

In “The Whole Fracking Enchilada,” Sandra Steingraber says, “… Fracking is linked to every part of the environmental crisis – from radiation exposure to habitat loss – and contravenes every principle of ecological thinking. It is the tornado poised on the horizon to wreck on going efforts to crate green economies, local agriculture, investments in renewable energy, the ability to ride your bike along country roads.”

There is a short but very well written article on gas hydrates, with two great pictures. One is a lump of what looks like ice burning on one side, and the other is icy nodules with attached mud, recently scooped up from the deep. Did you know that one volume of hydrate produces 170 volumes of gas? Or that release of hydrates is believed to be a factor in the mass extinction of species at the end of the Permian Age, when the earth’s temperature rose dramatically ?

Bryan Horejsi, a Canadian forester, has this to say about regulation: It is a common deception – carefully constructed like a house of smoke and mirrors by “regulators”, politicians, and the oil and gas industry – that a fair, systematic, scientifically legitimate, and deliberative process exists through which a company must proceed in order to drill a well or lay a pipe, whether in the foothills of Wyoming or in the rippling waters off the shore of Louisiana. The public believes that regulators, the men and women who wear the title of public servant, engage in objective and inclusive analysis of ecologic, economic, and social aspects of any proposed development in order to gauge the merits of an application. The reality is, however, that the oil and gas industry, collaborating with governments swayed by campaign funding, has hijacked what should be legally protected, scientifically sound, and highly public process. Those of us working on shale drilling and mountiantop removal effects know this very well.

The book is full of interesting facts:

(1) Today, 5% to 10% of the electricity generated world wide is used for the internet.

(2) Family planning has a huge effect on future energy demand.

(3) In 2011 the U. S. saw $23.9 B loss through extreme weather events, with 1096 deaths. In2012 it was $32.8 B, with 528 deaths, according to the National Weather Service, U. S. Natural Hazard Statistics.

(4) If we proceed with business as usual, green house gases will rise by 25% to 90% by 2030, increasing the rate of global warming. If emissions were to stop now, the world would continue to warm for an unknown, lengthy, period of time anyway. Additional emissions simply make the warming go faster.

(5) 80% of the carbon entering the atmosphere today from burning is from carbon buried deep in the earth hundreds of millions of years ago.

Good ideas are another aspect of “Energy – Overdevelopment and the delusion of endless growth.” Here is an especially good one: Solar rooftop installation avoids transmission losses of the electricity, saving 7 to 14%, and it makes new, local jobs in a dispersed industry. Rooftop installation also does not take additional land and it increases the value of the property.

Finally, two quotes to keep in mind. The first is from Bob McKibben.
“Energy independence is nice”, he reminds us, “but we need a livable planet to be energy independent on.” The second is from the chapter on conservation. “Americans…were coaxed and cajoled from cradle to grave by advertising to consume as much as possible. Simply by reversing the message of this incessant propaganda, people might be persuaded to make do with less – as occurred in World War II – and be happier, as well. Many Social Scientists think our consumptive lifestyle damages communities, families, and individual self-esteem. A national or global ethic of conservation could even be socially therapeutic.”

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jenna R. Herman August 7, 2013 at 4:14 pm

The world’s largest geothermal power installation is The Geysers in California, with a rated capacity of 750 MW. Geothermal power has the advantage that it is not variable, like most of the other renewable sources. There are four factors to consider in providing 100% of a country’s energy from renewable sources – transmission when local resources are greater or less than needed, storage for the same reason, excess capacity to provide sufficient demand, and use of biomass or geothermal to fill in for when wind and solar are insufficient. While the solutions are not fundamentally different from those used with conventional non-renewable sources, the technology is. For example, transmission lines and storage have been used almost since the beginning of electricity use, but as late as 2008 wind power and solar power provided less than 0.25% of total energy (1/400th).


T. Houston August 27, 2013 at 5:35 pm

We’re a group of volunteers and opening a new scheme in our community. Your web site offered us with valuable info to work on. You have done an impressive job and our entire community will be grateful to you.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: