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Generally I agree with you (particularly the part about patent ownership by large companies who then cross license them to each other to keep technology out of the hands of the individual--but that's another discussion), but I probably have more faith in the market system than most people around here.

The cost of oil is pretty variable, but it's gradually moving upwards as demand starts to outpace supply. Each time the price surges up it triggers action on both sides of the equation:

  • Additional interest in conservation triggered by the better payoff of demand reduction efforts. (Like better insulation, smaller cars, etc.)
  • Additional interest in alternative supplies, as the economics becomes more favorable. (Like more windmills, photovoltaic systems, etc.)

The only question is whether the current fossil fuel system will collapse so suddenly as to cause global dislocation, and I personally don't think it will because of the huge coal reserves.
by asdf on Thu Apr 6th, 2006 at 09:14:57 PM EST
And which reserves might those be?

And where?

And what infrastructure currently exists to smoothly roll over to coal as a basis for power

re: free market shot

Highly gratuitous in my opinion, and unworthy. You are in a room with people, some of whom make some serious coin at professions in the energy industry.

Show some respect.

Have Keyboard. Will Travel. :)

by cskendrick (cs ke nd ri c k @h ot m ail dot c om) on Thu Apr 6th, 2006 at 09:22:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There isn't actually much argument about the availability of coal. Global coal reserves are gigantic, enough for at least a century of energy production even under our current ridiculously wasteful policies...
http://www.eia.doe.gov/neic/infosheets/coalreserves.htm

"World reserves of coal are enormous. Compared with oil and natural gas, they are widely dispersed. Economically recoverable coal reserves are estimated at close to one trillion tonnes, representing about 200 years of production at current rates. Almost half the world's reserves are located in OECD countries. In practice, the quality and geological characteristics of coal deposits are more important to the economics of production than the actual size of a country's eserves. Quality varies from one region to another. Australia, Canada and the United States all have highquality coking coal. Australia, China, Colombia, India, Indonesia, Russia, South Africa and the United States have very large reserves of steam coal."
http://www.iea.org/textbase/papers/2003/ciab_demand.pdf

Where do you think our electricity comes from now? In the U.S., about half of it's from coal; globally it's about 40%.

There are obvious problems with coal, but it's not a problem of not having enough--for quite a while at least.

And FYI, the people in this room are perfectly aware of what I think about this, and we're mostly on the same page...at least on this topic.  :-)

by asdf on Thu Apr 6th, 2006 at 09:49:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Which people?

What reserves? Where are they, and how much coal is there, and how fast is it being depleted?

I submit that you are invoking credibility by right of popular acclaim (without citation) and backing of facts (again, without citation).

That's just not acceptable.

PS - And I'm happy to hear that you have many friends here and lots of facts to back you up. I am just puzzled why I have been denied an introduction to any of them.

Have Keyboard. Will Travel. :)

by cskendrick (cs ke nd ri c k @h ot m ail dot c om) on Thu Apr 6th, 2006 at 10:08:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I submit that you are trying to make an argument out of nothing.
by asdf on Thu Apr 6th, 2006 at 10:15:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Specify one 'huge coal reserve', its location, its production, its expected productive lifespan.

Try www.google.com, if you need help getting facts to back your case up. :)

Have Keyboard. Will Travel. :)

by cskendrick (cs ke nd ri c k @h ot m ail dot c om) on Fri Apr 7th, 2006 at 05:31:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not anti-coal, per se.

I just think it's not a very easily transported energy resource, not for global markets at least. Maybe that's just not so....yet.

Coal helps only those countries and specific regions within same that have it, absent very efficient transportation systems that not all coal-producing countries possess.

And coal for export? Per unit of mass, coal isn't that efficient. The old empires transported coal to refueling stations for their navies, because they had to, not because there was profit in doing so.

Coal might buy the time we need...just for those who have it already. And that could lead to some nasty wars, just as the demise of petroleum is doing.

My concern is that the invocation of coal as a deliverance is a way of telling people that they don't have to think or work too hard to conserve or transform their habits and those of their respective societies.

If it's okay with you, we'll just go ahead with saving the planet, and thank you for contributing coal energy as an option.

Have Keyboard. Will Travel. :)

by cskendrick (cs ke nd ri c k @h ot m ail dot c om) on Fri Apr 7th, 2006 at 06:01:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
How about coal-to-liquids?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Apr 7th, 2006 at 06:08:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Cost-effective, so long as you don't factor in the cost of setting up and maintaining the pipeline, and the immense water budget required.

And water is the ultimate critical resource.

I suppose so long as the coal-producing region isn't heavily populated, no one will have to choose between getting energy or getting a glass of water.

