Thursday, June 5, 2014
Now that we can put our worries about anthropogenic climate change to rest, thanks to Obambam's EPA guidelines that will force power companies to step down their polluting practices, we should wonder what's going to happen to all that coal, you know, that 200 years' supply of coal that we were bragging about in the early 2000's.
When this stat was being bandied about as the savior from our energy scarcity problem, those who objected to its use, the ones we still call "Doom and Gloomers", because they point out the legerdemain used to come up with such sanguine forecasts, were cautioning that, well, yeah, at current rates of extraction and utilization that might be true, but since, like oil, and every other resource in a system that's based on constant unimpeded growth, it's use at current levels is only a fraction of what it's use is going to be in the future, so 200 years is not quite what it works out to be.
Like interest rates themselves, that seem small and innocuous as they take their babysteps upwards, what in one year seems, and often is, inconsequential, when added up year after year, their growth is not only inexorable, but crushing (or fabulously enriching, depending on which side of the equation you're positioned), resource extrapolations based on current usage as though current usage will be the same in an envisioned future, are so much hokum. And the same can be said for Obamamama's 15 year gift to the power industry to place the burden of their prohibitively expensive main externality, which pouring tons and tons of CO2, mercury, and other pollutants into the air amounts to, onto the public.
And that is only the first problem with this proposal. The second being that very word, "proposal". It is presented as if it's a fait accompli, but it isn't; it's an EPA guideline, and there's plenty of room for Republican gutting of it long before any actual reduction in heat-trapping gasses takes place.
Now, back to resource extraction. The proposal is hailed as a step in addressing Climate Change, but that's a very cynical ploy. Just as the moving of heavily-polluting industries to countries with no representational democracy, such as China, or completely impoverished populations, such as India, where more than 400 million people still have zero access to electricity, only accelerates climate change, so too, will this new EPA proposal. Whereas it is a good thing for anyone living in the vicinity of the poison-spewing energy-producer, that is not what the proposal heralds. So whereas I can only be happy for them, for the ROW, it isn't a big deal. In fact, because of the way that the alternate fuel, natgas, is now mined and delivered, it's actually a worse scenario than the one that existed before the law was passed. The reason for this being, as hinted at in the first paragraph, the abundance of coal in this country, although impressive for one nation, even this energy-hungry beast, when compared to the world's energy hunger, it is less so.
And, of course, now that the infrastructure for exporting all that 200-year supply of coal is in place, all the loans that now need to be paid off to pay for it, the export of that supply will begin in earnest, so that in the decade after 2030, the proposal will be useless, as there won't be any of that coal left to burn anyway, since it will all be gone, having been exported to China and other Asian economies hungry for it, such as India, where there is zero support for pollution reduction. Even now, in 2014, the heat wave in India is so extreme (it's 116 degrees in New Delhi right now), a mob is threatening to tear down a power plant that isn't supplying enough juice to run the AC units the impoverished populace shelled out their precious rupees to purchase, but which now, when thy need to use it the most, can't, because there's not enough electrical capacity to supply all the juice needed to run them. Do you think they care if the plant needs to run on coal?
So, whereas it seems that this proposal will help us cut down on CO2 pollution, it is exactly the opposite that will occur, because the plants in the US that are running on coal won't be shut down, but will simply be retooled to run on natgas. And the coal will simply be mined and shipped elsewhere, meaning, of course, burning heavily polluting bunker fuel to get it there, and then, because the coal will be burned where the environmental restrictions on doing so are less onerous, the net result will be that, instead of decreasing the amount of anthropogenic gases being spewed into the atmosphere, the mandate, should it stand, will have the result of more than doubling them.
But because the system of Nation States we now exist under, leaves no country responsible for what other countries do with the fuel, (or arms, or computers, or software, such as Google or Cisco's, or Stuxnet) that gets exported, none of that is really our problem. And so Obamamama can claim a great victory and throw a sop to his green acolytes that they will rabidly lap up as proof that we're doing something to control Climate Change, proving yet again it's politics, not science, that rules States' actions; and style, not substance, that garners popular support for proposals that pretend to address a problem, but which only, in reality, make it worse.
Posted by Robert Lowrey at 9:33 AM