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An Urgent Resolution for the New Year

Jeff Siegel | Thursday January 1st, 2009 | 0 Comments

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Tomorrow morning, the gym will be quite crowded with new members hoping to start the year off right. It is one of the most common new year’s resolutions of all time, and also one that sounds good in theory…but in practice, rarely lives up to expectations.
Sure, it’s easy to make goals, but it’s not always easy to reach them. And these days, given our expectations of instant gratification, sticking to a program in an effort to achieve long-term success is an idea that has become harder and harder to comprehend…or even accept. But this is a very dangerous mindset. It leads to the assumption that anything in life worth having, must require no patience, no work, and no long-term planning. It is also this mindset that has allowed our dependence on fossil fuels to cripple us.


In the past there have been many efforts to transition our energy economy. But those efforts were often met with excuses based on complacency, manipulated data, and the inability to prepare for the future. Now we sit here and read about how the future of our economy is inextricably linked to the challenge of energy. Something that we warned about decades ago – but choose to ignore.
In any event, there is little doubt that in order to restore economic stability to the global community, a new, aggressive clean energy policy is an absolute must. No longer can we count on cheap, abundant fossil fuel energy supplies. Because they no longer exist!
* Approximately 75 percent of the world’s current oil production is from fields that were discovered prior to 1970, which are past their peaks and beginning their declines.
* Despite a tripling of producing natural gas wells since 1971, and despite the application of the world’s most advanced technology, natural gas production continues to decline.
* According to a study by the Energy Watch Group (EWG), under the best-case estimates of uranium resources, production will peak before 2050. And that’s based on current rates of consumption – meaning no expansion at all.

And of course, there’s coal. Which as I mentioned a few weeks ago here, isn’t nearly as abundant as some would like you to believe. Also check out Tom Schueneman’s piece on coal’s questionable reserve numbers here.
There’s also the science of coal, which is rarely discussed, but adds further proof that coal isn’t anywhere close to being the abundant resource that some have claimed it is.
A 2007 EWG study of world coal reserves indicated that in terms of energy content, the U.S. may have already passed its peak of coal production back in 1998. You see, different types of coal contain different amounts of energy. You have…

* Anthracite – which delivers 30 megajoules of energy per kilogram.
* Bituminous – which delivers 18 to 29 megajoules of energy per kilogram.
* Subbituminous – which delivers 5 to 25 megajoules of energy per kilogram.

Anthracite, which delivers the most energy, only represents a small portion of our overall production, and has been in decline for over a century. So most of the coal we use today is of lesser quality. And when the EWG looked at the energy content of this produced coal (and energy content really is a metric that should be followed even closer than actual mined volumes), they found that U.S. coal production peaked in 1998 at 598 million tons of oil equivalent. By 2005, that number fell to 576 million.
Point is, with the rapid depletion of fossil fuel resources comes an urgent transition of our energy economy. And this is going to require a lot of work, a lot of long-term planning, and a lot of infrastructure development. It’s also going to require setting aside the desire to demand instant results. Because much like infinite fossil fuel supplies – they don’t exist.
I’m optimistic that our new President will do everything he can to move us forward. He will push for the large scale integration of renewable energy, and spend billions to upgrade our energy infrastructure. But it will be up to us to focus on the benefits of hard work, long-term planning and delayed gratification. Because that, coupled with real leadership in Washington and a wealth of new investment that will be funneled into the renewable energy sector in 2009 , is what will make this happen.
I hope all of you have a happy and prosperous new year!


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