Have Keyboard. Will Travel. :)

by cskendrick (cs ke nd ri c k @h ot m ail dot c om) on Fri Apr 7th, 2006 at 06:45:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
  1. We moved away from a coal-intensive energy economy over a century ago.
  2. The Chinese are doing so as fast as they can.
  3. There must be a reason why.
  4. Portability, practicality and most of all high energy density for lighweight applications such as fuel for motor vehicles and airplanes might have something to do with it.
  5. Coal is bulky, hard to extract, hard to transport, hard to convert into other forms than lumps that burn.
  6. For production of steam for turbines close by sources, or coke for steel mills, coal is ideal. That's why the old industrial centers of Europe, North America and the newer ones in East Asia are where they are.
  7. But you need good rail and/or water networks to transport coal any type of distance.
  8. How are those rail and water networks doing in the States, lately?
  9. Europe's are fine -- but save from some scratch deposits there's not much coal to go around.
  10. China has lots of coal but horrid transport infrastructure of any kind.
  11. America has some coal, but its rail/canal network is much degraded from the old days, though one supposes a comeback is possible, for the time available.
  12. Canada has oil shale, "the other coal", and plenty of coal, and decent rail and (leastwise near the Great Lakes) good water transportation. The weather's a bit rough in wintertime, so perhaps Canada will be the next center of industrial civilization once the oil collapse begins in earnest.
  13. Russia has tons of coal, but it will be some time before their own oil runs out, for want of development and means of getting more black gold of both sorts to market. Why? Inadequate transportation and capital. Why's that? Well, there's that whole rule of law thing that Russia barely has and other regimes (See: Bush Administration) admire.
  14. Then there's always Antarctica and undersea beds of bituminous.
  15. So I suppose we could squeeze another thousand years out of fossil fuel life out of the Earth.
  16. AND...I'm all for diversifying the energy portfolio. At no point is development of coal at odds with my post-petroleum contention.
  17. However, as a solution coal imposes costs and constraints. We know what a coal-intensive society looks like, feels like, was like from our history, is like from observation of coaling countries like China and coal-producing regions like West Virginia.
  18. And it's a world that some may have to live in, in order to buy the time to save the world.
  19. However, I think that all coal does is provide an easy way for countries that have it to block participation in any sort of global solution.
  20. And worse -- those regions within larger countries that possess coal are going to have a strong incentive to keep the profit from same to themselves, as supplies dwindle. This may lead to outright secessionism, especially in large countries where longstanding political divisions exist along roughly sectional lines: North China going its own way, the Northeastern United States doing likewise. Western provinces and Quebec blowing off the rest of Canada. Siberia breaking off from Russia proper.


Have Keyboard. Will Travel. :)
by cskendrick (cs ke nd ri c k @h ot m ail dot c om) on Fri Apr 7th, 2006 at 05:54:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually if oil gets expensive enough, coal+carbon scrubbing stops looking like a bad solution. Minimising  coal pollution is a simpler problem than dealing with the after-effects of high level waste from nuclear decommissioning.

The costs are extraction, especially if it's mined manually, and transport. But if coal were converted into another more concentrated form, such as 'oil' or possibly hydrogen, transport gets a lot easier.

With medium term oil prices potentially in the $100-150pbl range, there's quite a bit of economic room for conversion to make sense.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Fri Apr 7th, 2006 at 06:59:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
One of several.

High transportation costs, high costs of conversion, significant ecological costs, relatively low energy density per unit of mass.

Conservation

No up-front costs, immediate marginal savings, anybody can do it, doesn't cost to convert (in fact in saves), no ecological costs (in fact, it saves), savings in energy per unit of mass directly proportional to oil/natural gas/coal not used.

And that's another option.


Have Keyboard. Will Travel. :)

by cskendrick (cs ke nd ri c k @h ot m ail dot c om) on Fri Apr 7th, 2006 at 07:22:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Conservation only makes is cheaper for the hogs. One should use the savings from conservation to finance conversion into something else, too.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Apr 7th, 2006 at 07:25:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
An important topic, and one addressed in the diary. :)

Have Keyboard. Will Travel. :)
by cskendrick (cs ke nd ri c k @h ot m ail dot c om) on Fri Apr 7th, 2006 at 09:09:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry, I missed the "Massive Update".

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Apr 7th, 2006 at 09:17:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not arguing for a coal economy, more suggesting that (unless Gore is the next US president) there's likely to be only marginal interest in both conservation and renewables for at least the next decade or three.

Coal may turn out to be a CYA option, at least up to a point.

From where I am the only intelligent option is massive development of renewables and an equally massive retooling of the economy towards a huge energy downshift.

Politically though, I don't see much chance of that happening.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Fri Apr 7th, 2006 at 09:34:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Waiting for leaders to lead is a waste of time.

Have Keyboard. Will Travel. :)
by cskendrick (cs ke nd ri c k @h ot m ail dot c om) on Fri Apr 7th, 2006 at 10:58:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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