The Left on Energy Policy
For many years, an energy crisis has been poking at the minds of some of the world’s greatest powers.
The United States has been slowly beginning to understand that fossil fuels, which account for approximately 80% of its energy, are of limited supply, but moreover, have detrimental effects.
However, in the United States at least, this issue has taken the back seat to other issues, which, especially now, are considered more important. Until recently though, the issue didn’t truly need to be forgotten as much as it was.
More should have been done early, but now, the world, and especially the US is forced to spend its attention, among other issues, on copious dangers arising from the Syrian conflict, which threaten many facets of civilization. That though, is a topic for another day.
Now, ignoring the fact that oil and natural gas are expected to run out in just over 50 years, and coal in just over 100, the true drawbacks of fossil fuels are quickly exposing themselves.
Of course, in the United States, the issue of climate change is still being debated… by ordinary people that is… and by politicians… but virtually not at all by scientists, the people that hold authority on the subject.
It is a fact that when fossil fuels are burned, carbon dioxide (CO2) is released. It is a fact that in 1960, the average level of CO2 is the atmosphere was about 317 parts per million (ppm), and that in 2012 the average level was about 394 ppm. It is a fact that human activity caused this increase.
This increase in CO2 means a rise in temperatures. In 2014, the average temperature was 1.24 degrees F.
While this increase seems minuscule, it has proven to be very harmful. Land ice, namely on Antarctica and Greenland has been quickly melting, with the exception of this recent slight increase in Antarctica. Melting land ice causes sea levels to rise, and much of the world has made the coastline its home.
In addition, the temperature increase is causing irregular weather patterns, or perhaps the lack of a weather pattern. California, among other areas, has suffered a major drought.
More familiar to Westerly High School though, is the increased number of storms that have taken place.
Now, in order to hopefully prevent irreparable damage, something clearly must be done. The world, and especially the United States, who houses about 4.4% of the world’s population, but accounts for about 25% of the entire world’s energy usage, must find an alternative to fossil fuels.
2 categories of alternatives, renewables and nuclear, are already being used.
Renewables include wind energy, geothermal energy, solar energy, and the like. Today, such sourced create just over 9% of the energy in the US.
Nuclear power plants are another abundant source of energy, and they currently create over 8% of the energy in the US.
Both sources are good starting points; however, they need to be greatly improved in order take on the responsibility of creating almost all our energy.
The drawbacks of nuclear energy are much more obvious than those of renewables. Nuclear power plants remain undesirable to communities as a result of accidents such as those in Chernobyl and Three Mile Island.
Fortunately though, safety is now even more minuscule an issue than it was in the past. The issue of nuclear waste is much more a reality.
The nuclear fission process unfortunately produces a great deal of nuclear waste, with half lives of tens of thousands of years. Currently, the waste is stored in pools of water for decades, and then buried deep in the ground.
This is not acceptable, especially on a larger scale, as the waste is buried in places geologically unsound. Eventually, the ground will break the containers housing the waste, releasing harm to all life for thousands of years.
Alternatives, include nuclear fusion, which fuses atoms together, rather than splitting them. Fusion is theoretically very efficient, and produces no waste.
Also under consideration and research, is a way to reuse the nuclear waste from fission.
Renewables are ideal as well, but the energy they produce can not yet easily be stored.
In order to modify these sources and prepare them for production of massive amount of energy, Research and Development needs to be funded. Unfortunately, the government will likely ignore these causes.
These causes need to be marketed to private interests, so that they are able to become a reality. Bill Gates has recently contributed $2 billion to research and development, which is helpful more in beginning a trend of investments, more than it is in actually funding the process.
In all, the energy crisis poses a substantial threat, but luckily has a very possible solution. With help from the US’s billionaires, the US could find itself out of the woods, but help must come quickly.
The Right on Energy Policy
Energy policy has remained a recurrent issue for Congress since the first major crises in the 1970’s. It transects every facet of American society, from the economy to climate change.
