Tag: energy

Global Sanctuary or Global Gold Mine?: The pros and cons of exploration in the Arctic region

Source: http://cominganarchy.com/2007/08/12/the-arctic-cold-war-the-canadian-perspective/

We have all heard various proclamations associated with global warming: “Save the polar bears!” “The ice is melting as lightening speeds!” Well, last time I checked the polar bears are still alive and thermal wear is required to visit the North Pole.

Well, imagine packing your parka to vacation in the Bahamas or paying for the extra month of air conditioning you need to stave off the humidity in southern California? There have, in fact, been noticeable changes since the start of the global warming campaign. With these changes come both opportunities for natural gas and oil exploration as well as health and environmental risks. Given the pros and cons of different approaches, would it be irresponsible to allow cautious, but still profit-driven, oil drilling in the Arctic? I believe so.

According to a study by NASA, the thickest and oldest parts of the Arctic caps are melting at the fastest rate that they have been since 1980. This part of the ice that survives at least two summers is called “multi-year ice”. This ice has been melting at a rate of -15.1% per decade in recent years. The size of the area of ice coverage hit an all-time low in 2008, rose for a little while, and then hit the second-lowest size in 2012.

Environmental and Life Risks

The Arctic regulates weather patterns around the globe. The wind currents take warm air up to the Arctic and return at a cooled temperature. With a non-uniform melting of the ice, these wind patterns can be disrupted and result in “random” weather patterns. The Natural Resources Defense Council predicts that “climate change will worsen smog and causes plants to produce more pollen pollution, increasing respiratory health threats”. Lastly, the polar bears of course. The Arctic provides a home to a plethora of delicate animal species that depend on the frozen tundra for life.

Oil Drilling

The melting also presents some unique opportunities for oil and natural gas exploration. Many precautions are taken in the business of oil drilling and they seem to be paying off. Approximately 300-500 oil spills occur per year, but they only account for 12% of the oil that ends up in the ocean. In fact, only 0.001% of the oil that is transported is spilled.

Despite these impressive statistics, oil drilling still involves heat. Ice must be forcibly melted in order to clear a path for the oil rigs. During the extraction process, water containing a harmful toxin known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) gets removed with the oil and thrown overboard back in to the sea. At low concentrations, the toxins cause birth defects, but at high concentrations they can be lethal.

Black Gold Mine

What drives my concern about diving into the Arctic is that it is a black gold mine for oil and natural gas. The people interested in the region are being driven by money. A recent article in the New York Times discussed the race to carve up the Arctic. With the UN Convention’s Law of the Sea of 1982 in place, ownership of many of the waters and continental shelves in the area have been given to bordering countries such as Greenland, Iceland, Canada, and Russia. The article brought attention to China’s obvious efforts to build good relations with these Arctic States by investing in the nation’s economy and other endeavors. This fervor has alarmed Western nations concerned about China’s intentions beyond natural resources considering the region is an effective launching pad to a number of different nations. The area also opens the door to new war strategies that involve traversing the Arctic sea and using the ice to one’s advantage. Between money and war, the environmental prestige of the Arctic would not stand a chance.

Economists are not in definite agreement, but there is evidence shown that increasing the domestic production of oil would only result in a 3¢ increase over a span of 10-20 years at best. By harvesting 3 years worth of oil in the Arctic, we very well may be doing more damage than we can foresee at this time. Rebuilding ice is not as simple as planting a tree. Arctic ice melting is more analogous to the ozone layer depletion: easy to do and hard to fix. We cannot fight Mother Nature. There could be more Hurricane Katrinas or California wildfires that plague our nation as a result of exacerbation in that area. Until more reliable prediction models are put in to place, I would not feel comfortable taking the region for granted in any capacity


