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Brooks Wilson's Economics Blog: Enough Fossil Fuel for Now?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Enough Fossil Fuel for Now?

Michael Lind writes a very good column for Salon entitled “Everything you’ve heard about fossil fuels may be wrong.”  At least I think it is a great article because it eloquently states opinions I hold.  While I should beware of confirmation bias, I hope other readers will be exposed to new ideas. 

In short, the Lind writes that new technologies like hydraulic fracturing have dramatically increased reserves of natural gas and oil.  Governments are funding basic research into other methods of producing gas hydrates that could supply enough hydrocarbons to fuel civilization for centuries.  Countries with now exploitable natural gas and oil reserves are numerous, stable and friendly.  This implies that energy markets will be more competitive, dramatically weakening if not eliminating OPECs ability to set price.  Finally, he observes that most governments are treating CO2 emissions as a low priority because catastrophic outcomes of global warming are low probability outcomes.Lind makes a supporting argument that I believe deserves more attention.
All energy sources have potentially harmful side effects. The genuine problems caused by fracking and possible large-scale future drilling of methane hydrates should be carefully monitored and dealt with by government regulation. But the Green lobby’s alarm about the environmental side-effects of energy sources is highly selective. The environmental movement since the 1970s has been fixated religiously on a few "soft energy" panaceas -- wind, solar, and biofuels -- and can be counted on to exaggerate or invent problems caused by alternatives. Many of the same Greens who oppose fracking because it might contaminate some underground aquifers favor wind turbines and high-voltage power lines that slaughter eagles and other birds and support blanketing huge desert areas with solar panels, at the cost of exterminating much of the local wildlife and vegetation. Wilderness preservation, the original goal of environmentalism, has been sacrificed to the giant metallic idols of the sun and the wind.
I might add to his arguments that supporters of alternative energy often act as if the cost of switching from hydrocarbon based fuels to alternative energy sources is low but experience has taught that the opportunity cost is high.  If it were easy to switch to alternative energy sources, we would have done it already.

1 comment:

  1. I believe Lind makes a good point when he points out that growing countries must transition from nonrenewable to renewable resources. The introduction of new technology will help raise the supply of fossil fuels thus reducing the cost to consumers. He states that most countries are treating CO2 emissions as a low priority, this is most likely because the marginal damage is less the the marginal cost. In order for countries to want to produce less CO2 the countries must have a cheaper alternative.