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SG-W:/ Editorial



        This is a viewpoint I wrote for the Ann Arbor News. They did not print my last viewpoint so this one probably won't be printed either.
 
                                              Energy
 
        The amount of lies and hiding from truth concerning the present energy situation would be laughable if it were not so tragic. Everyone seems to conveniently forget the obvious truth that fossil fuel production will certainly run out within the lifetime of our youngest children and that when that happens in the type of society that we have now, everyone will starve or freeze. There is a finite amount of fossil fuel and the cost of getting that fuel will become so excessive that it will be unavailable long before it is all gone.
          There are pessimistic oil forecasters and optimistic forecasters. The pessimists are saying that world oil production is very close to its peak and that it will wind down to 20% of present production by 2040. They are saying that almost all of the Earth's surface has been searched for oil and that there will be few new finds.  The optimists are saying that oil production will peak in 2017 or even later and that world oil production we will be down by 80% in roughly 2060. There are several oil experts, mostly retired oil geologists with years of experience, who are on the pessimistic side. Two of them are associated with Petroconsultants  which has an extremely large database on oil. The optimists all work for the US government in the Energy Information Administration and the US Geological Service. The USGS has made optimistic forecasts before about US oil which time has proven to be wrong.
          Note that optimistic also means pessimistic because Global Warming may already have altered weather patterns sufficiently to cause water shortages in Northwestern reservoirs thus causing serious reductions in hydroelectric power. Brazil is having enough similar problems to warrant electricity rationing. Although running out of energy may kill many people, Global Warming could be worse yet. Every BTU of fossil fuels that we burn builds up carbon dioxide that may destroy the planet. Many scientists are saying that it would be better to quickly run out of fossil fuels.
          I believe the pessimistic oil predictions because the discovery of new oil peaked in 1960 at around 40 billion barrels. In present times we are finding only about 6 billion barrels per year. You have to find it before you can produce it. There are uncertainties about the oil situation such as how much the rest of the world will be competing for what oil is left. Within 20 years the Arabs will have most of the remaining oil. What if there is a revolution or they decide they don't like us? Also there is an energy and money cost in finding and pumping oil. Some of it may be in locations where it is difficult to find thus causing excessive drilling and some will be in locations where it is impossible to retrieve. What about the effect on our economy of importing oil at monstrous prices?
          Bush has claimed the long range viewpoint in drilling for more oil. That is the short time viewpoint because in this wasteful society it will be gone in no time. We have already used up most of our oil. If we hurriedly use what is left then the fall to desperation will be only more abrupt and more tragic. The truth is that there is not much oil left in the US so those people who say that we can be independent of foreign oil by drilling are liars. This could never happen. Both domestic and foreign oil will become unavailable and we will either live or die without it.
           The optimists have forecast that we have as much as 60 years supply of natural gas at present consumption. However, presently we are drilling more and more gas wells yet we are barely keeping up with demand. The life of many of the gas wells can be as short as 4 years. Gas delivered by pipeline or by liquefaction and shipping is limited in quantity by the diameter of the pipe and the number of ships. We can never maintain our present gas consumption through imports. There is some thought of getting gas from the Arctic or from Alaska but we could not build a large enough or secure enough pipeline. Environmentalists are foolishly saying that we should replace oil and coal with gas. Such conversions, plus many new houses and increased population through immigration will increase gas consumption to the breaking point. We could run out of gas suddenly and catastrophically. Even more important than keeping us warm in the winter we are presently using gas to make fertilizer and many other substances that we can't live without.
           Coal is supposed to be our most abundant resource. However it takes enormous amounts of oil to mine coal and eventually it will take as much energy to mine as is retrieved. The good coal has largely been used up. Coal also causes the most greenhouse gases. Nuclear can never supply more than about 10 to 20% of our energy. If we expand nuclear to the point of furnishing a large portion of our needs the result could be catastrophic.
         I believe very much in the morality of pessimism. Without  pessimism there would be no life insurance, no seatbelts, no airbags, and no savings. Pessimism is moral if it causes us to think 200 years ahead in order to plot a future in which our grandchildren can survive and be happy. Therefore we must act as though the worst were going to happen immediately and take action accordingly.
       We have two courses of action now. One is to continue as usual in our wasteful ways and try to maintain the present level of consumption. The result will be massive unemployment, people freezing in houses, riots, gangs of hungry people scouring the countryside for food, and eventually, mass starvation. The other is to tighten our belts and devote all of our concerns to conservation and the other means of becoming a sustainable society. This is not impossible. Presently Europeans are using less than half the energy per capita than we are. The Chinese are using about 10% of our per capita energy. Our great danger is that our work force is extremely parasitic and our people are lazy and selfish. Our high consumption is due to Urban Sprawl, large houses, travel, and cars. We must stop building houses, cars, and airplanes. We need to start spending $500 billion per year on apartments, trains, and solar, biomass, and wind energy. We must plant many billions of fruit and nut trees as fast as we can. We must conduct massive experiments in making tractor fuel from biomass, in cogeneration, and in co manufacturing. If we don't act while we have sufficient fossil fuel to make the energy conserving or alternate energy generating products then we will pass the point of no return and there will be no decent life for our children and no ensuing generations.
           All of us are guilty of causing this catastrophe about to be. Not talking about it is a cardinal sin. The tax cuts of the Republicans and the wasteful spending of the Democrats are an absolute betrayal of the rights of our small children. I especially blame City Council and the University of Michigan for not sponsoring an energy research facility built around an apartment house. I blame local environmentalists, the parks department, and the forestry department of the UofM for not sponsoring a mass tree planting program. If you want to help this situation then start talking about it, and form action and cooperative groups.
 
                          Kermit Schlansker   PE      971 5283