The oil spill in the Gulf is no reason to shut down the American economy or remain indifferent to its need for reliable, low cost energy.
The oil spill off the coast of Louisiana is an environmental tragedy that endangers the prosperity of coastal businesses that thrive on the natural environment, such as fishing and tourism. It is not a reason to permanently deny America the jobs and prosperity that come from a vibrant energy industry producing much needed, reliable, low cost energy from all sources. That would be a far bigger tragedy, even graver than the oil spill.
A robust, booming, American energy industry would itself contribute directly to a booming American economy. If America was the world’s number one oil producer, just think what that would mean in terms of higher GDP, national income, and high paying jobs. Now suppose America was the world’s number one natural gas producer as well, and the number one coal producer, and the number one producer of nuclear power. This all can and should be true.
Moreover, think what that would mean for the prosperity of the economy as a whole. Reliable supplies of low cost energy promote booming economic growth, particularly in the manufacturing sector that so many people profess to be concerned about. Reliable, low cost energy means oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear power.
I am not saying we should not produce renewable, alternative energy as well. By all means, go ahead, knock yourself out. Neither government nor anyone else should stand in your way. If we saw half as much doing in regard to such alternative energy as we see talking about it, we would surely have produced more real progress by now. And I am not saying we are not doing anything.
But as a replacement for the traditional energy sources, long time energy authority Robert Bryce explains why renewable, alternative energy is a delusion in his new book, Power Hungry: The Myths of “Green” Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future. That conclusion is a matter of math and science, not ideology. Let me second energy expert William Tucker, who in his review of Bryce’s book on this site last week, noted it makes for “endlessly fascinating reading.”
Energy and Economic Growth
Bryce writes, “[T]he simple, unavoidable truth is that using oil makes us rich. In fact, if oil didn’t exist, we’d have to invent it…as oil consumption increases, so does prosperity. And the correlation is so clear as to be undeniable.”
The OECD countries, basically the prosperous, developed countries of the West, generally produce about $25,000 to $30,000 GDP per capita, and use 14 to 16 barrels of oil per person a year. In 2008, U.S. per capita GDP was $48,100, while oil use was 23 barrels per capita. By contrast, the non-OECD countries produce $7,000 to $10,000 GDP per capita, and consume 3 to 5 barrels per person. The countries of Africa and Asia produce $2,000 to $4,000 in per capita GDP, and use 1 to 2 barrels per person.
That is no accident. As Bryce writes, “[T]hanks to its high energy density, oil is a nearly perfect fuel for use in all types of vehicles, from boats and planes to cars and motorcycles. Whether measured by weight or by volume, refined oil products provide more energy than practically any other commonly available substance, and they provide it in a form that’s easy to handle, relatively cheap, and relatively clean.” Moreover, oil is the only fuel that can power the modern engines of economic prosperity, the diesel engine and the jet turbine.
Besides oil, prosperity is fueled in the world today by electricity. And right now, that means coal, though the future may belong to natural gas and nuclear power. While only Canada among major countries has higher per capita electricity consumption than America, the five countries with the lowest electricity consumption are Gaza, Chad, Burundi, Central African Republic, and Rwanda.
You can see this in your own home. The American kitchen of three decades ago featured a refrigerator, stove and toaster. But today, Bryce writes, that same kitchen will include as well, “a microwave oven, bread maker, coffeemaker, juicer, convection oven, dishwasher and food processor. And a few steps away, where there once was only a small black-and-white television, there is now a giant-screen TV, a DVD player, and digital video recorder, as well as a laptop computer and ink-jet printer. In 1980, the average U.S. household had just three consumer electronic products. Today, it has about twenty-five.”
Coal today produces 41% of the world’s electricity supply, followed by natural gas at 20%, hydropower (geologically limited) at 16%, and nuclear at 15%. Oil at 6% (old-fashioned for electricity production) is still three times “other” at 2%. Coal’s proportion has been increasing since 1973, and will continue to increase at least through 2030.
Every grownup outside of Greenpeace, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Sierra Club understands what this means. Bryce writes, “The world’s developing countries are using their coal for electricity generation, and that electricity is propelling economic growth around the world, particularly in rapidly developing countries such as China, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Between 1990 and 2008, electricity generation in those three countries jumped by more than 300 percent.” As a result, just the increase in world coal use from 2007 to 2008 produced 25 times as much energy as all the wind turbines and solar panels in America in 2008.
Indeed, Bryce shows that just one modern coal mine in Kentucky, the 35th largest in America, produces nearly as much energy as all wind and solar in the U.S. And the natural gas production from just one state, Oklahoma, produces well over nine times as much energy as all U.S. wind and solar.
Bryce adds, “[I]f we want to help developing countries bring more people out of poverty, we need to help them increase the amount of electricity they generate and distribute.” And that means still more coal, as well as natural gas and nuclear power.
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