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Rosenthal writes: "To what extent will we really 'need' fossil fuel in the years to come? To what extent is it a choice?"

File photo, gas station. (photo: Getty Images)
File photo, gas station. (photo: Getty Images)

Life After Oil and Gas

By Elisabeth Rosenthal, The New York Times

25 March 13


We will need fossil fuels like oil and gas for the foreseeable future. So there’s really little choice (sigh). We have to press ahead with fracking for natural gas. We must approve the Keystone XL pipeline to get Canadian oil.

his mantra, repeated on TV ads and in political debates, is punctuated with a tinge of inevitability and regret. But, increasingly, scientific research and the experience of other countries should prompt us to ask: To what extent will we really "need" fossil fuel in the years to come? To what extent is it a choice?

As renewable energy gets cheaper and machines and buildings become more energy efficient, a number of countries that two decades ago ran on a fuel mix much like America's are successfully dialing down their fossil fuel habits. Thirteen countries got more than 30 percent of their electricity from renewable energy in 2011, according to the Paris-based International Energy Agency, and many are aiming still higher.

Could we? Should we?

A National Research Council report released last week concluded that the United States could halve by 2030 the oil used in cars and trucks compared with 2005 levels by improving the efficiency of gasoline-powered vehicles and by relying more on cars that use alternative power sources, like electric batteries and biofuels.

Just days earlier a team of Stanford engineers published a proposal showing how New York State - not windy like the Great Plains, nor sunny like Arizona - could easily produce the power it needs from wind, solar and water power by 2030. In fact there was so much potential power, the researchers found, that renewable power could also fuel our cars.

"It's absolutely not true that we need natural gas, coal or oil - we think it's a myth," said Mark Z. Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering and the main author of the study, published in the journal Energy Policy. "You could power America with renewables from a technical and economic standpoint. The biggest obstacles are social and political - what you need is the will to do it."

Other countries have made far more concerted efforts to reduce fossil fuel use than the United States and have some impressive numbers to show for it. Of the countries that rely most heavily on renewable electricity, some, like Norway, rely on that old renewable, hydroelectric power. But others, like Denmark, Portugal and Germany, have created financial incentives to promote newer technologies like wind and solar energy.

People convinced that America "needs" the oil that would flow south from Canada through the Keystone XL pipeline might be surprised to learn that Canada produced 63.4 percent of its electricity from renewable sources in 2011, largely from hydropower and a bit of wind. (Maybe that is why Canada has all that oil to sell.) The United States got only 12.3 percent of its electricity from renewables in 2011. Still, many experts say that aggressively rebalancing the United States' mix of fossil fuel and renewable energy to reduce its carbon footprint may well be impractical and unwise for now.

"There is plenty of room for wind and solar to grow and they are becoming more competitive, but these are still variable resources - the sun doesn't always shine and the wind doesn't always blow," said Alex Klein, the research director of IHS Emerging Energy Research, a consulting firm on renewable energy. "An industrial economy needs a reliable power source, so we think fossil fuel will be an important foundation of our energy mix for the next few decades."

Fatih Birol, chief economist at the 28-nation International Energy Agency, which includes the United States, said that reducing fossil fuel use was crucial to curbing global temperature rise, but added that improving the energy efficiency of homes, vehicles and industry was an easier short-term strategy. He noted that the 19.5 million residents of New York State consume as much energy as the 800 million in sub-Saharan Africa (excluding South Africa) and that, even with President Obama's automotive fuel standards, European vehicles were on average more than 30 percent more fuel efficient than American ones.

He cautioned that a rapid expansion of renewable power would be complicated and costly. Using large amounts of renewable energy often requires modifying national power grids, and renewable energy is still generally more expensive than using fossil fuels. That is particularly true in the United States, where natural gas is plentiful and, therefore, a cheap way to generate electricity (while producing half the carbon dioxide emissions of other fossil fuels, like coal). Promoting wind and solar would mean higher electricity costs for consumers and industry.