1)    http://www.google.com/imgres?um=1&hl=en&biw=1366&bih=667&tbm=isch&tbnid=fpV-VDjUVq9vuM:&imgrefurl=http://cominganarchy.com/2007/08/12/the-arctic-cold-war-the-canadian-perspective/&docid=NxvPLx1mmHl8KM&imgurl=http://cominganarchy.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2007/08/arctic.JPG&w=405&h=300&ei=N9x2UIdVkor2BNS3gJAD&zoom=1&iact=rc&dur=407&sig=111949141478926398600&page=3&tbnh=141&tbnw=184&start=44&ndsp=24&ved=1t:429,r:10,s:44,i:314&tx=68&ty=47

2)    http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/IB95010.pdf

3)    http://www.livescience.com/4979-oil-drilling-risks-rewards.html

4)    http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/thick-melt.html

5)    http://www.nrdc.org/health/climate/nc.asp

6)    http://savethearctic.org/en

7)    Rosenthal, E. (2012, September 19). Race Is On as Ice Melt Reveals Arctic Treasures. New York Times, p. A14.

Climate Change Reality for the United States

Source: http://www.4cleanfuels.com/fuels4.php

Written by Nathaniel Berger

During the past several years, the United States has experience numerous events of extreme weather patterns ranging from massive wildfires in Colorado to the 4th warmest winter in U.S. history.[1] Many parts of the country experienced seventy degree days in December.

Ninety-seven percent of scientists say man-made climate change is real.[2] However, the remaining 3% of scientists are quite loud in their efforts to deny climate change. Those who deny the occurrence of climate change take the scientific truth, and mislead, deny, and suppress it so much that little progress can be made. The media further exacerbate the problem when they give each side equal air time, insinuating whether intentionally or not, that these messages are both equally supported and valid.

However, despite the 3% of scientists’ denial, climate change is happening, and the U.S. needs to do its part to lower carbon emissions. The European Union and many other nations around the world have made pledges through the Kyoto Protocol and other initiatives to lower carbon emissions through renewable energy creation, carbon offsets, and more. Germany’s solar energy accounts for nearly a 1/3 of the nation’s energy.[3]

Unfortunately, the U.S. has not embarked on such a serious renewable energy path, refusing to join the Kyoto Protocol or even establish a national energy policy. While many states have set forth renewable energy standards, these acts are insufficient as the U.S. is one of the top carbon emitters.

Despite the minimal efforts made in the United States to reduce carbon emissions, the U.S. experienced the lowest carbon emissions in 20 years in the first half of 2012.[4] Many are claiming that the U.S. has finally decided to truly work to reduce carbon emissions. Sadly, I think that these people are far too optimistic. Few scientists actually think that these reductions in carbon emissions will last.

When the CO2 emissions reductions were analyzed, researchers found that 43% of the decline was a result of the mild winter that much of the U.S. experienced, 21% of the decline was attributed to coal-to-gas generation, and only a measly 6% was left for increased wind generation.[5] In terms of weather conditions, the mild winter is not likely to be a recurring theme in coming years, and even if it is, it will likely bring with it increasingly hot summers that will require more energy consumption through increased air conditioning.

While natural gas usage has increased significantly, the switch to natural gas is only a temporary fix for carbon emissions. First, the switch to natural gas is largely a result of economic factors that have resulted in shockingly low natural gas prices. According to Michael McElroy, Professor of Environmental Studies at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the impact of the decreased price of natural gas was most prevalent in the East South Central and South Atlantic regions of the U.S. because those regions have the highest level of electricity generation from coal.[6] Few economists expect these low prices to remain long term, which may result in a small comeback of coal. However, McElroy does argue that if the United States wanted to continue to economically impact the relative price of electricity generation between coal and natural gas, a carbon tax of only $5 per ton of CO2 would make a significant difference in electricity generation. The U.S. would save 31 million tons of CO2, and the price of electricity would rise only minimally.[7] I think this solution is perfectly reasonable especially when one considers our growing national debt. However, it is unlikely to be part of any tax reform due to the unwillingness of major political figures to put the environment and climate change on their political agendas.