In its latest Congressional Budget Request, the Department of Energy (DOE) reported that historical trends show petroleum to be the major source of primary energy, rising from about 38% in 1950 to 45% in 1975, and then declining to about 40% in response to the 1970’s crisis.
Oil prices, which remained low and stable throughout the 1990’s, resumed their volatility in 2004, when the industry’s questionable capacity to meet increasing demands led to rapid increases in the prices of oil and gasoline. This surge in price first stimulated the development of non-conventional oil resources, such as hydrofracking.
American oil production showed a dramatic increase as a result and since then, U.S. imports have been seen in steady decline.
Natural gas has followed a long-term pattern of consumption similar to that of oil, but at a lower level. Its share of total energy increased from about 17% in 1950 to more than 30% in 1970, and then declined to about 20%.
Newly detected deposits of shale gas in the United States have escalated the outlook for natural gas supply and consumption and imports have almost disappeared. The United States is projected to be a net natural gas exporter by 2018.
Coal consumption in 1950 measured 35% of total primary energy, almost equal to oil. It later declined, however, to approximately 20% in 1960, and has remained at that proportion since. Coal is now used almost exclusively for electric power generation, producing 40% of the world’s power.
Well that’s all well and good, you might say, but there remains a critical hang-up behind each of the latter resources: they are all fossil fuels which that leave a carbon footprint in the form of atmospheric greenhouse gasses.
Mankind is called to be the steward of creation by preserving the global environment, upholding the right to life, accepting limitations in the spirit of the greater good, striving for social justice, and giving special attention to the needs of the poor who go without affordable energy. The solution: alternative renewable energy sources.
Nuclear power first made its debut in the late 1960’s, supplying 9% of total electricity generation by 1975. However, increases in capital costs, construction delays, and public opposition to nuclear power following the Three Mile Island accident in 1979 curtailed growth in generation facilities, and many construction projects were cancelled.
Since then, its share of energy production has increased to 20%. Licenses for a number of new units have been in the works for several years, but the economic downturn has discouraged action on new construction.
Construction of major hydroelectric projects has nearly ceased, and hydro-power’s share of electricity generation has declined steadily from 30% in 1950, to less than 10% in 2000. However, hydro-power remains highly important on a regional basis.
Wind power has witnessed rapid growth as of late, although it contributes only a small percentage share of total electricity generation.
In general, conservation and energy efficiency have shown significant gains over the past three decades and offer potential to further relieve some of the dependence on oil imports and to hold down long-term growth in electric power demand.
DOE requested $29.9 billion in funding for FY 2016 (an increase of $2.5 billion from the FY 2015 Enacted Level). However, not even one sixth of that budget was dedicated to applied energy: Electricity Delivery, Energy Reliability, Sustainable Transportation, Renewable Energy, Energy Efficiency, Fossil Energy, Nuclear Energy, and the like.
Meanwhile, some of the chief department officers are taking home eight-digit salaries… And we wonder where all the money goes?
In its budget overview, the Department outlined its strategic objectives: “to advance foundational science, innovate energy technologies, and inform data-driven policies that enhance U.S. economic growth and job creation, energy security, and environmental quality, with emphasis on implementation of the President’s Climate Action Plan to mitigate the risks of and enhance resilience against climate change”.
However, these objectives will never be realized on a large scale without substantial government subsidies. This requires change.
“Energy independence is essential for America’s success as a country…,” states the GOP. “[R]elying less on foreign suppliers of oil and natural gas brings stability to the energy market. A strong and stable energy sector creates jobs for Americans and acts as a catalyst for economic growth… [and] national security.”
It is therefore pivotal that the United States diversify her energy sources. “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” so to speak.
The need for renewable, eco-friendly energy sources is indeed present and pressing, but it must be a gradual switch. With a national debt now exceeding $18,000,000,000,000, we are in no position to make the switch to green energy on a dime. Nevertheless, concrete action is required, and immediately.
Now is the time for our government to reevaluate its priorities and to manage the flow of tax revenue so as to enable “the transition to a low-carbon secure energy future, especially by developing low-cost, all-of-the-above energy technologies and a 21st century resilient energy infrastructure”.