Sunday, November 4, 2012

Fossil Fuels; Environmentally Good or Bad?

Yes, you read the title correctly.

It is generally assumed that fossil fuels--oil, natural gas, and coal--are bad for earth's environment to some degree. Even those who oppose efforts to curtail fossil fuel usage by government edict on economic grounds concede the point, arguing instead that the fuels are economically necessary (for jobs, for instance).

But is that assumption really accurate?

An important debate is coming on November 5th, 2012, between leading environmentalist Bill McKibben and Center for Industrial Progress founder Alex Epstein. McKibben has declared the fossil fuel industry "public enemy number one," while Epstein believes it's time for the industry to take the "environmental high road." This debate, says Epstein, is "an opportunity to show the world how the truth about fossil fuels stacks up against the best the other side has to offer."

Watch the debate here on November 5th at 7:00 pm.


Steve D said...

Eventually, the fossil fuel will run out and we will switch to nuclear power. So why not start now. It’s cheaper, cleaner and safer than any other form of energy. There is likely at least ten times more easily accessible nuclear power stored in thorium and uranium than all fossil fuels combined. A gram of thorium is equal to about 7500 gallons of gas.

Know nukes!

Burning carbon does have the advantage of increasing the CO2 in the atmosphere which increases crop yields and may warm the earth slightly making more land available to agriculture. But the benefit to that will eventually max out, and anyway the full switch to nuclear will take some time.

Mike LaFerrara said...

When you say “we” should switch to nuclear power sooner rather than later because fossil fuels “will run out,” it sounds like you’re advocating some form of government coercion or central industrial planning. I believe that’s the wrong approach; in fact, immoral. From a practical standpoint, it’s impossible to know when we may run out of fossil fuels, if ever. In fact, as technology advances, the reserves of practically recoverable fossil fuels keeps growing, not receding. In this regard, see my recent TOS post on America’s budding oil and natural gas boom.

When the government disengages from the energy market except in the role of rights protector and reestablishes a free market, these issues will sort themselves out. Anyone would be free to become an energy producer —whether fossil, nuclear, solar, or what have you—and compete for consumers’ business on a free market level playing field. When that happens, the market—the cumulative voluntary choices of free individuals freely contracting with one another—will determine the relative levels of the various forms of energy production.

Steve D said...

Agreed. Government coercion in the business of energy development is not moral. I was speaking of the engineering and scientific advantages only. I should have worded this better and added that nuclear energy has been hampered by far more government regulations and higher insurance costs than other methods used to produce electricity. Government has put the nuclear industry at a distinct disadvantage. Nuclear’s problems are political and social not engineering or scientific. If the government disengaged (it has to be completely, I might add) from energy production, nuclear power would become much more common. Small nuclear reactors (like they use in Greenland and Antarctica) be used in communities all across America. 4th generation ‘renewable’ reactors would be developed sooner. (Current predictions are 15-20 years) You might even live to see a thorium powered car (although that admittedly is speculation).
What would probably also happen is that the same dynamic you see with oil and coal reserves would occur with nuclear power. As more uranium is used, more will be found.
‘will determine the relative levels of the various forms of energy production.’
Sure. However, I don’t think most people realize how hampered nuclear has been. It’s not something which is widely publicized. If you look closely into the actual costs; removing the political albatross from around the neck of all industries will benefit nuclear the most.

Mike LaFerrara said...

Great points, Steve.

I agree that longer term--meaning the next few decades or couple of centuries--nuclear clearly holds the most promise. Nuclear fusion, in particular, is very intriguing.

The bottom line is that potential energy sources needed to power industrial civilization is for all intents and purposes unlimited as long as the engineers, scientists, and businessmen are politically and economically free to produce it.