Wednesday, February 15, 2017

What too few seem to understand about fossil fuels

Recently, I had a bit of back-and-forth with a couple of guys on Facebook about fossil fuels vs. solar.  I didn’t think of this analogy at the time, but they seemed to put all our energy eggs into one basket of fossil fuels and nuclear.  When I suggested diversifying our energy sources by moving one egg over to solar energy, they treated me like a raving lunatic for even suggesting such blasphemy.  They started talking about that being a waste of resources, as if all the bricks and steel and money would be piled in the desert as some sort of modern art sculpture instead of building a power plant that would produce electricity indistinguishable from that produced by a coal or nuclear power plant.  I’m sure they thought they had a point, I just don’t know what it was.  I stopped replying because it was getting into the “arguing with idiots” area and one sort of hinted that since I didn’t share his belief in the glorious future of fossil fuels, I must be a socialist. 

In reality, I’m a realist.  For example, I know that Earth is finite, meaning there is a finite supply of oil, coal, and natural gas that we are rapidly burning through.  (Yes, there are some geological processes that are making more, but for every new barrel of oil the Earth makes we probably burn a few tens of billions.)  This means that – if nothing changes – there are only two possibilities.  The first is we squeeze every last bit of oil, coal, or gas from the ground.  The second is that there is still some left, but it is so deep or in such hard to reach locations that we can’t extract it at any profit.  Which means that at that point in time, even Ayn Rand would need to convert to a non-fossil fuel energy system. 

The Age of Fossil Fuels will end.  There are no ifs, ands, or buts about that.  There are only two questions: when will it happen, and will humans be smart enough to move over to an alternate power source before then.  Because if we run out of fossil fuels or they stop being economically viable before we have an alternative, that will lead to a mad scramble.  Economically, mad scrambles tend to be rather expensive, and socially they can be violent.  Common sense would seem to indicate trying to avoid them.

How do we avoid the mad scramble when fossil fuels run out?  By starting to build the alternative energy infrastructure now.  Every day we hem and haw or say things like “There’s enough oil for fifty years, that means we don’t have to worry about running out for forty-nine years,” we get a day closer to the economy ruining, bloody scrambling, human civilization ending(?) moment our children, or our children’s children run out of fossil fuels.  And I’m sure they will be proud their ancestors didn’t “waste” resources building something silly like a solar power station.

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