Indeed, many of the European countries that have led the way in adopting renewables had little fossil fuel of their own, so electricity costs were already high. Others had strong environmental movements that made it politically acceptable to endure higher prices in order to reduce emissions.

But Dr. Birol predicted that the price of wind power would continue to drop, while the price of natural gas would rise in coming years, with the two potentially reaching parity by 2020. He noted, too, that countries could often get 25 percent of their electricity from renewable sources like wind and solar without much modification to their grids. A few states, like Iowa and South Dakota, get nearly that much of their electricity from renewable power (in both states, wind), while others use little at all.

So as Europeans have grown accustomed to wind turbines dotting the landscape, much of America continues to regard renewable power as a boutique product, cool but otherworldly. When I tell colleagues that Portugal now gets 40 percent of its electricity from renewable power, the standard response is "Portugal is windy." But many places in America are, too. When I returned from Kristianstad, Sweden, and marveled at how that city uses waste from farms, forestry and food processing plants to make biogas that supplies 100 percent of its heat, the response is likewise disbelief. But I'd venture that a similar plan could work fine in Milwaukee or Burlington, Vt., cities that also anchor rural areas.

MAPPING studies by Dr. Jacobson and colleagues have concluded that America is rich in renewable resources and (unlike Europe) has the empty space to create wind and solar plants. New York State has plenty of wind and sun to do the job, they found. Their blueprint for powering the state with clean energy calls for 10 percent land-based wind, 40 percent offshore wind, 20 percent solar power plants and 18 percent solar panels on rooftops - as well as a small amount of geothermal and hydroelectric power.

Dr. Jacobson said that careful grid design and coordination of power sources would ensure a stable power supply, although a smidgen of natural gas would be needed for the 0.2 percent of the time that renewables failed to generate sufficient electricity. The report claims that the plan would create 58,000 jobs in New York State (which now imports much of its power), create energy security and ultimately stabilize electricity prices.

The authors say the substantial costs of enacting the scheme could be recouped in under two decades, particularly if the societal cost of pollution and carbon emissions were factored in. The team is currently working on an all-renewable blueprint for California.

Sounds good on paper, but even Europe is struggling a bit with its renewable ambitions at the moment.

Germany, which got 20.7 percent of its electricity from renewable energy in 2011, is re-evaluating the incentives it provides to increase that share to 35 percent by 2020, because of worries that its current approach will drive up power prices inordinately at a time of economic uncertainty. It has had trouble ramping up transmission capacity to carry the wind power generated in the blustery North to the industrial South, where it is needed.

Dr. Birol said that natural gas and renewable energy could ultimately be "a good couple" for powering New York State, and elsewhere. But in what mix? If, in 20 years, cars are 50 percent more efficient and New York State could get much of its electricity from wind and solar, should we be more measured in making fossil fuel investments? As Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo considers the boundaries of hydraulic fracturing in New York State and as Secretary of State John Kerry decides the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline, how much we really "need" fossil fuels is worth pondering. your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+9 # The Voice of Reason 2013-03-25 16:13
Oil and gas is the biggest ponzi scheme ever. But suckers keep paying more and letting the Oil Criminals and the crooked politicians they own blame 'foreign oil'. AS IF.

We should abolish fuel based economies, and confiscate their money and give it back to everyone else. Make them work for a living or a change.
+12 # Depressionborn 2013-03-26 05:05
Yep, lets go back

Being Green...

Checking out at the store, the young cashier suggested to the older woman, that she should bring her own grocery bags because plastic bags weren't good for the environment. The woman apologized and explained, "We didn't have this green thing back in my earlier days."

The young clerk responded, "That's our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment for future generations."

She was right Back then, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled,

Back then, we washed the baby's diapers. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy-gobbling machine-- wind and solar power really did dry our clothes back in our early days.

Back then, we had one TV, or radio --. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn't need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity.

