Thursday, February 02, 2006

US is Addicted to Oil...

No, I don't like to admit it but Mr Bush has actually said something I agree with. In fact had he said "the West is addicted to oil" I'd have equally agreed, but this was of course his State of the Union address.

No one will deny that amongst the worlds leading fuel guzzlers, the US takes a particularly prominent place:
Two thirds of the carbon emissions from fossil fuel combustion are produced by just 10 countries. The United States, with 5 percent of the world’s population, is the largest contributor, accounting for nearly one quarter of global emissions. China is second, with nearly 14 percent. Other major polluters are Russia, Japan, India, and Germany.

It's a fact that the West's dependence on fossil fuels has been constantly on the rise basically from the moment we started exploiting this energy resource in its solid form (coal) up to today when our thirst for hydrocarbons is mainly for the liquid and gas forms.

This quickly rising combustion of fossil fuels results in the rapid increase of carbon emissions or green house gases (carbon dioxide mainly (see also top chart on the page linked above), which is causing concern as the potential major man-made cause of global warming.

Personally I'm not entirely convinced yet that global warming is closely linked to carbon emissions. Amongst the general public there exists a certain degree of confusion regarding the terminology used in the debate. Whilst it has been incontrovertibly proven that the Earth's average temperature is on the increase, we know from the ice record that global warming and global cooling have been regular occurrences during the Earth's history and these temperature fluctuations have often swung much more violently than what we are seeing today. In that distant past, human activity was negligible and could not have contributed to these temperature changes.

But clear proof that the current spat of global warming is entirely due to human activity, in particular carbon emissions, remains elusive. Scientists tell us the body of evidence is growing but equally many will tell you that in the light of past global temperature fluctuations, more evidence and corroboration of existing evidence is needed to establish the responsibility of fossil fuel consumption with regard to global warming.

It's certainly fair to say that allegations that recent phenomena like super hurricanes and other freak weather can be attributed to green house gases alone, aren't based on any scientific evidence but rather on popular perception of a phenomenon that is incredibly complex: the Earth's meteorological system.

Nonetheless, in view of what's at stake here, I personally favour a "better safe than sorry" approach and believe we should take more steps to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and our global carbon emissions.

There are broadly speaking at least two divergent approaches. My comparison is of course over-simplistic and serves mainly illustrative purposes:

1. The Kyoto approach: it largely depends on our own volition to make the necessary life-style changes to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels. I find this whole approach rather naive. The idea that Western consumers will somehow change their patterns of behaviour to achieve such a lofty, collective yet elusive goal is rather laughable. Most people in the West pay a little lip service to environmental issues and then go merrily about their business in their "fuel economical" SUVs. Many aspire to the dream of the rural idyll, away from crowded and polluted towns and cities, thereby requiring two, sometimes three vehicles per family for commuting purposes only, in so doing inadvertently contributing to the problem.

And then there's China, the fastest growing economy in the world and set soon to become the biggest. Do we really believe China will renounce the use of its massive coal reserves to save the world? Considering the West has practically devoured every morsel of this resource, it would be hypocritical to ask this of the Chinese.

2. The US approach: a technology driven approach with strong emphasis on capture of carbon emissions, as well as development of technologies that can reduce carbon emissions without affecting human behaviour and economical growth too much. In my view, this is far more realistic and even presents opportunities to share these technologies with other, less technologically advanced nations.

The US has gone remarkably far in producing hybrid cars which are routinely sold as standard. Other alternative fuel technologies such as bio alcohol are also fairly widely available although the latter doesn't actually have much impact on carbon emissions as such.

While so-called alternative sources of energy like solar, wind, geo and waves may well contribute in the future to reducing global carbon emissions by 10 - 15%, they are unlikely to ever make a massive impact.

No, then I prefer the hands-on US approach: develop technologies that can cap and reduce carbon emissions without having to give up the valuable resource of fossil fuels altogether or rely on the fickle human sense of responsibility...

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2 Comments:

At 4:46 AM, Blogger Timmer's Dumbass Of The Week said...

Gert -

Good one! There is very little that you said that I would disagree with. In fact, it is amazing to me how much we agree on this issue.

I am the first to acknowledge that the U.S. uses WAY MORE natural resources, particularly fossil fuels, than its per-capita share in the world. But having said that, we bring much else to the world - and I don't mean Hollywood movies.

Kyoto was doomed before it even hit George Bush's desk...our Congress would have never approved it.

I am with you on erring on the side of safety, and I have said for many years now that we need to get the hell off of fossil fuels (and therefore U.S. dependence on foreign some fools) and develop / coordinate many Earth-friendly technologies. Why not use Wind, Waves (ocean), Hydroelectric (rivers), Solar, Nuclear, Kinetic, Synthetic, Recycled and Agricultural fuel sources wherever each is most appropriate and effective?

I grudgingly submit - good post, mate.

 
At 1:30 PM, Blogger Gert said...

Well, praise does sometimes come from the most unlikely of quarters...

 

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