Second, natural gas brings its own environmental impacts. Natural gas obtained through hydraulic fracturing is associated with water contamination and earthquakes. Many states such as, Ohio and Pennsylvania, are already noticing some of these impacts. Because of the fast-paced nature of the industry, it has been difficult for many states to develop the regulatory system fast enough to keep up with the production goals of companies interested in hydraulic fracturing. North Carolina’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources has worked to assess the potential impacts. Currently, they are recommending that with the proper guidelines and safety regulations that hydraulic fracturing can occur safely with minimal environmental impact. The only problem is that they are still unsure of what the potential impacts are, the size of those impacts, and how quickly they may impact human health.[8]

Natural gas will not lower carbon emissions sufficiently to prevent continued climate change. It has a different set of problems from coal, but it has problems all the same. Therefore, it is only one part of the solution to climate change. It should not be seen as the end all be all. Therefore, it is vital for people to only see natural gas as a transition fuel from coal to renewable energy. People need to remember that renewable energy means that we can never run out. No one can say that about coal or even natural gas. Renewable energy is the only long-term way to reduce carbon emissions before the impacts of climate change become more extreme, and people are less able to adapt. Renewable energy is also economically crucial to the United States. Renewable energy technology is the technology of the future. If the United States wants to maintain at the forefront of the world economy, it will have to invest in renewable energy. And, if we want to maintain the world, we need to transition to renewable energy sooner rather than later.

[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/06/extreme-weather-climate-timeline-infographic_n_1861334.html

[2] http://content.usatoday.com/communities/sciencefair/post/2010/06/scientists-overwhelmingly-believe-in-man-made-climate-change/1#.UFkdQY45s21

[4] http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/17/a-20-year-low-in-u-s-carbon-emissions/

[5] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/wp/2012/09/14/why-the-recent-plunge-in-u-s-carbon-emissions-may-not-last/

[6] http://www.seas.harvard.edu/news-events/press-releases/carbon-emissions-natural-gas

[7] http://www.seas.harvard.edu/news-events/press-releases/carbon-emissions-natural-gas

[8] http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/our-energy-choices/coal-and-other-fossil-fuels/how-natural-gas-works.html

Growing Dirty: Why China’s Energy Boom is America’s Problem

by Olivia Shepard


In 1992 at the United Nations Rio Earth Summit, government representatives from 255 countries met to address a long list of climate and energy problems. They penned the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, which introduced the concept of Common but Differentiated Responsibility (CBDR) stating that,

“The developed countries acknowledge the responsibility that they bear in the international pursuit of sustainable development in view of the pressures their societies place on the global environment and of the technologies and financial resources they command.”

The concept of CBDR suggests that developed countries, which in 1992 were emitting close to 80% of global CO2, have a mitigation responsibility proportional to their emissions. The logical extension of this being that developing countries are less to blame and thus essentially given a free pass to “grow dirty” as we, the United States, once did. But do these developing countries really have a right to their own Industrial Revolutions? On the one hand, it is unfair to handicap the growth of developing countries with emissions-based constraints that developed countries grew without, but on the other, it is neither logical nor moral to allow developing countries to knowingly ignore climate change simply for the sake of equality.


With no other country is the concept of CBDR more controversial than with China. While technically still a developing nation, in the past year China has surpassed the United States not only as the country with the largest economy, but also as the number one global emitter of greenhouse gases. These two superlatives are not unrelated either; they are linked through energy intensity, a measure of energy use per GDP. China’s energy intensity is 50% greater than the United States, so even if the US and Chinese economies were growing at the same rate, China would see a 1.5 times greater increase in greenhouse gas emission than the US. But the Chinese GDP is growing approximately ten times faster than that of the United States. Due to this rapid growth in GDP, even if China is able to meet its five-year plan to reduce energy intensity by 16% before 2015, it will still experience a net increase in greenhouse gas emissions. That is the one-two punch of growth coupled with high energy intensity. The fact that China emits more greenhouse gas per unit of GDP than any other country in the world and also has the largest, fastest growing GDP in the world means that despite CBDR, China must play a leading role in mitigating climate change. Yet China is resisting pressure from the United Nations to commit to an emissions target, which they claim will cause harmful economic shocks. China has little incentive to control emissions.


