Thursday, March 3, 2016

Do fossil fuels always cause environmental devastation?

One is well advised to avoid building campfires above coal seams.
Pawpaw, a fellow blogger, raised an interesting point in his comment on an earlier blog:

The oilfield today has nothing to do with declining production. Supply has simply outstripped demand and prices are lower. I know three or four companies that have stopped production entirely until price increases.

Actually, we've got more oil now than we ever had. The supply has increased exponentially over the past decade, in spite of Obama.  In your star charts, you'd do well to increase the size of the star by a factor of six. We've got a hell of a lot more oil now than we believed possible 10 years ago.
According to Marvin Harris the role of technology is to define new resources.  That is, technology can delay the inevitable conclusion of the resource exploitation/depletion cycle.

In 1650, coal's value as a "resource" was as a third-rate building material.  It was soft, it weathered quickly and was highly unsuitable as a material for building chimneys.  The depletion of forests resulted in coal being re-defined as a fuel...a substitute for firewood.  It was a much better fuel than a building material.  Ancillary technologies developed to more efficiently extract coal.  Economies that appeared to be on the brink of collapsing sprang forward an order of magnitude.

Fossil fuels

Fossil fuels have a bad reputation among the self-styled environmental experts.

Haiti on the left side of image.  Dominican Republic on the right.  From Google Maps.
Jared Dimond makes an interesting comparison between Haiti and the Dominican Republic.  Both nations share the island of Hispaniola.  Haiti had no coherent fuel policy.  Most people are dirt-poor and collect wood to cook their food.  The Dominican Republic had a policy of supporting the "petrol" industry and supported infrastructure to make LP and kerosene available everywhere in the country.

As a side note:  From a "carbon" footprint perspective, LP and kerosene are easy flames to direct and modulate.  Consequently, less carbon was released to the environment burning those fuels than were released in Haiti, just across the border.  The forests of the Dominican Republic continued to recover and sequester carbon.

Many parts of Haiti are blasted desert.  Many parts of the Dominican Republic, just across the border, are recovering ecosystems.  And the difference was the availability of fossil fuels.

The Dominican Republic may have only delayed the stresses on their ecosystem.  I suppose that delays must be counted as victories.  When the onslaught comes, the Dominican Republic will be able to meet it with deeper topsoil, more efficient wood stoves and better biomass tree species and  management.




    Arctic oil is expensive to produce. Its break-even price—the price required to cover the cost of production—is exceeded only by that of oil sands, such as those in Canada, which require large amounts of energy to separate oil from sand.Break-even price of known but undeveloped oil reservoirs

    Per barrel, October 2015

    The price of oil in December 2015 was $37 per barrel.

  2. I forgot to mention the book, "Harvesting the Biosphere," as a reference for the limits on fuel wood, etc.

    Harvesting the Biosphere: What We Have Taken from Nature

    It is available in several formats. Free e-forms, too.

    FYI Gates and buddies are pumping money into artificial photosynthesis.

  3. The Haiti situation is sad. I used to work with a guy from there. He had some gruesome stories.

    I remember reading somewhere that part of Haiti's problems were that it was the product of a slave revolt. Other slaves states wished to crush its example and placed trade embargoes, etc. to ruin its economy. The deforestation was aided by that.

    "The enforced payment to France reduced Haiti's economy for years. Western nations did not give Haiti formal diplomatic recognition. Both of these problems kept the Haitian economy and society isolated. Expatriates bankrolled and armed opposing groups.[76] In 1892, the German government supported suppression of the reform movement of Anténor Firmin and in 1897 the Germans used gun boat diplomacy to intimidate and then humiliate the Haitian government during the Luders Affair."

    The above gives a taste of what happened.

    Haiti's Barbancourt cane sugar rum was good stuff when I could find it in MA.