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Michael Klare: There's Just One Possible Energy "Golden Age," and It's Not Based on Fossil Fuels

2 min. read

Over at TomDispatch.com, Hampshire College Professor Michael T. Klare, author of The Race for What's Left: The Global Scramble for the World's Last Resources, shares a few thoughts on what "fossil-fuel enthusiasts" have been "trumpeting [as] the dawn of a new 'golden age of oil'", one "that would kick-start the American economy, generate millions of new jobs, and free this country from its dependence on imported petroleum."

In fact, according to Klare, "the future may prove far more recalcitrant than these prophets of an American energy cornucopia imagine," as they would have to "overcome severe geological and environmental barriers" to reach their goal. As Klare puts it:

All these processes have at least one thing in common: each pushes the envelope of what is technically possible in extracting oil (or natural gas) from geologically and geographically forbidding environments. They are all, that is, versions of “extreme energy.”  To produce them, energy companies will have to drill in extreme temperatures or extreme weather, or use extreme pressures, or operate under extreme danger -- or some combination of all of these.  In each, accidents, mishaps, and setbacks are guaranteed to be more frequent and their consequences more serious than in conventional drilling operations...

Another unexpected impediment to the arrival of energy’s next “golden age” in North America emerged even more unexpectedly from this summer’s record-breaking drought, which still has 80% of U.S. agricultural land in its grip...Any increase in U.S. hydrocarbon output will require greater extraction of oil and gas from shale rock, which can only be accomplished via hydro-fracking.  More fracking, in turn, means more water consumption...

And then there are those Canadian tar sands.  Turning them into “oil” also requires vast amounts of water, and climate-change-related shortages of that vital commodity are also likely in Alberta, Canada, their heartland.  In addition, tar sands production releases far more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional oil production, which has sparked its own fiercely determined opposition in Canada, the United States, and Europe.

The bottom line is that an expansion, let alone a new "golden age," of fossil fuel production, transport, processing and consumption would have serious, adverse consequences in a variety of ways. Not the least of these, as Klare concludes, is that "we would be burning vast quantities of the dirtiest energy on the planet with truly disastrous consequences." Which is one of the main reasons why we should be focusing on clean, "climate-friendly renewables, especially wind, solar, geothermal, wave, and tidal power," especially since all those energy sources are infinitely abundant and increasingly economical.