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Name: Terry D Hunter
Status: Other
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Question:
The Arab oil embargo of 1973 stimulated an energy crises mentality among us Today (1994), the popular notion of an energy crises is all but gone. What are your thoughts about energy supplies and demands for the short term and long term?



Replies:
My thoughts agree somewhat with your statement regarding what seems like some complacency regarding energy supplies with most people. I do see, however an underlying concern about sustained, safe, clean, affordable energy resources. If you consider a major shift by auto makers for smaller, energy efficient automobiles away from the gas guzzlers typical of the early-mid 1970's you can see that a large segment of the population is participating in energy conservation. I see current thinking, whether conscious or sub-conscious, as involving the following issues (and sub-issues):

1. Conservation: Taking those safe, affordable and clean energy supplies and using them most wisely by increasing fuel efficiency and producing smaller cars.
2. Understanding that even with conservation those limited resources will not last much beyond early next century, research focused on producing safe, dependable, affordable and (if possible) renewable energy sources. Naturally if a fuel is cheap, and dependable, but cannot be handled safely or produces deadly waste which could not be easily stored, it will be less attractive and less probable to be used long term as THE energy alternative. I think research is ongoing, but due to some of the complacency you mention, there is not the "push" which this issue deserves. We know necessity is known as the mother of invention, and I see research proceeding more strongly as supplies begin to run short. The current thinking that this is not really a short term but a long term problem is partially fueled by supply and demand fights where production excesses create a situation of "glut" of what is actually in quite short supply. The glut creates a situation where prices are low to encourage consumption, and these low prices again create the sense that there is no current problem.

I suspect that in the future as supplies dwindle, the glut will lessen, prices will increase to reflect actual understanding of real (not artificial) supplies and everyone will take more seriously what really is a serious situation. Dealing seriously with this situation to me would mean:

1. A real reliance on energy and environmentally conservative mass transit throughout the world;
2. acceptance of inconvenience in favor of long term wisdom regarding pollution and waste and
3. A push (including funding) for research which will use all renewable energy resources (not those which only fund oil company investors or nuclear plant investors, but ALL promising avenues of energy resources. For example, less attention is given to solar power and its research because very few people have invested heavily into it and therefore fewer people are pushing for its success. Contrast this with the large number of individuals who have financial gain in mind with the success of nuclear power. If politics can be pushed aside in favor of true science, this problem can be seriously and intelligently solved. I welcome discussion.

Rickru


Interest in the problem fluctuates in proportion to oil prices. There are many promising alternatives to current energy supplies, but there is little incentive to switch until oil prices make it cost-effective to do so.

Short term: oil and coal plentiful, demand rising, slowly rising prices.

Long term: utilities will probably substitute nuclear fission and electric vehicles for expensive oil if coal has been banned for its polluting effects. Some use of methanol from coal as a transportation fuel is possible. On the demand side, keep your eyes on the development of energy infrastructure in China, India, and other developing countries - that is where the greatest potential for demand growth lies in the next century.

Unlike rickru, I do not think politics should be swept aside in favor of "True Science" - I love the Constitution. If you really want to know how the US government thinks about this problem, check your library for "The Comprehensive National Energy Policy Act of 1992: Report of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce." The Act was signed into Law by President Bush, and it includes research funding for alternative fuels, mandatory energy conservation, and encourages the replacement of coal and oil with cleaner and more abundant natural gas. The Clinton administration tried to push natural gas even harder by proposing a carbon tax or "BTU" tax on fuels, but this proposal was defeated. National energy policy can and will be revised as environmental and economic conditions change and as new scientific knowledge and technology become available.

Mortis


I thank mortis for his comments. Although this is not a political bulletin board I must respond first by saying I maintain my support of true science being the guide in what are scientific questions. He seems to agree in his last statement which in effect says that scientific knowledge and technology updates can lead to revised energy policy. He does not mention politics as being a way to find the best answers. My feeling is that most of the time the opposite is true. While I do not wish to argue such a point, I must say I do not agree with the "spin" he attached to my earlier answers and I seriously disagree with the suggestion that politics has anything to do with the Constitution. Naturally I love the Constitution as does mortis; my "love" for politics is somewhat on-the-rocks.

Rickru


Thanks for setting the record straight, Ric - apologies for implying that you do not love the Constitution - my remark was out of line. The point is that the question of energy resource distribution in society is not a purely technical or scientific one - it is also, perhaps primarily, an economic and political one: "true science" cannot be separated so easily from the struggle for power. The energy crisis of the early 1970's was a political event, a price shock caused by wars and cartels - it had nothing to do with "running out of oil."

Science and technology do have roles to play in discovering new alternatives in case we really do run out of oil some day (or if pollution gets so bad that we have to quit using fossil fuels even before they run out). The choice among those alternatives is a decision best made in a government by and for the people, not in the halls of some "True Science" elite.

Mortis


Here are my thoughts on the problem:

a) Coal and oil supplies will soon become increasingly hard to come by, and prices will skyrocket.
b) Nuclear fission reactors will be moth balled once waste repositories fill to capacity and the fuel supplies run out.
c) People will still dream about nuclear fusion, but I do not see if coming in the near future (our lifetimes, anyway).
d) natural gas (separate from the coal and oil due to its abundance relative to them) will be used more, but it too will run short (the natural sources)
e) prices for power and utilities will rise dramatically in the coming fifty to a hundred years due to all the energy production costs rising.

Okay, enough gloom and doom -- what to do?

a) Build more fuel efficient cars. Find alternatives to gasoline for vehicles (methanol, ethanol, H2(g), methane, etc.).
b) reprocess old fuel rods (yes, even the plutonium -- when you are in need of energy, the old Cold War dogma gets monotonous).
c) Keep trying to attain nuclear fusion, but do not think it will be the solution to everything. Think about Chernobyl and multiply it by about ten -- that is a fusion bomb.
d) again, try to find alternatives to natural gas that are safe to use, in large supply and preferably are renewable.
e) start saving money by recycling and conserving.

Do not leave the lights on when you are not in the room. Take shorter showers. Ride your bicycle to work or school.

Wordsworth



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