Back then, people took the streetcar or a bus and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service. We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances.

But isn't it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn't have the green thing back then?

We don't like being old in the first place, so it doesn't take much to piss us off.
0 # brux 2013-03-26 21:57
Great post! LOL
+6 # 6thextinction 2013-03-25 23:23
Re 8th paragraph sentence stating that "People convinced that America "needs" the oil that would flow south from Canada through the Keystone XL pipeline might be surprised to learn that"...IT"S ALL GOING TO CHINA!
0 # tahoevalleylines 2013-03-25 23:34
In a world likely to experience continuous Middle East conflict into the foreseeable future, smooth transition from oil based transport is a fading hope. Strategic planners, believing EMP and other disruptions to computer controls are a fact, suggest US must enhance rail transport with all due haste.

Arabic language pronouncements of Mohammedanism leave no doubt of their intentions to pursue policies that will short circuit any hope of long term peace with Israel, or America for that matter. Albeit sad reality, a never-ending stream of vitriol toward Jews by up & coming "Arab Spring" leaders now figures in western transport planners' calculus.

American transport is tied to food security and manufacturing, resource extraction and energy production. Present reliance on trucking will continue but see tonnage shifts to rail as each year passes. Rebuild of dormant rail mileage and increased service points on trunk mains will be necessary as trucking shifts from long haul, to more local and specialized load patterns. Application of renewable electric generation to rail propulsion in the lower 48 will follow policies now seen in Europe, Africa and South America.

As the crunch turns into crisis, expect Federal Executive Emergency Orders for rationing. Is it too much to hope portion of cash hoards of corporate America will assist the railway program?
-1 # RobertMStahl 2013-03-26 05:41
This response is in three or four parts. Following, is a recent blog post I added to SocietyforClass icalPhysics, a blog addressing the long-standing issues provided by Blacklight Power, Inc. and Randell L. Mills test, a small part addressing his text, The Grand Unified Theory of Classical Physics. Why are we not paying attention it in the media? The original post I responded to is,

--- In, mike miller wrote:
> Dear Blacklightpower devotees,
> Thank you for hanging on through the freezing ice storm of the present geo-political landscape. Your devotion, our devotion, must go some ways toward sustaining Randy in his quest, our quest. No one could have scripted anything like this. That much we know all too well. The discussion about electric airplanes, and new materials, serves a purpose beyond fireside chatter, - it establishes clear directions to rush forward toward, once the Hcell is ready, and hydrinos verified and accepted. Meanwhile, the world erupts and writhes in tortuous anticipation of relief. Let us not give in to impatience, or other counterproducti ve attitudes. Rather, let us try to hold the fort on Classical Physics, and do what we can to help science validate hydrino energy.
> Mike Miller
> aka
> mortimerzilch
-1 # RobertMStahl 2013-03-26 05:42
I understand that the overall problem with time is systemic. Also, I understand that a statistic of one is no statistic, so physics is not the one and only savior, although it is a link in the chain. Upsetting to most of mankind, the system through evolution has entered into what in convergent math, or chaos math, is termed a bifurcation principle, so it would be good to see this moment in time as one of damage control rather than the potential of complete avoidance.

It has been my experience for such a tectonic shift or paradigm change, that GUT-CP represents part of a larger learning landscape and is perhaps, less significant than similar transformations taking place within the life sciences, although not restricted to them. Openness is key, not exposure.

