The Purposely Confusing World of Energy Politics, by Richard Heinberg
“Life often presents us with paradoxes, but seldom so blatant or consequential as the following. Read this sentence slowly: Today it is especially difficult for most people to understand our perilous global energy situation, precisely because it has never been more important to do so…
Political prejudices tend to blind us to facts that fail to fit any conventional political agendas. All political narratives need a villain and a (potential) happy ending. While Politicians B and A might point to different villains (oil companies on one hand, government bureaucrats and regulators on the other), they both envision the same happy ending: economic growth, though it is to be achieved by contrasting means. If a fact doesn’t fit one of these two narratives, the offended politician tends to ignore it (or attempt to deny it). If it doesn’t fit either narrative, nearly everyone ignores it.
Here’s a fact that apparently fails to comfortably fit into either political narrative: The energy and financial returns on fossil fuel extraction are declining—fast. The top five oil majors (ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, Chevron, and Total) have seen their aggregate production fall by over 25 percent over the past 12 years—but it’s not for lack of effort. Drilling rates have doubled. Rates of capital investment in exploration and production have likewise doubled. Oil prices have quadrupled. Yet actual global rates of production for regular crude oil have flattened, and all new production has come from expensive unconventional sources such as tar sands, tight oil, and deepwater oil. The fossil fuel industry hates to admit to facts that investors find scary—especially now, as the industry needs investors to pony up ever-larger bets to pay for ever-more-extreme production projects…”
February 9, 2014 Email to Michael Mann and Richard Alley (2.9.14 Watt to Mann & Alley)
Dear Dr. Mann and Dr. Alley –
I publish a small, twice-monthly newspaper covering issues including local food and local energy within the State College metropolitan area. The Steady State College newspaper is circulated online to roughly 175 subscribers and a few print copies are distributed at Webster’s Bookstore downtown. Although the readership is small, it includes key decision-making individuals within Penn State and Borough governing bodies. Back issues are online.
I was also deeply involved in last year’s community investigative and activist work surrounding Penn State’s plan to increase natural gas delivery to and consumption within the University Park heat and power generation system, part of their effort to decrease coal delivery and consumption. The coal-to-gas switch will increase overall greenhouse gas emissions from the University Park campus system, although it may displace coal-fired GHG emission from the regional power grid if the planned (see slides 26-42), but disavowed, CHP unit is installed in the West Campus Steam Plant.
Regardless of how future capital investment plays out, the new natural gas capacity supplied by the cross-campus pipeline will be far more than needed to simply displace the current coal consumption by the existing steam boilers, and this is of grave concern to those who believe Penn State would be wise to cut energy demand and energy use to a small portion of the current consumption rate under an economic contraction planning scenario, rather than increase dependence on the fragile, capital-intense, ecologically-damaging, and boom/bust-susceptible natural gas drilling and distribution infrastructure to meet campus and energy growth projections.
During community strategic planning around Penn State’s strategic energy planning – which is ongoing – both of you were invited at least twice to involve yourselves in the discussion (7.10.13 Bharti Emails to Mann & Alley and 12.3.14 Watt Email Re Organizing Meeting), because of your status as widely-respected climate scientists.
Both of you declined to become involved in the specific dilemmas confronting Penn State, although you both have published your views on broader energy and climate issues in general circulation newspapers at the national and local level, such as the New York Times (1.19.14 – If You See Something, Say Something, by Michael Mann) and the Centre Daily Times (1.8.14 – Despite record cold ‘weather’, climate is changing, by Richard Alley and Dave Pollard), in addition to your regular publishing and teaching activities.
Local activists have been disappointed by your silence on Penn State’s energy consumption and production plans.
I’m currently working on a 1,500-word essay for publication in my newspaper for the February 17 edition, which I may then adapt to a 550-word version for submission to the Centre Daily Times. The essay is an overview of the status of regional relocalization efforts at the present time, including some of the political hurdles posed by the silence of prominent leaders such as yourselves, and the non-confrontational inaction of other individuals, including student environmental activists and faculty sustainability administrators.
If you are interested in explaining your positions on Penn State’s current energy situation and strategic energy planning – including the climate and energy science, the political and social dimensions of your personal decision-making about when and where to speak out, or both – please feel free to respond in writing to this email no later than Friday, February 14.
Thank you very much.”
“Who serves on the Penn State Energy Conservation Policy Advisory Committee and when did it last meet?”