While China avoids taking on greenhouse gas reduction obligations, the United States is reluctant to commit to United Nations imposed regulations unless all major emitters (not just developed countries) sign on as well. US law makers want to avoid “free riders” who benefit from US emissions reduction without contributing to the reduction themselves. In addition, if the US were to set an emissions goal without Chinese reciprocation, this would provide China with an unfair advantage in global trade. The Chinese-American political landscape is a complicated diplomacy game with plenty more facets than just the energy issue. Key to China’s recent growth is its reliance on trade with the US. China’s overall trade surplus in 2011 was $155.1 billion, but against the United States alone for the same year it was $272.3 billion, or 175.6% of the total surplus.


Ironically, one of the largest growing categories of imports from China to the US are solar panels. Thus to some extent, China’s dirty growth (70% of its fuel supply comes from coal, as compared to 23% from coal in the US), actually enables clean energy infrastructure in America. In order to curb their trade deficit, last May the United States imposed an anti-dumping tariff on 31% of Chinese-made solar cells. Dumping refers to selling goods to a foreign country at a price lower than would be charged for the same goods domestically. Before the tariff, China dominated half the American market. The US hopes that the tariff will strengthen the domestic solar market, giving America a chance to compete. While beneficial to the US, the new tariff is a point of concern for China (and for other foreign countries with large solar markets such as Canada) since it will shrink trade in the global solar market and increase prices. A decrease in sales will reduce jobs as well, since about half the jobs provided by the solar sector are in installation. There is also tension regarding Sino-American competition in other renewable energy markets as well. Because the Chinese government provides large subsidies for wind turbine production, the US has trouble competing.


The tariffs implemented by the United States on Chinese renewable infrastructure such as solar cells and wind turbines are put in place to protect the American market. China can produce and sell these goods much cheaper than can the US so imposing the tariffs allows America to compete. But rising prices also means less consumption of solar panels and wind turbines and therefore less mitigation of greenhouse gases. So what can we do to overcome this tug-of-war between the environment and the economy? Therein lies the solution to entirety of the global energy crisis. The best solution will be both economically and environmentally advantageous. At this point, it is not likely that there will be one supremely effective mitigation strategy. Instead, relief will come from a confluence of methods. A free market approach will not be enough to jump-start many renewable energy industries. One potential idea could be a reinforcing structure whereby energy technology and infrastructure can be traded. If China continues to be a supplier of solar and wind energy systems to the US, the US can purchase these in capital investments in Chinese renewable projects to be implemented in China, thereby helping China as we help ourselves.


Bradsher, Keith and Diane Cardwell. U.S. Slaps High Tariffs on Chinese Solar Panels. The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/18/business/energy-environment/us-slaps-tariffs-on-chinese-solar-panels.html?pagewanted=all&_moc.semityn.www. May 17, 2012.

Bradsher, Keith. Chinese Data Mask Depth of Slowdown, Executives Say. The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/23/business/global/chinese-data-said-to-be-manipulated-understating-its-slowdown.html?pagewanted=all. June 22, 2012.

Bullis, Kevin. The Chinese Solar Machine. The Technology Review. http://www.technologyreview.com/featured-story/426393/the-chinese-solar-machine/. January 2012.

Chang, Gordon G. China is 175.6% Dependent on the U.S. http://www.forbes.com/sites/gordonchang/2012/01/22/china-is-175-6-dependent-on-the-u-s/. January 22, 2011.

Leggett, Jane A. China’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Mitigation Policies. Congressional Research Service. http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R41919.pdf. July 18, 2011.

United States Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. The Real Story Behind China’s Energy Policy and What America Can Learn From It. http://epw.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Files.View&FileStore_id=f29ee5f7-c9f5-46ca-9500-0f10b27f41ed. December 8, 2010