The advances in the life sciences indicated by the psychology of the late Gregory Bateson, the biology introduced by the late Lynn Margulis, or the cognitive learning principles of the late Francisco J. Varela are of an order so large to require behavior to change to appreciate something about ourselves heretofore missed, to reach a level of compassion that is a substitute for religion, an evolution.
-2 # RobertMStahl 2013-03-26 05:42
Francisco J. Varela - Biologist (1946-2001):
"Unless we accept that at this point in intellectual and scientific history that some radical re-learning is necessary, we cannot hope to move forward in the compulsive history of the ambivalent rejection-fasci nation with consciousness in philosophy of mind and cognitive science. My proposal implies that every good student of cognitive science who is also interested in issues at the level of mental experience, must inescapably attain a level of mastery in phenomenologica l examination in order to work seriously with first person accounts. But this can only happen when the entire community adjusts itself to the corresponding acceptance of arguments, refereeing standards and editorial policies in major scientific journals, that can make this added competence an important dimension of a young researcher. To the long-standing tradition of objectivist science this sounds like anathema, and it is. But this is not a betrayal of science: it is a necessary extension and complement. Science and experience constrain and modify each other as in a dance. This is where the potential for transformation lies. It is also the key for the difficulties this position has found within the scientific community. It requires us to leave behind a certain image of how science is done, and to question a style of training in science which is part of the very fabric of our cultural identity."
-1 # RobertMStahl 2013-03-26 05:43
"...The price however is to take first-person accounts seriously as valid domain of phenomena. And beyond that, to build a sustained tradition of phenomenologica l examination that is almost entirely nonexistent today in our western science and culture at large."
-1 # RobertMStahl 2013-03-26 05:44
Progression in evolution takes the form of a religious context, however, an epistemology, and is not the religious history that is so defiantly defended playing into totalitarianism directly (the late Saul Bellow). Varela said, "When life doesn't work, it becomes history," and paraphrasing, "All things have to converge." Propaganda rewrites this history, which is where we find ourselves in relation to Mills' text as he restates the use of the Second Law, and that is a big stick for all mankind to wield for the silk glove we don in the meantime. The universe, as big as it is, and now being seen in its truly wide breadth for the first time, nevertheless, cannot inculcate this compassion, a principle of "When two or more are gathered in His name." In something like universal understanding, there is, still, a hierarchy that is not part of the forces of convergence that produce an opposing thumb, having nothing to do with the concept of strength. Structure in physics is paramount, but Mills work may be, simply, Baldwin psychology if some other sense of unity is not arrived at. The framework of GUT-CP is as uncanny as it gets, but it cannot be owned, which is where a lot of this hydrino specialization is heading. Civilized debate is the context an intelligent race must address. Unfortunately, the address of planet earth in the universe is all but completely lost. This cannot be because of physics, per se.
-1 # RobertMStahl 2013-03-26 05:45
One issue I have with Mills is that his work in physics is so greatly simplifying, but his work in artificial intelligence is so advanced it completely ignores, I think, the perfection of an AI learning device that truly and fully occupies a single niche. It is designed to learn in single niches vis-a-vis parallel processing architecture, basically a spreadsheet. Utilizing genetic algorithms, neural networking, and fuzzy logic, a smart second grade student could program the software needed to follow the money around the planet, to prevent subways from ever crashing in Japan, or to develop oil and gas fields that have been discovered already. Again, it never leaves the niche it occupies or is happy to be slave to it, and learns to do it better over time by developing the data over time while correlating membrane-membra ne interactions almost as in psychology. It was use by the NSA to trace my phone call to my art friend. Membrane-membra ne interactions were described mathematically by G. Spencer Brown in Laws of Form, by the way. And, pertaining to truth, Frege's Truth Theorem was excavated from the grave by Bertrand Russell, and put in context.
-1 # RobertMStahl 2013-03-26 05:45
My first person account is that when I failed to get this message across via openness in conversation with my colleagues in the oil patch and elsewhere, I put my heart and soul into an art piece in front of the IMAX theater in Birmingham three days before the Iraq war, an obelisk roughly 30 feet tall made of black marble, water, and steam, wide at the base, triangular above. You can see how this is connected to Mills laboratory work with hydrogen, or why I became excited not even knowing about GUT-CP. Three days before the Iraq war, for failing miserably to communicate a much larger aesthetic to an art friend about a cultural transformation, I phoned him. The obelisk was immediately destroyed before that date in 2003. Much later it was repaired, but now, recently, it has been lit on fire where the steam emanated from before. This and and quite a bit more related to the ice world you talk about has flipped me on my head. The process is continuous and saddled in the techniques of an Old Guard having lost its nut. I can send a picture of the obelisk lit aflame to anyone who asks. It is all very sick.

