This week, Kevin Lynn comments on “The High Cost of Freedom from Fossil Fuels” by Walter Basch:
The author fails as most commentators do on the subject to address the real culprit and that is DEMAND. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a proponent of nukes. I see the total cost of ownership to far outweigh the benefit.
What I mean is this, back in the 1960’s and 1970’s we understood all too well the linkages between the number of people on the planet (in our country in particular) and the demand for fossil fuel as well as other resources. However, the “fact” is we cannot wean ourselves from fossil fuel because there is nothing to replace it in terms of scalability. It is woven into the fabric of almost every aspect of our existence. We created urban sprawl/suburbia and urban sprawl completely dependent on “cheap” fossil fuel and every day we keep increasing demand and nowhere is that more obvious than California.
In California we are per capita the most energy efficient citizens in the country. However, every year our aggregate demand goes up and up. Hence, we cannot replace our nukes. I’m not happy about it but unless we want to inconsistent power there just doesn’t seem to be a way around it.
The Germans on the other hand can. Germany’s population growth is -.002% (that’s negative .002 percent). They are backing themselves into sustainability. We on the other hand are not. In less than 70 years our population (with growth rates as of today) here in California will double and all I hear is the same old delusional crap about how “technology” will save us. Well, it won’t. We have to make prudent choices but that is beyond the pale of most people. It is certainly beyond that of most politicians.
For instance, here in Los Angeles 10% of our energy demand is met by nuclear, 39% by coal and 20% by renewable (540 wind turbines, 10 million sqft of solar panels, and 146 mgw of small hydro). The plan is to reduce the nuclear component to… 7% and completely get rid of coal by 2030 and replace the shortfall with natural gas. Natural gas currently makes up 24% of our energy supply and the plan is by 2030 it will make up 47%. Well, let me tell you we are living in la la land if we think that is going to happen.
Why you ask?? This is because we hit peak natural gas production a long time ago. For instance, US natural gas production is less today than it was in 1973. The shortfall is being made up with imports. The fracking that was supposed to significantly increase what is recoverable from our huge shale resources has proven to be a “pipe dream.” The past two years have demonstrated that although large natural gas resources exist in the US, much is not recoverable. So where does this leave us? When you consider the population of Los Angeles will increase to over 19 million (up from 13 million) by 2020, it leaves us looking at a very environmentally dirty future.
Now remember, this is all at time of significant resource constrains. For instance, DWP which provides both Los Angeles’s power and water has water pipes that are in some instance almost 100 years old. Last year a large main that was almost 70 years old burst in front of my building turning 6th Street into a river. Another recent example is 95-year-old trunk line ruptured under Coldwater Canyon Avenue creating a river of water and mud. Now get this, with the current maintenance budget, the plan is to replace water mains every 400 years!! We are robbing Peter to pay paul when it comes to maintaining our vital infrastructure.
So, where does all this leave us?? It means we have to take population stabilization very seriously. And that means we have to look at immigration. Why you ask? Well the population of California would have actually declined between 1990 and 2000 if not for immigration. Although prior attempts to curb immigration have run into vicious assaults from ethnic lobbies and business interests that want a large exploitable class of labor, we must summon the will to do so. That alone combined with our efficient behavior would have given us a crack at a sustainable future.