Thursday, November 25, 2010

Dirty Coal Clean Future

Atlantic Monthly published a fasinating essay on coal technology, and in particular how China is seeking to build its economy around it.  This is of particular interest to the Village Elliot, who is currently working on clean coal with a consortium of US and Chinese companies, not to mention Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Dr. Friedmann mentioned prominently in the article.

   Most of us would rather that some combination of solar power and windmills be used to replace coal and to make up the staggering 12 million barrels of oil per day that America imports from places that it doesn't like.  Unfortunately, the sad truth is that these supposedly green technologies are too expensive to allow America to compete in the world marketplace.  Moreover, they aren't really green once you figure out how much fossil fuel is consumed to produce the hardware for green energy (hint:  making solar cells is not cheap, and so where do you suppose the energy comes from to make them?).  Fossil fuels, especially coal and petroleum are carcinogenic, poisonous and responsible for environmental disasters and kill workers involved in their use.  But other forms of energy are worse.

     Our politicians have sold Americans a bill of goods, suggesting that future energy needs will be met with hydrogen, solar power, wind power and corn derived ethanol.  Well, it just isn't true.  Although niche markets exist, there is no credible way that America can hope to use energy sources that are severalfold more expensive than fossil fuels.  We can't afford to shut down the economy waiting for totally clean energy sources to be perfected.  Instead, we should set national targets for increasing energy production while continuing to decrease harmful opinions.

   We should also have a blue ribbon panel of Nobel Prize winners to determine whether carbon dioxide reductions are really benefitting the environment as much as the politcal activists claim. Yes, carbon dioxide in massive amounts can raise the temperature of a planet (like Venus, for example, which sits under thousands of pounds per square inch of carbon dioxide).  But that does not mean that spending trillions of dollars is necessary in order to reduce carbon concentrations by a few parts per million on Earth.  Yes, carbon dioxide may have changed the swimming habits of polar bears.

   But at the same time, America has found it necessary to borrow 1.3 trillion dollars per year to maintain our lifestyle, while unemployment hovers around 10%,   Much of that money goes to buy oil to keep our economy running, some 300 billion dollars worth annually. We're counting on the generosity of our Masters in OPEC to continue to allow us to buy their oil with the promise (via interest from T-Bills) to take care of their children and grandchildren in the future. 

   America needs to set goals of achieving full employment, balanced budgets and energy self-sufficiency.  We can't do that with fictitious energy.  We need coal in order to do this.

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