It is not character or morality we are after, but the solution to moral relativity, where escape matters. Evolution is the only pathway. Einstein brought relativity into the equation, quantum mechanics negated it, and Mills restores context to it. Gregory Bateson, "Context is everything." No pun intended. Well, okay, pun intended.
+5 # sandyclaws 2013-03-26 06:33
The Keystone XL saddles the United states with all the risks of spills, leaks, destruction of water supplies, destruction of air quality, destruction of our health for the greedy purpose of exporting oil that will further destroy this planet. Let's face it. These people know it's wrong, all that money and hey...people get sick and die anyway so why shouldn't I make a profit while that happens. After all, it won't effect me! I don't live and work around those refineries! Just keep those subsidies coming and as long as those simple Republicans keep voting against their own best interests we've got it made. Now if we could just get out of paying for all those sick factory workers...

With renewables there are no worries about spills, radiation from nuclear waste that by the way costs a lot of money to store and protect. No worries about CO2 being generated buy burning anything. No need to keep poisoning billions of gallons of water with toxic chemicals every day so that gas companies can Frack for gas! No need to worry about coal ash or mercury in our water and fish. People would have jobs. This power generation can even be on a house negating the need for power transmissions lines. Once we reach 100% renewables we could continue building them so they could produce hydrogen fuel. So why don't we redirect our subsidies from oil into building renewable energy? If we don't change and become more resilient we will inevitably end up crashing with no money to rebuild.
+2 # chrisconnolly 2013-03-26 09:06
It seems like subsidizing individual systems would also be prudent. Home power systems like solar panels, solar water preheaters, and wind could contribute significantly while creating maintenance jobs. Also all large buildings should be required to design productions systems on their roofs. There is no cure all. We much come up with a variety of approaches tailored to the local parameters. But what ever we do we need to be doing it now.
+3 # reiverpacific 2013-03-26 10:36
The late Carl Sagan andtstill active Michio Kaku reckoned any advanced civilization had to survive an age of self-destructiv e conflict, energy abuse and planetary depletion before achieving a "Type 1" Civilization which harnesses the energies available from natural forces having left petty territorial and destructive conflicts behind for the beginnings of planetary coalition, mutual aid in development and solidarity (my own terms) of information, energy and health, all inter-dependent.
We are in that Type "0.7" state now and quite simply have the choice of species survival or self-destruction.
*Scotland is making wind a priority as Germany is leading in solar -so why not the USA?
Well, that's easy -this is Nirvana for lobbyist -fueled politicians, slaps on the wrist for destructive and polluting extraction companies who are destroying the planet and the huge, lumbering US Military bigger than the next 26 countries combined, the biggest polluter and destructive force on the planet and the likes of the Koch industries which fight any attempt at reining in their horrendous practices, the ongoing weakening of the EPA, "Sacrifice zones", new talk of "Safe nuclear" and "Clean coal", as if Hanford, Three-Mile Island, Chernobyle and now Fukushima were not enough.
*Donald Trump has just threatened to sue the Scottish government for approving the location of 11 wind turbines to provide power for 46,500 homes, within view of his proposed locally unwanted golf course and resort.
0 # Depressionborn 2013-03-29 10:04
maybe river has the wrong villains?

The issue which has swept down the centuries...and which will have to be fought sooner or the people versus the banks. - Lord Acton
-2 # Depressionborn 2013-03-27 19:40
Sorry guys, this may be reality,buy it or dig for it or move to the big city high rise in Detroit.

