The Five Big Things- 2. Climate Change and the Coming Natural Resource Wars

The global energy market is leading us towards doom- regardless of how you look at it. The scientific community nearly universally agrees that climate change is real, with only a small minority arguing it isn’t man-made. The energy industry’s best guesses suggest we’re heading towards a market meltdown that will eventually cripple world markets. By even the most charitable read of anti-environmentalists, major energy policy changes are needed in the short-term to avoid climate problems, market meltdowns, and even resource wars.

Climate scientists are sounding the alarm. We maybe have a decade to correct the problem to avoid catastrophe. We might all die in like 30 years, if you believe the worst. There’s a global mass extinction happening in our oceans. If you choose to believe the experts, big problems are coming. But who believes the smart people anyway, right?

Let’s operate in a little different reality. Let’s assume for a minute that our doom is not thirty years away, but 200 years away. Let’s assume them “crazy liberals” are being nuts and preaching doom too early. Let’s assume all that, and still get a sense for our oncoming environmental peril if we don’t make energy policy changes.

First, let’s understand the state of oil on our planet- the oil industry estimates about 75 years of oil reserves exist on Earth. That’s assuming current levels of consumption, which is unlikely as demand rises in China and India. So in short, supply is falling, and oil gets more expensive the further you have to go to get it. Demand is rising. In some time far less than 75 years, the economic incentive to drill will be undercut by rising costs that price most people out of the market. We’ll have an economic meltdown resulting from oil simply being too expensive for most people to use. Economic meltdowns cause suffering, and worse yet, wars. What do we actually think tensions between the U.S. and Iran right now are about?

Second, let’s understand that the effects of climate change are already wreaking havoc on our economy. Superstorms like Hurricane Katrina or Sandy cause unprecedented damage, both human and economic on our economy. Tornadoes are destroying towns left and right in the homeland this year. Droughts are causing food prices to be unstable. Most of our major economic hubs in America- like New York, Los Angeles, Miami, or Boston- will be harmed by rising sea levels, threatening future economic depression if we lose them. How can the insurance industry write policies to deal with killer storms and rising oceans? The economic mess we could see from these threats is incalculable. Even if climate change isn’t killing us, it won’t get better on it’s own.

If oil could set off resource wars, one can’t leave out water as doing the same. Water is the most precious resource on the planet, and already there are skirmishes and wars in sub-Saharan Africa over it. As droughts become more common place around the world from a lack of fresh water, how do you avoid wars over access and control? Much like oil, water becomes a finite resource, and power and control ride on who has it.

How about our food supply- what is the impact on our food? How will droughts hurt crops? How will extinctions change ecosystems where we hunt and fish? Will it kill species we feed on? Will it cause natural predators to no longer keep other species in check? Will all of this instability likely lead to wild price changes?

Economic instability, recessions, wars, and other factors like forest fires are all immediate things our current environmental path leads us towards. I’ve basically tried to avoid the real doom and gloom- the potential short-term death of our planet, something that will cost most of us our lives. There is no quick “Planet B” option. The fact is that the experts are warning of a catastrophic impact of inaction. We very well may be facing doom. We shouldn’t diminish that.

This is not a funny debate about “cow farts” and banning airplanes. Solar, nuclear, wind, and hydro power could be as viable of an option to fuel society as coal, oil, and natural gas, if all we’d do is reverse tax subsidies and regulations from favoring fossil fuels to renewables and clean energy sources. And why not a plan along the lines of a “green new deal?” Why not create the economic boom, and millions of new jobs in a new, clean, safer energy economy that moves us towards a better future? Take issue with AOC’s plan if you want (and I do), but is the concept bad? Are we better off moving towards an increasingly difficult, violent future than unleashing our innovators on a new pathway? It seems to me like a pathway to not only survival, but prosperity.

Read BIG Thing 1 here.

The Stuff You Can’t Recover

If there is one thing the Trump Presidency has made clear, it is how much can be undone after a President leaves. It’s hard to undo the big stuff- repealing major acts of Congress, for instance. It takes time to undo a healthy economy too. It’s not hard though to cut taxes, and create endless federal deficits. It’s not hard to undo executive orders. You can undo a regulation with the stroke of a pen. When all else fails, a new President can basically just not enforce a rule they don’t agree with. Finite resources, different legal interpretations, and general deference on executive matters allow a President to make changes in a hurry.

One area of damage that our unhinged President is being allowed to carry out with basic impunity is the destruction of our wildlife, public lands, and natural resources. He has given away record amounts of public land in under two years. He’s made it easier to hunt hibernating bear cubs. He pulled out of the Paris Accords. He’s eliminating fuel efficiency standards. He’s chipping away at protections for endangered species. He wants to take away California’s right to limit greenhouse gas emissions. I’m probably only scratching the surface on the damage this man has already done to our country, the environment, and our world.

The problem with this is that once you destroy a part of our natural world, it’s gone. If an endangered species is killed off by hunters, you can’t bring it back once it’s extinct. If you allow chemicals and poisons to be dumped into our water supply, the damage to the fish and our drinking water is permanent. If you destroy the habitat for polar bears and other Arctic wildlife, they die for good. If you do nothing about climate change, and allow carbon emissions to go unchecked for four years, it takes much, much longer to heal the damage- if it’s not too late already.

