Sunday, July 29, 2012

More oil + more gas = a cleaner planet?

Absolutely, if history is any guide. Walter Russell Meade does it again in the fourth part of his analysis of the effects the shale oil and gas boom will have on the globe. Up for analysis this time: environmentalists.

Environmentalists are addicted to a Malthusian worldview. They seem unable to relinquish the fundamental premise that there is (or soon will be) a massive shortage of resources, and that our only hope as a species lies in a radical reordering of our political and economic systems. And this addiction blinds them to a the reality that an age of renewed fossil fuel abundance is a good thing.
The shale boom hasn’t turned green success into green failure. It’s prevented green failure from turning into something much worse. ... [T]he real winner of an oil and gas shortage is… coal. ... The US and China have oodles of coal, and rather than walk to work from our cold and dark houses all winter, we’d use it. Furthermore, when and if the oil runs out, the technology exists to get liquid fuel out of coal. It isn’t cheap and it isn’t clean, but it works.

The newly bright oil and gas future means that we aren’t entering a new Age of Coal. For this, every green on the planet should give thanks.

The second reason why greens should give thanks for shale is that environmentalism is a luxury good. People must survive and they will survive by any means necessary. But they would much rather thrive than merely survive, and if they can arrange matters better, they will. A poor society near the edge of survival will dump the industrial waste in the river without a second thought. It will burn coal and choke in the resulting smog if it has nothing else to burn. [snip]

An age of energy shortages and high prices translates into an age of radical food and economic insecurity for billions of people. Those billions of hungry, frightened, angry people ... will butcher every panda in the zoo before they see their children starve, they will torch every forest on earth before they freeze to death, and the cheaper and the meaner their lives are, the less energy or thought they will spare to the perishing world around them.

But, thanks to shale and other unconventional energy sources, that isn’t where we are headed. We are heading into a world in which energy is abundant and horizons are open even as humanity’s grasp of science and technology grows more secure. A world where more and more basic human needs are met is a world that has time to think about other goals and the money to spend on them.
Read the whole thing.

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