"Recent geological reports have confirmed once and for all that North America has more oil than anywhere else in the world. In fact, we have more oil than all the rest of the world combined.
This home-grown oil has the potential to finally set North America free from OPEC and the Middle East. And this oil (1.7 trillion barrels) could result in decades of growth . So… is North America on the verge of becoming the new Middle East? Well, Canada is certainly leading the way. Thousands of the world's brightest engineers are working in Canada on sophisticated new methods of oil extraction. Oil technology has grown exponentially, making the tricky North American reserves—hidden beneath shale rock or drenched in thick, sludgy sands—easier to recover."

Obama could buy a lot of golf balls.
+1 # reiverpacific 2013-03-27 20:11
Quoting Depressionborn:
Sorry guys, this may be reality,buy it or dig for it or move to the big city high rise in Detroit.

"Recent geological reports have confirmed once and for all that North America has more oil than anywhere else in the world. In fact, we have more oil than all the rest of the world combined.
This home-grown oil has the potential to finally set North America free from OPEC and the Middle East. And this oil (1.7 trillion barrels) could result in decades of growth . So… is North America on the verge of becoming the new Middle East? Well, Canada is certainly leading the way. Thousands of the world's brightest engineers are working in Canada on sophisticated new methods of oil extraction. Oil technology has grown exponentially, making the tricky North American reserves—hidden beneath shale rock or drenched in thick, sludgy sands—easier to recover."
Obama could buy a lot of golf balls.

So where did you dig this shining beacon of apparently extractive industry propaganda. I'm not buying shit until I know who the crappers are.
These "World's brightest engineers are-- ???? Corporate yes-men and women? You can get a baboon to do y'r bidding if you persist, or if in these cases you pay them enough not to ask questions as to why, wherefore or what the fuck am I doin' here.
You can't get away with this unsubstantiated shit on RSN as you should know by now!
And Obama a probably doesn't need to "buy" golf balls -just develop stronger cojonés.
0 # Depressionborn 2013-03-31 18:42
Sorry river, Just in: "Israel’s new offshore fields are enormous, which is part of the reason Turkey has been so belligerent..."

Oops, the world just keeps finding more and more. (It's all those rotting leaves and darn dead dinosaurs)
-1 # Depressionborn 2013-03-28 10:13
Hi river pacific

Data is from from energy research guys. There are many.

Here is the real deal:
"Unfortunately, even as updated data show plentiful future supplies of domestic energy, driven by new technologies, a significant movement has emerged. This movement’s mission is to advance and perpetuate falsehoods and inaccuracies with respect to the volume and availability of energy resources in and under our country and continent.

The movement is coordinated, orchestrated and well-funded to create the illusion of scarcity that empowers government to deny citizens access to affordable, reliable and much-needed energy. Furthermore, using supposed scarcity as an excuse, politicians and government agencies justify increasing the power and budget of government while substituting their politically-fav ored energy choices for those chosen by consumers."

In short sir, big oil or something has messed with the data. Look it up if you want to think for yourself. Careful though, it may be dangerous to dogma.

Do you enjoy being mean-spirited? Or is it a natural result of wanting to remain ignorant and in the control of big oil?
-1 # Depressionborn 2013-03-28 11:05
More data for river p. (Hint: follow the money.)

"By 2020, nearly half of the crude oil America consumes will be produced at home, while 82% will come from this side of the Atlantic, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. By 2035, oil shipments from the Middle East to North America “could almost be nonexistent,” the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries recently predicted…"

Is "according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration" good enough for you? Or do you actually work for big oil?
-2 # Depressionborn 2013-03-28 11:53
Ps, just for river.

There is some evidence that fracking isn't all it is cracked up to be.

Pollution of water and land is at issue-Halliburt on castrated EPA fracking involvement. This alone is telling, as they would not have wasted the money if
there were no controversy.

It seems to me we are moving too fast.

The real oil may be under the fracking geology. We need to get at it without inordinate harm or low recovery rates.

(Gas is twice what it should be.)

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