I’m not the traditional “tree hugger” environmentalist. I’m not anti-hunting, I understand the ecological needs and benefits from hunting, actually. I know we can’t get rid of all fossil fuels tomorrow, so we will have to live with energy exploration and it’s risks for a while. I’m not anti-car. I’m not asking for anything extreme at all, just some common sense. Don’t kill the emerging solar industry, and it’s thousands of jobs and clean, renewable energy. Make cars run more efficient. Start moving tax incentives away from coal and towards renewables. Protect clean water, both for our drinking purposes and it’s inhabitants. Regulate energy exploration to keep our environment safe. Protect wildlife, especially endangered species. Don’t literally encourage bad actors in our environment with public policy. It’s not too much to ask.

I find it ironic that environmental liberals end up arguing with some of the people who enjoy the outdoors most- sportsmen and rural Americans. We all want to enjoy the natural beauty of our land, it’s something we collectively enjoy. We all know that black smoke we see coming out of a coal plant is bad for us, none of us want to breathe that in. We know dumping sludge and chemicals into the water is bad for us all. None of us want to see tigers or any other endangered animal go extinct, they’re magnificent animals to see. Let’s stop doing openly stupid things to hurt our beautiful planet. Once we kill it off, there’s no coming back from that.

The Case for Renewable Energy Sources and Nuclear Power

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Let’s set a few things straight about the energy situation on planet Earth:

  • The fossil fuel companies say that time is running out on fossil fuels. Whether you believe coal/oil/natural gas has 50, 75, 100, or even 200 years left of supply, it’s finite. Demand is rising, as more and more of the former “third world” is seeing a rise in standard of living from globalization. Rising demand and falling supply will increase prices. That is compounded by the fact that fossil fuels become more expensive to mine as we dig deeper into the supply. We will price ourselves out of fossil fuels in the near term.
  • There is no segment of the scientific community actually arguing that global warming is not happening. There is a small, and somewhat suspect wing of the community that says it is not a man-made issue, but there is no credible argument that we are not experiencing warming at the atmospheric level that is altering the state of our planet.
  • We’re not going to be able to completely get off of fossil fuels quickly. It won’t be an over-night thing. We’re talking about entirely re-making our entire power grid, our auto-industry, our housing industry, and on and on. Given the problems stated in my first point, time is ticking away.
  • Even if you don’t believe in global warming, there’s no way you believe the smog and pollution caused by fossil fuels is actually good for you. That would be an absurd and laughable position to take. If you want to argue this with me, please volunteer to go huff fumes from a big truck that is “rolling coal.”
  • Solar is creating more jobs than coal in America today. Even in Donald Trump’s America, this is true. It’s a growing industry, and one which young people tend to favor. Again, refer to point number one, and solar has a better long-term outlook as a fuel of choice. The same is true for wind.
  • A large chunk of the planet’s oil is located under the Middle East. That would be a region with great instability (Syria, for instance), governments that we’re not terribly fond of (Iran), extreme poverty and human rights abuses (Saudi Arabia), and wars- not the place you want to be beholden to for your energy.
  • People fear nuclear power, in part because of it’s military uses, and in part because of fears about accidents (Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, Fukushima). Here’s the facts though- nuclear power, particularly in newer plants, has a very good record of safety. Innovation will only make that better. The second fact is that nuclear power is extremely clean, comparable to our current energy sources. Nuclear power plants aren’t easy to build, and we can’t produce enough of them to make them our primary source of power, but they can be a part of the solution.
  • Much of the reason why fossil fuels still enjoy primacy in our market in the United States is because they still get a lot of the tax subsidies. If we started shifting those subsidies towards renewables, we would see the market begin moving that way even faster.
  • Much of our domestic supply of oil is in areas that we should want to protect for future generations. Oceans, national parks, and on our wild lands. Transporting via pipelines isn’t necessarily the hazard that some would have it seem to be, but the record of these pipelines is far from perfect. We risk the beauty of our natural lands and seas to increase domestic production, at very little benefit- More domestic drilling does not lower prices for us here in the United States. In fact, we don’t get all of the oil.
  • Global Climate Change is actually a real thing. Extreme weather is a problem that we are facing right now, both in the United States and abroad. Failing to act, and soon, will continue to harm everyone.
  • Russia is a petro-state. Moving the world away from their fossil fuel driven economy would force change in Putin’s Russia.

Given the geo-politics, the economics, the potential for ruining the planet, and the positive impact that cleaner energy would have on our daily lives, it would make sense to speed up the move away from fossil fuels and onto cleaner energy. Given the economic potential in wind, solar, nuclear, and other cleaner energy sources, it makes sense to move towards them for job creation. The potential for innovation, for job creation, for a better quality of life, and to ease the geo-political stresses the fossil fuel industry creates, should be driving our policy. Unfortunately, it’s not at the national level, at this time. We need to begin the move though, and now. It’s a good reason to go vote for change in 2018.